Moving into a new place can be so liberating. Farewell, grumpy building manager! Smell ya later, neighbor who seems to always be cooking fish! But there’s one thing you’ll want to bring along to your new apartment: your security deposit. And yet even if you’ve been a model tenant and you think you’ve left your place in the same condition as when you moved in, there’s a chance your landlord could withhold some cash. “You may be responsible for anything that’s above and beyond ‘normal’ wear and tear, like holes in the wall that are bigger than a dime or scratches on the floor,” says Elvira Arias, property manager for The Dermot Realty Management Company, which manages apartments for rent in New York, NY.
The best way to avoid paying for damages that you didn’t create is to do a little prep work when you move in. Insist on an apartment rental inspection at move-in, where a building staff member will walk you through the apartment and note its condition. It can be a handy reference tool when it’s time to move out. “Plus, you’ll get an idea of how strict the landlord is,” says Arias. “Some are more forgiving than others.” But if you missed an opportunity for a rental inspection — or if you scuffed floors or splurged on a temporary apartment bathroom makeover — all hope of an intact deposit is not lost.
How can I get my security deposit back? Try these hacks.
- Buff away scuff marks on floors. Grab a tennis ball and make a slit with a sharp knife or scissors. Insert the end of a broom handle or stick into the tennis ball and rub over the marks. They’ll buff away with a little pressure.
- Get rid of mildew or mold on grout. “Many building maintenance departments will remove mold for you if you report it,” says Arias. Translation: If you don’t keep the mold from reappearing with regular cleaning, you could be charged for a second removal treatment. If it’s been a while since you’ve given your shower a good scrubbing, Jessica of the blog This Blessed Life suggests soaking a piece of cotton coil (like the stuff used in hair salons) in bleach and sticking it to the moldy grout. Let it sit overnight, and when you pull away the cotton the next morning, the mildew will be gone.
- Repair holes in the wall. Chances are, you’ll have a few of these, especially if you mounted a flat-screen TV on the wall. If the hole is microscopic, but you’re worried your landlord will still notice it, you can try using white (nongel) toothpaste to repair your wall. Squirt some directly into the hole and smooth the edge with a putty knife (your finger works in a pinch). Let it dry overnight, then use a piece of sandpaper to smooth over any ridges. Of course, caulk or spackle is preferable, especially on larger holes.
- Get rid of grease or burnt-on food in the oven. To clean your oven naturally, make a paste with baking soda and water. Coat the entire oven and let it sit overnight (the perfect excuse for takeout!). The next day, wipe it down with a damp cloth and spray white vinegar on any hardened areas, then wipe away. Keep doing this (and ordering takeout!) until the oven sparkles.
- Clean a grimy microwave. Remember that time your burrito exploded and you, um, “forgot” to clean it? (Yeah, been there.) Follow this tip from Julie Edelman, The Accidental Housewife: Half-fill a small microwave-safe bowl with water. Slice a lemon in half, squeeze its juice into the bowl, and throw the rinds in too. Microwave for 3 to 5 minutes and don’t open the microwave door for another 5 minutes or so. The steam will help loosen any built-up gunk, making it easy to wipe your microwave clean.
- Remove crayon from walls. This might be more of an issue for tenants with toddlers (though it’s entirely possible your 20-something roommate or kid sister got a little wild when burning off some creative energy). Crayon is easier to remove than you might think. Simply squirt some nongel toothpaste on the crayon marks and then gently rub with a soft scrub brush or dry cloth. Wipe any remaining toothpaste with a damp sponge.
- Clean carpet stains. For light stains (read: not red wine), gently rub the stain with a mixture of 2 tablespoons of salt dissolved in ½ cup of white vinegar. Let the solution dry before vacuuming. For darker stains, add 2 tablespoons of borax to the mixture.
- Wipe up refrigerator spills. While discarding leftover food is a given, it’s also a good idea to wipe up any spills or debris while you’re at it. Becky Rapinchuk, who blogs at CleanMama.net, recommends mixing 1 teaspoon of baking soda, 1 teaspoon of dish soap, and 4 to 6 cups of warm water. Dip a dishcloth or microfiber cloth into the solution, wring it out well, and wipe down your empty fridge. Give the fridge door handle and front panels a good wipe while you’re at it.