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Renter's Security Deposit Moving In and Out of Your Home


Do you remember how you felt when you first saw your home? Were you happy, sad, pleased, disappointed, or simply relieved to find a place to rent? You’ve had some wonderful times in that old place. Now it’s time to say goodbye.

Goodbyes are always hard. Luckily, this goodbye comes with a great parting gift – your security deposit. You handed over your money to seal the renter’s deal. Well, the honeymoon is over. Let me tell you how to get your money back.

Move In Inspection

When you moved into your home, you probably had to complete a move in inspection. The move in inspection shows that the property was in good order when you arrived. Rental property inspections protect landlords and allow them to charge for damages to the property. Inspections also protect you from being charged for damages that existed before you moved in.

Completing a detailed property inspection seems like a hassle when you’re trying to move all of your stuff into your new home. However, this inspection is important if you want to get your deposit back when you move out.

The first step is to be thorough during your move in inspection. Take pictures of your home when you move in. Note all damages, including holes, chipped paint, dirty appliances, broken appliances, missing light fixtures and window screens, ripped carpet, leaky faucets, and broken doors. No detail is too small. Use the Order Your Life Move In/Out Inspection Form if your landlord or rental manager did not give you an inspection form.

Yes, your landlord will probably be annoyed with you for being so meticulous. Ignore the annoyance. Completing this form is in your best interest. For example, there is a stain on the living room wall when you move in. You don’t note the stain on your move in inspection. When you move out, the landlord notices the stain and tells you the wall needs to be repainted. Not a problem, right? Not necessarily. The money to repaint may come out of your deposit.

If your landlord was already planning to paint when you moved out, you probably won’t be charged for a small stain. However, I once had a rental manager try to charge me for a nonexistent stain. He walked through the empty apartment with me on move out day. He told me everything was perfect (and I know it was because I’d cleaned like crazy). The rental company had a policy that they painted every time someone moved out. I used my move in inspection, and the pictures, to show that I had not damaged the apartment. After a few meetings and some emails, I finally got my entire deposit back.

After I moved out, I discovered that charging for painting was a common tactic of this rental manager. He didn’t want to pay for paint out of his own budget, so he routinely told tenants they’d damaged the property and needed to pay for repairs. Unfortunately, many of the former tenants were too busy to haggle with this manager and get their money back. Even with evidence, I had a hard time. The honeymoon was definitely over.

Move Out Inspection

The process for moving out is very similar to the process for moving in. Take pictures of everything. Make note of everything.

As soon as you know you’re moving out, start cleaning and making repairs. Contact maintenance immediately. Ask them to do repairs. Generally, if maintenance does the repairs while you are a tenant, you won’t be charged. Keep in mind that maintenance crews usually do small repairs caused by normal wear and tear (e.g., fixing leaky faucets, replacing old appliances, and fixing that oven that keeps breaking down). If you have severely damaged the home (e.g., holes in the walls, broken doors or windows, or ripped flooring), you will have to pay for those damages. If your home is dirty or in need of repair when you move out, be prepared to forfeit some, or all, of your deposit.

It may work in your favor to hire a cleaning crew. Some rental agencies have a preferred cleaning company and guarantee return of your deposit if you hire them to clean the home. Ask your landlord or rental manager about cleaning company options.

How do you get your deposit back? Leave your rental home as good as or better than you found it.

Schedule a move out inspection with your landlord or rental manager. Schedule the inspection for a time when you know the home will be empty and clean. Get the move out inspection date and time in writing.

Ask your landlord or rental manager for a move out checklist. If they do not have a move out checklist, use the Order Your Life Move In/Out Inspection Form.

Before the move out inspection, make sure all of your belongings are off the property. Landlords will charge you if they have to remove trash or personal property from the rental home. Check your lease for move out terms and conditions. You don’t want to receive any surprises (i.e., surprise charges) after you’ve moved out.

During your move out inspection, go through the checklist as you walk through the property. Make notes. If there are damages, ask about costs and whether you will receive your entire deposit. If everything is fine, get confirmation in writing.

At the end of the inspection, have your landlord or rental manager sign and date the checklist. If the landlord or rental manager wants to keep the checklist, ask for a copy of the checklist, or take a picture of it with your cell phone. Keep the checklist with your moving documents.

How long should you keep your lease and inspection paperwork? At the very least, keep your paperwork until you receive your deposit. Save the documents even longer if you suspect you will need them later (or if you like to keep documents “just in case”). Scan the documents, or use a mobile app, and save them electronically.

The New Honeymoon

You can follow the old adage, “Always leave a place better than you found it.” Or you can subscribe to the motto, “It’s mine and I want it back.”

Either way, leave your rental home clean and tidy. Get your money back. Then prepare to embark on a new honeymoon filled with pictures, detailed notes, and an adventurous happily ever after.

Here is your honeymoon guide: Order Your Life Move In/Out Inspection Form.

Use the Apartment and House Hunting Checklist to compare honeymoon destinations.



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1 comment

  • Great information and tips! Really appreciate the lists!!


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