In the market for a new rental or about to move from your current apartment? One of the biggest pain points as a renter is the dark cloud of uncertainty looming over you — will your landlord return your deposit? Your security deposit could set you back anywhere between a couple hundred dollars to two months’ rent — although steep, the latter is normal in hot markets like Los Angeles, CA. It’s important you take the necessary precautions to ensure you get most (if not all) of your money back!
1. Take photos or videos when you move in
Take the first step to avoid losing a rental deposit when you move into your new rental. Walk through the unit with your landlord and take photo evidence of every nook and cranny. Make sure to record things such as the condition of appliances or the fresh paint on your bathroom walls. Your photos should depict the overall space (entire rooms) as well as the tiny details (get close-ups of any existing damage).
Email the files to your landlord on the same day, so that you both have digital and time-stamped documentation of the property’s condition at time of move-in. Your landlord will appreciate this — you both share the goal of wanting solid documentation during move-in. This can prevent a landlord-tenant dispute during move-out. Your landlord wants the property restored to its move-in condition, so the more you can “prove” that move-in condition, the better — for both of you.
2. Give sufficient written notice
Your lease should specify the necessary notice your landlord needs before you move out — typically anywhere from 30 to 60 days. Your lease will also specify the acceptable forms of communication for this process. For example, you might need to send your notice letter or an email to a particular address. Make sure you comply with the exact requirements as written in your lease — or else you may find that you’re breaking the terms of your lease.
If your lease doesn’t give specifics on move-out letters, ask your landlord (preferably in writing) before you move in how much notice you’ll need to give. The reason your landlord keeps this provision in place is so that they have enough time to conduct showings of your unit before you move out. One of the biggest drains on a landlord’s wallet is vacancy. The more you can help reduce vacancy (by giving plenty of notice), the better.
3. Don’t disturb showings
Don’t be difficult when your landlord tries to set up showings for new tenants. For example, don’t insist that you must be home during every showing, forcing your landlord and potential new tenants to work around your schedule. Don’t change the locks. Don’t leave your house a giant mess — but don’t leave valuables out either.
Some leases include provisions that state that the landlord can charge you if you’re unnecessarily disruptive during showings. And even if your lease doesn’t assess a penalty, being accommodating is the right thing to do. The easier you make your landlord’s job of finding a new tenant and in turn reducing their out-of-pocket costs from vacancy periods, the more of your deposit you’re likely to get back. The bonus? You might get a good rental reference out of the deal.
4. Ask for the master paint
Did you hang artwork or curtain rods or mount your TV in your apartment? If so, then you’ve probably put a few holes in the walls. Those holes will need to be filled and painted. Before you move out, take a trip to the hardware store to pick up some spackle to patch those drywall holes.
Ask your landlord for the paint color, including the SKU number and brand name/finish. You should know if you’re specifically searching for “Ivory Invitation” in an eggshell finish or “Realist Beige” in a flat finish. Your landlord will more than likely repaint before the next tenant moves in, but cleaning up and refreshing the wall paint will ensure a smooth final walk-through.
5. Clean the carpets
When it comes to wall-to-wall carpets, prevention can equal several hundred dollars in savings. Lay a rug near your front door where you can wipe dirt, mud, and snow from your shoes before you tromp across the carpets. Vacuum regularly while you’re living there. If you can, make a practice of walking indoors without shoes, which extends the life of carpeting. While you’re at the hardware store picking up the master paint, rent a steam cleaner and give your carpets a deep clean before you move out.
6. Don’t leave anything behind
The last thing your landlord wants to handle is dealing with your stuff after you move out. Take everything with you when you go; don’t leave any of your possessions behind. Don’t want to take that old antenna TV to your new place? Donate it or toss it — just make sure it’s out.
Do your research: In some states and municipalities, you’re not considered “moved out” until your personal possessions have also vacated the premises, which means that your landlord might be able to charge you rent for the length of time that your stuff remains in the rental unit.
In many states, your landlord may also initiate the process of legally evicting your possessions — landlords are subject to strict rules for handling a tenant’s belongings. This means that if you leave personal property behind, you could have an eviction on your credit record in addition to liability for several months of back rent. Bottom line? Take your stuff with you — all of it.