When moving out of an apartment, dorm room or rented house, don't leave your security deposit behind.
Policies will vary. However, property managers who spoke with Angie’s List say tenants can recover their security deposits by simply taking reasonable care of the property while they live there and returning it in good condition.
“You moved into a place that was nice and clean, it should be that way when you move out,” says Tonia Elder, assistant manager at Benton Pointe Apartment Homes in Allen, Texas.
For specific ways to recover your security deposit and avoid additional expenses, follow these tips:
Give notice before leaving
Your lease may end in a year or two, but property owners still require tenants to give written notice at least 30 days before they move. Some managers, like Kelli Fleetham of The Fleetham Group in St. Paul, Minnesota, require 60-days notice. Fleetham says if a tenant breaks the lease before the term expires, he or she forfeits the security deposit.
And it’s important to pay attention to the details of your rental agreement. Although some leases convert to a month-to-month agreement after the initial term expires, some renew automatically, locking tenants into a new six-month or one-year agreement.
If that happens, property managers say you will lose your security deposit if you leave before the lease expires.
Get details for the move out
If your property owner or manager doesn’t give you a checklist explaining the items you must clean and remove, request one.
Elder says the checklist she gives tenants states the amount they’ll be charged, per item, if the company has to pay a professional cleaner to do the things the tenant was supposed to do.
If your lease agreement includes paying for utilities, find out if the property owner plans to deduct your last month’s utility fees from the security deposit.
Take your stuff with you
Don’t leave behind furniture, clothing, or items you no longer want or have outgrown. Check the closets and storage units to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything.
If the item wasn’t in the apartment or an accompanying storage unit when you moved in, it shouldn’t be there when you move out, says Lisa Turner, assistant manager at Westhaven Apartments in Zionsville, Indiana.
If you have no room in your new home for a large piece of furniture, give it away or donate it to a charity that has a pick-up service.
That includes the bathtub, stove and other kitchen appliances. “Don’t leave anything in the refrigerator,” Turner says.
Property managers say tenants do the most damage to carpets, so try to protect them from major stains and odors.
“We pay for a straight carpet clean, but if it has pet damage, tears or stains, [tenants] pay for that,” Elder says, adding that tenants also foot the bill if they have to replace the carpet. “We shouldn’t have to replace carpet every time someone moves out.”
Schedule a move-out walkthrough
Once you’ve cleaned the apartment or house, ask the property manager to inspect it with you — room by room — before you return your keys, says Steve Goddard, a regional vice president for the National Association of Realtors.
“Ask if there’s anything here that wasn’t the same as when you gave it to me,” Goddard says.
Take pictures before handing in your key
If you vacate the property after normal business hours, pictures will verify the condition in which you left the apartment, Turner says. She recommends taking pictures of every room, inside the closets and appliances.
Goddard agrees. “If you have to go to court, pictures go a long way [toward proving your case],” he says.
Editor's note: This is an updated version of an article originally posted on March 31, 2015.
Have you ever been denied your security deposit? Tell us about your experience in the comments section below.