When you first sign a lease for an apartment or other rentals, you’ll probably need to pay for the first month’s rent and a refundable security deposit upfront. The security deposit is commonly the same as your monthly rent amount. It’s used by your landlord or property management company after you move out to fix any damage you may have caused during your time living there.
Most landlords are honest and happy to return your money in exchange for an apartment that has been well taken care of and is ready for a new tenant. If you leave the rental clean and in good condition, you would be able to get your security deposit back after you move out. Some landlords, however, may try to withhold some or part of the deposit for small or unnoticeable damages.
1. Makes Notes Before Moving In
You’ve found what you think is your dream apartment. All that’s left to do is sign the lease. Before you do, however, ask your landlord to do a walkthrough with you. Carefully inspect every room, cabinet and appliance. Make a list noting anything that is damaged and take pictures.
At the end of the walkthrough, ask your landlord to sign off on the marked damages. This allows you to keep a list of existing damages so your landlord doesn’t think you made them.
You should also carefully read your lease before signing. Check to see what changes you’re allowed to make. Painting the walls, for example, is allowed by some landlords while others prohibit it. Even something you consider small may be covered in the lease and against the rules.
2. Give the Appropriate Moving Notice
Your lease likely has a section related to the process of moving out. It will usually state that you must give written notice to your landlord that you’re leaving. A timeframe for giving notice is also usually specified. If your lease states that you must give written notice 30 days in advance before moving, be sure to send your landlord a letter stating your intentions to move at least 30 days prior.
It’s often a good idea to make a copy of this letter and mail it in a certified envelop so you can track it. Give your letter enough time to arrive through the mail. Even if it’s postmarked for the required advance notice, your landlord may not honor the notice.
You don’t have to explain why you’re moving in your letter. In fact, it’s usually a better idea to leave it short and professional. Address your landlord, state that you intend to move and let them know when you plan to be vacated from the premises. Also include your new address and that you expect to have your security deposit forwarded to that location. Sign and date the letter, making a copy to keep for your records.
3. Fix the Little Things
Even the best tenants may have caused some damage to their rental. The act of living in a space usually means there will be scuffs, scrapes and occasional accidents. If your apartment or house has small scuffs or holes, you may be able to fix them yourself.
When you remove photos from the wall, for example, you may find several large holes from the hanging hardware. Use wall putty to patch any holes and paint the areas so they look good as new. Other small fixes include cleaning the oven, replacing light bulbs and using a bleach pen to spruce up faded grout in the bathroom.
Don’t attempt to fix anything that’s too big for you to handle. Although you may lose part of your security deposit, it’s much better to have it fixed through a professional than doing a poor job fixing something yourself. You might even cause more damage if you’re unsure what you’re doing.
4. Scrub Your Rental Clean
Cleaning your apartment is essential to getting your security deposit back. While you’re not technically required to scrub every inch, it’s certainly in your best interests. Not only does a completely clean apartment show you put effort into moving out properly, but it can also help draw attention away from scuffs or marks. If your wall patches aren’t perfect, a clean apartment gives the space a fresh look.
Clean from top to bottom so the dust and grime you’re cleaning falls to the next spot you’ll clean. Start with things like light fixtures and ceiling fans. Scrub and mop the floors as your last effort in cleaning. Be sure to spend extra time cleaning in the kitchen and bathroom, especially in showers or behind toilets. You’ll also want to thoroughly clean appliances like the microwave or oven.
Your cleaning process should also involve throwing out any unwanted junk so it doesn’t get left behind. This includes items in the refrigerator. You don’t want to leave a large mess of rotting foods once the electricity is turned off.
5. Contact Your Landlord After Moving
Don’t forget to return your keys to your landlord before you officially move out. A forgotten key can cost you several dollars to tens of dollars depending on the type of lock you have. This includes any keys to mailboxes, laundry room, storage areas or exterior doors to your building.
Landlords in California have 21 days to issue a security deposit refund to tenants. If you move out and 21 days goes by, reach out to your landlord to ask about the deposit. Use a written letter to ask about the deposit and make a copy of it before sending. Keep this new letter with your copy of the moving notice letter for your records.
6. Consider Renters Insurance
Some landlords require renters insurance, but if yours doesn’t, consider purchasing it anyway. Renters insurance can help prove to your landlord that you’re a serious tenant. Your landlord’s confidence in you as a responsible renting could help you get your security deposit back.
Additionally, renters insurance is one of the most affordable types of insurance available. It also doesn’t cover just your belongings. You’ll also get liability protection if a covered accident happens in your apartment. Having renters insurance not only keeps you safe while you’re living in your apartment, but your landlord will likely feel more comfortable that you’ve taken care of the rental during your time there.