When you move out of your rental, you may be concerned that the landlord will keep your security deposit for damage that was in the unit before you occupied it. Proving you took good care of the property and that you repaired every item you broke during the term of the lease can be difficult. Pay close attention to the paperwork you receive when you move into your rental. The checklist that documents the condition of the unit when you move in can be a valuable tool at the time you move out.
Before you move into a rental, your landlord should take you through an inspection that notes in writing, usually on a form that has a checklist for taking occupancy, any existing damage or imperfections to the unit. Every room is carefully reviewed, documenting the condition of the walls, doors, light fixtures, window covering, flooring, appliances and any item included as part of the rent. Test the plumbing and heating-and-air systems to ensure they're operating properly. Don't be embarrassed to point out a stain or mark on the wall. Anything you overlook has the potential of being deducted from your security deposit when you move out. After you and the landlord sign the form, place a copy in your files for future reference.
A move-out checklist is the second part of the form used to inspect the apartment when you moved in. It's the side of the document that's completed upon your departure. When you move in, items not in perfect condition should be described in writing next to their location in the rental. For example, in the column for the living room floor, the initial inspection may have noted that there was a dark brown stain next to the front door. When you move out, you won't be obligated for cleaning or replacing that area. At the time you vacate, inspect the rental with your landlord and mark down any new damage since the time you moved in.
Security Deposit Refund
Depending on the laws in your state or local jurisdiction, the landlord has a specified period of time, such as 14 or 21 days, to give you an itemized list, also known as a disposition or settlement, detailing the charges deducted from your security deposit. Review the document carefully and match it to your move-out form. When you moved in, you may have received a list of the cost to repair or replace various damaged items in the rental. It may be less expensive for you to perform the work yourself or to hire a handyman, instead of allowing the landlord to make the repairs.
About two weeks before you vacate, ask the landlord for an informal inspection before the final checklist is compiled at the time you move out. You will have an opportunity to fix an item you overlooked rather than having the cost of the repair deducted from your security deposit. Try to move a few days before the expiration of your lease so you have time to clean carefully after you vacate, or hire a service to do the work. You should leave the rental similar to the condition it was in when you moved in, and you may find other items to repair before the final inspection.
Carol Deeb has been an editor and writer since 1988. Her work has appeared in magazines, newspapers and online publications, as well as a book on education. Deeb is a real-estate investor and business owner with professional experience in human resources. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from San Diego State University.