Nothing is more stressful, for either the landlord or the tenant, than the end of lease conversations around the return of a security deposit. The tenant is worried about what the landlord is going to withhold, and the landlord is worried about the condition of the apartment and the oftentimes acrimonious conversations with the former tenant around condition of the apartment and the cost to make it rentable again.

This blog is for Landlords. What are your rights as a Landlord and how does the return of the security deposit work?

State laws vary, but in Rhode Island the landlord has 20 days from the date she receives ALL keys back from the tenants AND a forwarding address in writing to return the security deposit less any documented expenses.


As a property manager I do not do the final walk through with tenants present. Surprised? Here are my thoughts: Having a tenant present causes me to be less thorough, and causes a tenant to be defensive. Doing a final walk through with a tenant present can often lead to conflict simply due to the stressful nature of the interaction, causing problems that wouldn’t occur otherwise.

I advise my Landlord-clients to do the same: do the walk through when the tenant is done and keys are returned. The tenant can then take all the time and care they like to get their things moved and the apartment ready. The Landlord take then make a thorough inspection without the distraction of a difficult social interaction, taking detailed notes and photos of each room.

A good walk through and good communication at the beginning of your lease will go a long way to ensuring a smooth transition at the end.  Do a walk through of your property and make good notes. Here’s a handy checklist you can use.WRG Rental Condition Checklist

If you don’t want to do the initial “move in” walk through with your tenants, make it a requirement (in writing, in your lease) that the tenant has to complete this condition sheet and return it to you, keeping a copy for themselves, within 7 days of occupancy or they waive any existing repairs/damages.

Both parties should take some time and take a good set of photos of the property at the beginning of the lease. Pay attention to damaged walls, any blinds, curtains or window treatments in the apartment at lease commencement and their condition, thermostats and how they’re attached, window operation, floor scratches or imperfections, doors, locks and entryways.

Scene of the Crime – 

Many tenants are very responsible and take great care to leave your property in excellent condition. Most tenants however do not think of it in terms of leaving the property ready for the next tenant. Most tenants operate under the impression that the landlord has a team of cleaners and laborers who work for pennies on the dollar, dress in crisp clean uniforms and are on standby to swoop in out of hovering helicopters and leap out of unmarked vans to swarm over the house or apartment and have it ready for the next person in a matter of hours, if not minutes.

The reality is that one tenant is moving out while the next tenant is waiting patiently to be able to deliver furniture or even move in. This is especially true in Newport in the busy summer months. There is barely time for the landlord to get into the apartment to inspect before the next tenant is ready to make the property their new home. The scramble to prepare can be a major headache.

Here’s a list of some common leftovers from tenants:

  • Trash: Many tenants will leave everything they don’t want to move at the curb or in the trash. Left over clothes, bedding, televisions, toys, furniture. This is not normal wear and tear and is a billable item. In Newport you can usually hire a truck for about $75 to haul items away.
  • Appliances not cleaned, shelves and racks missing. For stoves, many times the stove top parts are missing.
  • Showers and toilets left unclean. Shower curtains and liners missing.
  • Walls dirty from poor ventilation in bathrooms. Sometimes tenants don’t know to turn on their ventilation fans. (or maybe your property doesn’t have proper ventilation)
  • Dirty caulk in tubs
  • Scarred walls from furniture during move in and move out. Walls with grease or paint on them. Dinged walls. Dirty walls near stove tops.
  • Polk-a-dot walls from tenants spackling nail holes. Your lease should indicate the tenant should NOT do this. Reasonable picture hook holes are normal wear and tear; spackled holes leaving walls in need of paint are not.
  • Lawns not maintained when it’s the tenant’s responsibility
  • Laundry rooms/areas left dirty
  • Pet damages: chewed casements, broken blinds/shades, pet eliminations inside the house, fleas, scratched floors

Did you know? All of those items and more are outside the definition of normal wear and tear and are the tenants’ responsibility. It’s a good idea to have your definitions spelled out in your lease or in a move out addendum. Don’t have a move in addendum? We can help! Call us for a free consultation.

Hire the appropriate help and get receipts. You have 20 days from the date you receive all of the keys AND all of the forwarding addresses IN WRITING to return the security deposit less any itemized damages. If you mail the deposit on the 20th day, you have returned the deposit.

How do you itemize your damages? 

You can do the work yourself without waiving your rights to deducting the cost of repairs and cleaning. To do this you need to make a reasonably detailed list of the items that need repair, cleaning, hauling away or replacing. Take pictures of everything before you start. Track the time you spend doing each job. Take an after picture of each repair. Keep receipts for anything you pay or any person you pay. Create an invoice of your own time. A clear record of what you’re deducting will go with your check.

  • Multiple Tenants: One common issue is when there are multiple tenants and the landlord is being asked by all of them to return the deposit in different denominations to different addresses. In most cases the lease will spell out the Joint and Several liability of multiple tenants. Did you know?  You can insert a clause in your lease where the tenants agree at lease inception how the lease will be returned.
  • You can use this Letter to send to your tenants. Security Deposit Return with Deductions

What if your tenants disagree?

Spelling out your expectations in advance with a well crafted and detailed lease along with an itemized move out addendum helps to set expectations and head off potential conflict at lease termination. Some conflict may be unavoidable. Be specific, stay calm and be firm. Often people will fly off the handle and yell and scream. You do not have to respond in kind. Stay calm, and in most cases don’t respond. Usually people calm down and realize you’re right and that solves it. If you get in a bind and want professional advise, call your attorney or email me at [email protected] to arrange a free 15 minute consultation.

Portrait of confused tenant and furious landlord with a unpaid bills in the home