Before Moving In
Every apartment complex I've lived in has charged a security deposit, some as low as a couple hundred dollars and others as high as one month's rent. Since this can be a lot of money, I've learned to make a plan to earn the deposit back before I even move into a new place. After all, getting a full refund on a security deposit isn't a process you can start when you decide to move out. Before signing any paperwork, I carefully read over the entire lease. This took a little extra time, but it allowed me to catch some important pieces of information. For instance, I learned that my apartment complex charged renters for each item that required cleaning upon moving out. With price tags like $50 for cleaning my oven and $30 for scrubbing the bathtub, along with big fees for disposing items left behind, I could see how quickly a messy move out would add up.
Doing a Walkthrough
Some landlords do a pre-move walkthrough with new renters, which is a helpful and efficient way to document issues. If your landlord won't or can't do a walkthrough with you, do what I did and create your own checklist. Then ask that he or she sign off on it so you're both on the same page. Before I even unloaded the moving truck, I took several minutes to create a checklist, then did a walkthrough in my new apartment. I inspected every surface, opened each door and cabinet, and looked closely at each wall. While almost everything was in great condition, I noticed a few scratches on the kitchen countertops, a noticeable dent in the bedroom wall, and a broken light fixture in the closet. None of these issues required outside repair, but I made sure to document them for reference. I took a snapshot of each issue with my smartphone and made a note of the date and location. After finishing the move-in process, I emailed the notes and photos to my landlord so we both had digital copies of the preexisting issues. During the Lease
While living in my apartment, I did regular upkeep so I wouldn't have a major deep clean when moving out. I was also careful not to make significant modifications like painting the walls or installing shelving. Even though my landlord allowed renters to make changes like these, I knew they could be costly if I didn't have enough time to repaint or repair the walls when my lease ended. On the rare occasion when an appliance broke, I told my landlord right away so it wouldn't lead to lingering issues months down the road.
Rules change from building to building, so I made sure to understand when I had to give notice that I would be moving out without getting stuck with extra fees. In many apartment complexes, leaving too soon means you're breaking your lease, and related fees may come out of your security deposit. Likewise, not giving notice soon enough means you might automatically be signed up for a month-to-month lease that comes at a price you didn't expect.
Cleaning and Packing
When it came time to pack up my apartment, I requested a move out checklist from my landlord so I could complete every task that had a fee attached. I checked off each item, from dusting the blinds to removing scuffs from the wall. When I was finished cleaning and moving my belongings out, I did a complete walkthrough with my landlord. After the walkthrough, I requested a copy of the checklist confirming that all items were complete.
Even great landlords can be busy and let things slide, so after I completed the move out process, I followed up with my former landlord. I asked her to confirm the amount I would receive back from my security deposit and when she would mail the check. Finally, I reminded her of my new address so the check wouldn't get lost in the mail.
Moving can be stressful, but there's no reason a lost deposit has to make the situation worse. Understand what you're responsible for, document everything, and follow up with your landlord to make sure you get every penny of your security deposit back.