What steps should I take to get my security deposit back?

Q. What steps should I take to ensure receiving my security deposit back from my landlord?

A. There are a number of things you can do to make sure you receive your security deposit back from the landlord after you have moved out. First, before you move in, you need to videotape the condition of your apartment (or at least photograph the apartment’s condition). Get a copy of that day1s newspaper and show the video camera the headline date at the start and finish of the tape (do this even though the camera automatically records the time the tape was made). If you are taking photos, have the newspaper in the background of the photos and keep the paper in case you ever have to go to court.

You need to be very detailed. In each room, follow a specific path, e.g., floors, walls, ceilings, closets, appliances, cabinets, etc. Turn on and off lights, fixtures, and appliances to show that they work or do not work. Open and close windows. Videotape the interior of refrigerators and stoves to show how clean or dirty they are. Also consider completing a move-in checklist and keeping a copy for yourself.

Most leases require you to give 30 days written notice that you will be vacating the premises. So if your lease is up at the end of June, make sure your landlord gets a written notice before the end of May. If you get it to the landlord on June 1, you may end up paying for July’s rent.

After you have moved out and cleaned your apartment, you need to make another videotape of how you returned the apartment to the landlord. Follow the same detailed steps above. Also complete a move-out checklist. Consider hiring a professional cleaning service to clean up or rent a rug cleaner. Keep the receipts if you do. If you didn1t make a move in tape, don1t mess up again by failing to make a move out tape.

Finally, make sure you return the keys on time. Bring a friend with you to witness that you returned the keys. If you need to be out of your apartment on June 30, don’t return the keys on July 1. You would owe for July also.

Make sure that you can prove you sent the landlord written notice of your forwarding address for the return of the security deposit. Have all of your roommates sign off on this letter so that the landlord knows that everyone wants the deposit sent to the same address. Written notice is essential under Ohio Revised Code Section 5321.16. That law says that if you can prove that you gave written notice of your forwarding address to the landlord and the landlord wrongfully withholds your security deposit for more than 30 days, then you can sue for double damages and attorneys fees in court.

So send the notice by certified mail, return receipt requested and keep a photocopy (not just a copy on the hard drive of your computer) so that you can prove the landlord signed for the thing. If your certified mail comes back unclaimed or refused, then send it out registered mail and keep the payment receipt for that too.

If you follow these steps, you have accumulated proof of what the condition of the apartment was like. If your landlord refuses to refund your security deposit, you have a much better chance of proving to a court that his refusal was unlawful.