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6 Photos That Can Save Renters Money

kid taking photos with play camera
Make like an amateur photographer now and get your full deposit back when your lease is up.

When you’re moving into a new apartment, it can be tempting to immediately dump all your stuff, roll out that new IKEA rug, and start unpacking your prized shot glass collection. But not so fast if you want your security deposit back.

Your landlord or property management company most likely has your best interests in mind when it comes to returning your deposit. But it’s your responsibility to scrutinize every nook and cranny of your new place, since keeping it in pristine shape should mean your full deposit is returned to you eventually.

So how do you take this deposit-refund situation into your own hands? Simple: Take photos of every piece of that apartment for rent in Atlanta, GA, paying special attention to any that look questionable to you. If you can do it with your landlord or management company agent, that’s ideal.

“If you’re renting from a management company, ask for a move-in-condition report,” says Barry Miller, a real estate and business attorney and president and CEO of The Closing Agent, a title company based in Orlando, FL. “If your space isn’t owned by a management company, search on the Internet for a move-in-condition report. Walk through the entire space with the agent/landlord, and make sure he or she signs off on the filled-out report.”

It doesn’t end there. Make sure you email date- and time-stamped photos to your landlord/management company as soon as you take them and before you’ve officially moved in, and keep that email in a folder you can easily access when it’s time for move-out. That way, there are no discrepancies about when the photos were taken and delivered.

Even better? Try video. Real estate agent Dave Fontana of Orlando Real Estate King advises renters to “use your phone to take video of yourself walking through the entire place with the property manager. State the day and time and note any damage together on camera.”

Ready to take some footage? Here are six photos (or videos!) that are crucial to document before you move in a single box.

1. Holes (in the wall, ceiling, etc.)

Chances are, the previous tenants had to put nails in the walls to hang photos, mirrors, shelves, and more. Sometimes these holes go unnoticed by the landlord or management company — that is, until it’s your turn to exit the lease. Then you’re the one on the hook.

“A lot of tenants think, ‘It’s OK for me to leave holes in the walls,’ but that’s not right. You have to fill those with spackle, and if you have to paint, it’s not the landlord’s responsibility,” says Miller. “When you cause something, it doesn’t count as normal wear and tear.”

Bottom line? Take a photo of every little hole you find.

2. Carpet and flooring

“I got a bill when I moved out of my apartment a few years ago charging me $100 for a big spot on the carpet that was there when I’d signed the lease a year before,” says Ricky Surillo of New Haven, CT. “I’d dropped off a burned CD of photos to them when I moved in, but apparently it wasn’t enough. Luckily, I kept date-stamped copies and was able to get my whole deposit back.”

Floors and carpets get scuffed up through normal wear, but you don’t want to be responsible for random stains and damage that weren’t yours to begin with. And don’t forget to move any big furniture that may be included with the space to check the flooring underneath.

3. Soap scum

This one is a wild card but just further proof you should always leave your apartment sparkling clean when you move out. Soap scum might seem minor and not something that would count as damage, per se. But it can be a royal pain to clean off — which means, yes, it affects whether you’ll see your deposit again.

4. Windows

Before you bask in the sunshine coming through the windows in your lovely new apartment, make sure to look at them (and not through them!). Take a photo of your windows — both open and closed, as damage can sometimes be lurking on a screen behind the actual window.

And don’t forget about the blinds. Open and close them a few times, making sure to get the action on video. Silly? Maybe. But custom blinds can cost hundreds of dollars to replace.

“Taking these steps is imperative for the protection of both parties — not just for the tenant, but also for the landlord,” says Miller. “This way, everyone is on the same page, and you avoid issues at the end of your lease.”

5. Inside the oven, fridge, and other large appliances

“The oven is another big source of contention,” notes Miller. Open the oven door, shine a light in there, and click away on that camera. Same goes for the refrigerator (take out all the drawers!), microwave, and other appliances. Any and all damage to these big-ticket items may not be clearly visible from the outside.

Videos are helpful here too. For example, run the dishwasher and record it; if any strange noises are coming from it, you’ll have proof said noises started before you ran it four times in a row Thanksgiving Day. As time-consuming as this may be, it’s worth it. If anything is functionally wrong with the appliances when you move in, you’ll be covered.

6. Landscaping and exterior

Don’t forget to think outside the box (er, house)! Many new tenants get so caught up in the interior of their rentals that they completely neglect to check the landscaping, which may be your responsibility. (Not sure? Check your lease!)

“Definitely document the condition of the yard and plant beds,” says Fontana. “And the walls, both indoor and outdoor! If they’re differing colors, make sure to note that.” Pay special attention to your new neighbors’ yards and landscaping too. If your outdoor space looks a lot different, don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Have move-in photos ever helped you get your deposit back? Tell us in the comments!