The Common Law: Preempt Fight With Your New Landlord

I've rented in Austin for years and it seems like I almost always get in a fight with my landlord over the security deposit. What can I do to better protect myself?

Being vigilant about protecting your security deposit starts before you ever move in. Read your lease and get comfortable with it. If there is a provision in your lease that you don't understand, ask for an explanation. Keep in mind that leases are negotiable and, as the tenant, you are within your rights to request changes to the lease before you sign it. A landlord is under no obligation to negotiate the terms of the lease, but the landlord may be flexible if they want you as a tenant.

Before moving in, the tenant should inspect the rental property and make a detailed list of everything damaged, broken, or malfunctioning. Show the list and corresponding problems to the landlord. If possible, have the landlord sign the list, indicating an understanding of the problems. Keep the list until the end of the lease as a precautionary measure, in the event that the landlord tries to deduct one of these items from the security deposit.

Report problems to the landlord as they arise. Meet with the landlord before it's time to move out and discuss the landlord's upcoming inspection of the premises. For example, it's good to understand the landlord's definition of "clean," so that you can leave the rental unit in that condition (security deposit deductions for cleaning expenses are often disputed between landlords and tenants). Also consider walking the rental property with the landlord after you have moved out to address any of the landlord's concerns. Most important, be sure to take photos of the property after you have moved out and cleaned it in the event of a dispute.

Please submit column suggestions, questions, and comments to Submission of potential topics does not create an attorney-client relationship, and any information submitted is subject to being included in future columns.

Johns, Marrs, Ellis. & Hodge LLP,

The material in this column is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult a licensed attorney. You may wish to contact the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, a non-profit public service of the Austin Bar Association, at 512-472-8303 or

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