Secure those security deposits

By Gus Bode

After getting billed for having a toilet on the roof of the house she lived in, Susan Noethe hopes to prevent other students from losing their security deposits.

The toilet was placed on the roof by her neighbors as a joke, Noethe said, but it was one of the reasons her landlord refused to return her and her five other roommates’ deposits last year. Many tenants should be receiving their security deposits within the next month or two, but these deposits are often never returned.

There are several strategies tenants can use to prevent the loss of the deposit, both before and after moving in.


Rich Hall, a lecturer in the finance department, said there’s nothing wrong with a landlord requiring a security deposit in case damage is done. The lease between a tenant and a landlord, Hall said, is an agreement based on the normal wear and tear of living somewhere. The problem comes into play in defining “normal wear and tear,” which often leads to legal issues and the loss of a security deposit.

Tenants should not wait until they are preparing to move out to address problems with landlords, Hall said. A landlord problem doesn’t just begin when moving out.

“It actually begins when you move in,” Hall said.

Amanda Reid, leasing consultant for Saint Germain Square Apartments, said the apartment complex goes over a checklist with residents when they move in and when residents move out.

Hall said tenants should educate themselves about their lease before they sign it by getting a copy of the lease and taking it to someone who understands the legal terms. Student Legal Assistance is paid for by a $5 per semester student fee and is available on the third floor of the Student Center. There is no additional charge for their services.

One of the first things to do before moving in is creating a check-in checklist, which can be found in the Student Legal Assistance brochure at, on pages 43 to 46.

Noeth, a senior from Collinsville studying marketing, said documenting everything is important before moving in.


“Take pictures of every little thing or even take a video camera in there and get everything,” Noeth said. “Get the landlord there while they’re doing it so they can sign, ‘Yes, this stuff is already damaged and no the tenants will not be charged for it.'”

Reid said photo documentation is taken at Saint Germain Square when the tenant’s initial walk-through happens.

The photos and checklists are used to make sure the residents don’t need additional billing for problems occurring after their move-in, she said.

“If there was a fist hole in the door that wasn’t there when you moved in, then we’d rate that accordingly,” Reid said.

It is important for the landlord to make both walk-throughs with tenants. Otherwise, there is the possibility the landlord may claim the pictures have been altered.

Noeth said she did not take pictures or do a walk-through when she moved in, as there were already some of her roommates living there the year before, so the house still contained furniture and other items.

“If there are any issues with the property before you move in, make sure you note that and make sure you have someone there to witness it � take pictures of nicks on the wall � and then let the landlord know,” Hall said.

He said it is also important for tenants to let the property owner know when they are leaving.

“(Property owners) may say, ‘Oh just leave the keys on the table. We’ll go from there.’ Don’t do it,” Hall said. “Go through (with them) and do the checklist, and then hand them the keys, date (the checklist) and get someone to sign it.”

Leaving the keys without getting the landlord’s signature leaves the tenant with no proof of when he or she left or in what condition the house or apartment was in, he said.

Hall said while the process for getting the security deposit back should have started months or years ago, there a still a few things tenants can do.

“At this point, since the majority of students did not get any kind of pre-check-in, the best thing they can do is � get your place cleaned up as best you can assuming that normal wear and tear is OK and don’t leave those keys,” Hall said. “Get something down in writing. In the world of real estate, verbal doesn’t count.”

By conducting themselves with common sense and in a proper way, Hall said, tenants could avoid the mess, but warned if damage is done to the property, the tenants will pay for it.

State law regulates some landlords more strictly than others, especially if they own large apartment complexes such as Lewis Park or Aspen Court. Hall said those who rent for six months or more with these apartment complexes, which have more than 25 units, are entitled to interest on their deposit.

Other landlords, such as Home Rentals or Heartland Rentals, may not face the same regulations because they own individual houses or smaller apartment complexes. These exemptions and state laws are included in the Student Law Assistance brochure.

Without effort, security deposits could be withheld from tenants, Hall said.

“You have to be proactive, otherwise you’re ripe for being taken advantage of,” he said.

Lindsey Smith can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 255 or [email protected]

Luke McCormick can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 254 or [email protected]