Security Deposits: It’s a Process.

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By Oretta Croushore, Property Manager for Home Rental Services

Spot the Difference GameHave you ever played one of those “spot the differences” games?

My mom is a whiz at them. In the blink of an eye, she can tell you the dog in the first picture has two spots and in the second picture has three. I was always more of a hidden objects girl, myself. I still pick up the Highlights Magazines in the doctor’s office to see how many I can find before they call me back. However, over the past few years, I’ve gotten much better at finding the differences. That comes from processing security deposits after renters move out.

I’m sure you could ask a dozen different property managers how they assess damages after a move out and you would get a dozen different answers.

Since we have 200 plus photos from each move in and move out inspection, I start there.

First, I go through the move out photos.
I keep a spreadsheet open on my other screen to make notes. If I see something that seems like it’s out of place, I make a note on the spreadsheet. Is the oven dirty? Was that wall damaged at move in? Was there always a TV mount in the living room? I’m also looking for burned out light bulbs and checking to make sure cleaning was done as required in the lease. Renters are required to provide a receipt for professional carpet cleaning. If they don’t email it to me before the inspection, it should have been left on the kitchen counter. Additionally, the garage door remotes, house keys, and mail box keys should be on the counter.

Next, I go through the move in photos.
Here’s where the game begins. I strike through anything on my list which I see was present at move in. I’m also looking for anything which was present at move in and not there at move out. Did the renters remove the refrigerator? Are there interior doors missing? Do we have the same number of garage door remotes we started with?

When I’ve finished reviewing the photos, I look at the paper inspection.
Renters are provided a copy of the inspection when they move in. They are asked to add their own notes to the inspection and return it to us within a few days of move in. We use the copy on which they made notes for the move out inspection. That way, all the notes are in one place. The third party inspector uses a red pen to make move out notes. I’m looking for anything in red that I might have missed in the photos. Occasionally, I find something in the inspection notes which I thought was going to be renter damage, but I find it was actually part of the move in inspection.

Once I feel I have sufficiently assessed all renter damage in need of repair, I put work orders in to our vendors. I will await the invoices from the vendors so that I can charge the renters’ security deposit the exact amount which was charged by the vendor. There are occasions where the security deposit has to be returned to the renters before I can get the invoice back. In those situations, I ask the vendors to provide an estimate so the charges are as accurate as possible.

By law, we have 30 days from the move out date to have  the security deposit back to the renter. That doesn’t mean we can mail it out on day thirty. The renters are to have it in their hands, along with a statement of charges, by day thirty. Our software keeps a calculation of the number of days since the move out. I use this feature a ton!

It’s a process.

Security DepositAs you can see, this is a lengthy process. Renters are always anxious to get their money back as quickly as possible. However, this is a process I refuse to rush through. I work diligently to make sure the renters do not have any reason to dispute the charges. I often reach out to other members of the HRS team when I’m unsure about charging something. It’s not always as black and white as we would like it to be. The question we always ask ourselves is,“would this charge hold up in court?” It can be quite costly for an owner if a judge rules in favor of the renter on a security deposit dispute. The owner could end up refunding the renter 1 ½ times the amount of the full security deposit!

Typically, renters submit their disputes in writing to HRS. Then, I go back through the whole process to make sure nothing was overlooked. I have a fantastic template I use to show before and after pictures of move in conditions versus move out conditions. I find this usually helps the renters better understand their charges.

Next time you see one of those puzzles that ask you to find twenty differences, think lovingly of your favorite property manager.