Tenant Guide to Security Deposits and Deductions

by Patrick Freeze  12/30/2022

When you own rental properties, knowing the laws and regulations surrounding security deposits and deductions is crucial. However, when you’re a first-time renter, you may not understand why you need to pay a security deposit or how they work. Some renters assume that they’re entitled to the entire deposit once they move out. However, you’ll discover that that’s not always true. Read along as we discuss how rental security deposits work and how to get your full deposit back at the end of your lease.  


Contents of This Article:

  • What are Rental Security Deposits?
  • Do You Get Your Full Deposit Back After You Move Out?
  • Common Reasons for Security Deposit Deductions
  • How to Avoid Deductions and Get Your Deposit Back
  • Following Security Deposit Laws in Northern Virginia
  • How to Manage Your Rentals With Ease

What are Rental Security Deposits?

Rental security deposits are common practice for landlords and property management companies in Northern Virginia. A security deposit is a set amount of money that a tenant pays before moving into a new rental. Landlords or property managers hold onto rental security deposits throughout the course of the tenancy. Then, the money is returned at the end of the lease or withheld for damages or late bills. 


Generally, security deposit amounts are equal to one or two months’ rent, but it depends on your landlord and where you’re renting. As such, it’s crucial to read through the entire lease agreement to determine how much you’ll pay and your expectations for property maintenance. Unfortunately, if you don’t hold up your part of the agreement, you could lose some of your security deposit. 

Do You Get Your Full Deposit Back After You Move Out?

Although some tenants assume they get their full security deposit back after moving out, that’s not always the case. It typically depends on your lease terms and how well you take care of the property. 

If you leave your lease agreement early or damage a rental property, you may receive only part of your deposit or none. However, it depends on your landlord and rental laws in your state. That said, here are the most common reasons for security deposit deductions. 

Common Reasons for Security Deposit Deductions

Rental security deposits are essential for landlords for a few reasons. For instance, it helps cover costs of damages or unpaid bills that tenants leave behind. When something happens to the property, landlords deduct part or all of a tenant’s deposit. That said, here are the most common reasons for security deposit deductions. 


  1. Breaking Your Lease Early
  2. Nonpayment of Rent
  3. Significant Cleaning Costs
  4. Major Property Damage
  5. Nonpayment of Utility Bills

Breaking Your Lease Early

If you break your lease early or unexpectedly, your landlord may withhold some or all of your security deposit. Generally, you must give adequate notice before moving out or wait until your lease is up. However, it differs state by state. So, checking your lease terms is crucial to find out if you’re breaking any part of your agreement. 

Nonpayment of Rent

It’s important to recognize that your security deposit does not count as your last month’s rent. As such, you never want to go without paying rent, even if you’re moving out. You still have to pay for your last month, and then you can potentially get part or all of your deposit back. However, if you don’t pay rent at any time before you move out, your landlord may withhold your security deposit. 

Significant Cleaning Costs


All landlords should hire a professional cleaning service after each tenancy to deep-clean each property. However, if your landlord has to spend extra time cleaning the property once you move out, they could withhold your deposit for cleaning costs. For instance, if you leave unwanted items, garbage, or large messes at your rental property, you can expect to have some of your deposit withheld. 

Major Property Damage

Significant property damage is one of the main reasons that tenants have some or all of their security deposit withheld. If your landlord has to spend time and money repairing the property after you leave, they’ll likely use your deposit to cover costs. However, normal wear and tear and significant property damage are two different things. For instance, tenant damages generally include the following: 

  • Holes in the walls or large paint chips
  • Broken windows or light fixtures
  • Broken doors or doorframes
  • Major scratches in hardwood flooring
  • Large tears or stains on carpets
  • Broken cabinets or countertops

On the other hand, normal wear and tear in a rental property doesn’t warrant security deposit deductions. Here are some examples of normal wear and tear.

  • Small scratches on floors or faded carpet
  • Loose door handles or cabinet knobs
  • Tiny holes in the walls from hanging pictures
  • Minor countertop scratches
  • Loose grout around bathroom tile


Nonpayment of Utility Bills

Depending on where you’re renting, some tenants pay utilities separately from their rent. So, if you miss or don’t pay your utility bills, your landlord could withhold some of your deposit to cover the costs. However, some landlords cover utilities at the monthly rental rate. As such, it’s crucial to read through the entire lease agreement to ensure you know your responsibilities. 

How to Avoid Deductions and Get Your Deposit Back

Most tenants want to get their deposit back after their lease is over. After all, it’s money that you paid and can potentially get back, so long as you’re a good renter and pay your bills. That said, there are a few steps you can take to ensure you get all or most of your security deposit back. Here’s what you should do before moving out of a rental. 

  • Take Care of the Property
  • Clean Before You Move Out
  • Give Enough Move-Out Notice

Take Care of the Property

One of the easiest ways to ensure you get some or all of your deposit back is caring for the rental unit. As such, it’s important to thoroughly read your lease agreement to learn what you can and can’t do within your rental. After all, it’s not your property, so you have to speak with your landlord or property manager before making major changes to it. 

Additionally, it’s crucial to keep up with rental maintenance and repairs within your rental. Unfortunately, if a major issue goes unrepaired, it can cause larger damages and cost you your security deposit. 

Clean Before You Move Out


It’s absolutely crucial to clean your rental unit before moving out. Leaving the property dirty or filled with trash or unwanted items, you can expect to have your deposit withheld. Once you get everything out of the property, go through and carefully clean each room. Make sure to deep-clean the bathroom, kitchen, bedrooms, etc. 

Give Enough Move-Out Notice

Most landlords require at least 30 days’ notice before you plan on moving out of a rental unit. Depending on where you’re renting, you may need to give 90 days’ notice. As such, if you’re planning on moving out of your rental before your lease ends, give your landlord enough notice. If you move out without prior notice, your landlord may keep all of your security deposit. 

Following Security Deposit Laws in Northern Virginia

Security deposits and landlord-tenant laws differ from state to state. For instance, landlords can charge no more than two months’ rent in Northern Virginia for a security deposit. Additionally, landlords must return the tenant’s security deposit within 45 days after they’ve moved out. 


If landlords make any deductions, they must provide an itemized list of damages and the remainder of the deposit. If they don’t do this within 45 days, tenants may be entitled to their entire security deposit. As such, it’s crucial for both parties to stay up to day with rental laws and regulations. 

How to Manage Your Rentals With Ease

Buying, owning, and renting properties is a lot of work for busy investors. On top of that, finding tenants, marketing properties, drafting lease agreements, and property accounting add up quickly. Since you may find yourself overwhelmed handling several properties, consider hiring property management. 

Professional Property Management of Northern Virginia has the knowledge and expertise to easily manage all of your rentals. Our dedicated property managers have the skills required to maximize your rental business. So, contact PPM today if you need rental management near Northern Virginia.

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