Must I leave my security deposit with my college apartment-mates?

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Question:

I share an apartment with three other students. I'm graduating, but the others are staying on a year. My problem is with the security deposit. We each paid $400 (a month's rent). The new roommate won't buy me out -- he's afraid of being charged for old damage. The landlord won't do an inspection with only me moving. Am I stuck playing wait and see?

Answer:

Since you no doubt kept the apartment as clean as a Victorian parlor, it's hard to imagine what the new roommate is worried about -- but here are two possible solutions. First, this tenancy will end up lasting two years -- you'll be there for half of it, and your replacement will be there for half. Ask your replacement to buy you out of the deposit to the tune of $200, which means that each of you has the same amount of money sitting in the deposit.

At the end of next year, when the landlord does an inspection, be sure that the deductions are itemized. Tell your replacement that if money is deducted for damage that happened this year, you will be financially responsible for it; and ask that he promise the same if damage occurs that's traceable to him. If there are deductions for damage that all roommates have caused (such as damage to common areas), agree that you will share responsibility for that, too, depending on when the damage occurred. After that, any money left over for your quarter share should be split equally between you and the replacement.

If you don't get some agreement along these lines, there is a way to play hardball. For your last month's rent, write a check to your rent-paying roommate for $200 only. He can collect the balance from the replacement, which he'll have to do unless he and the others want to risk an eviction. If he protests, ask him if the replacement really thought he could move into a rental without paying any security deposit. You may never see the other $200 again, but at least you won't be out the full $400.

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