Get Back a Security Deposit for Your Apartment Rental Before Moving

Couple in an apartment with packed moving boxes
Morsa Images/ DigitalVision/ Getty Images

If you need to move out of your apartment and want to get your damage or security deposit back, use this checklist to protect yourself when signing a lease and moving out.

Before you sign a lease, read the fine print.

While this is common sense, make sure you read through a lease before signing.  While it might not be possible to read through every item, so we recommend reading the pieces that pertain to deposits, term agreements, and rental increases. Make sure you know what the terms are for receiving a deposit back and when it might be held.

The lease should have a list of damages due to everyday use.

Some of the things that should be listed is damage that occurs because of everyday use, and what the tenant isn’t responsible for are things such as smudged walls, worn steps, broken pipes, and appliances. The list should contain items that are common things that need replacement after years of use or wear.

Make sure the landlord provides a list and defines what “everyday use” means. For instance, if you rent the apartment less than six months, you might be responsible for dirty walls or spots on carpets. On the other hand, if you rent a home for four years, these problems might be considered due to everyday use and wear.

Before you move in, conduct an inspection with the landlord.

Before you move in, make sure you look through the entire apartment to make a list of preexisting issues. You can even take photos that show the problem.  Keep copies and make sure the landlord has copies so when you move out, you're not charged for these issues. It's also a great way to create a list of things that should be fixed before you move in. 

If things break, call the landlord right away.

Once you’re living in your new place, make sure you notify the landlord as soon as something goes wrong. The sooner you notify the landlord the less likely it’ll be that you end up paying for something that goes wrong. Keep a record of things that the landlord has fixed and things that haven’t been fixed. Note the date you called and reported the problem and the day it was fixed. This is a great way to provide a record of maintenance and to note the problems that weren’t resolved so when you move out, you aren’t held responsible for those unresolved problems.

Keep a record of things you do to improve the rental space.

If you painted the walls, fixed the porch railing, or replaced the stove’s broken element, make sure you keep a list of when you fixed the problems and how much you spent on each. It’s pretty normal to replace burnt bulbs or even stove elements, but it’s still a good idea to note these small improvements. It definitely adds to your argument should you have a dispute about the damage deposit.

Get everything in writing.

If you make an agreement with your landlord, make sure you get it in writing. You might agree with the landlord that you'll keep your home nicely painted if he or she supplies the paint. You might also only agree to do maintenance if some portion of the rent is subsidized or you're guaranteed of getting my deposits back.

Clean thoroughly.

One of the best ways you can ensure that you receive the damage deposit back is to clean the apartment thoroughly. It’s hard to clean when you’re surrounded by moving boxes and when the movers often track in mud and dust and dirt. If you have time and are moving within the same city or town, plan ahead to take one day to clean. On the other hand, if you’re moving to another city or town and don’t have time to clean, hire professionals to do it for you.