After moving into a new apartment, it doesn’t take long for the space you’re renting to feel like your own. But that carpet you spilled red wine on and that wall you drilled a hole into actually belong to your landlord, and don’t think he or she will let you forget it once it’s time to return your security deposit. Don’t end up paying more than you need to after your lease runs out. Here are some simple steps all tenants should take to ensure their deposit ends up back in their bank account where it belongs.
1. DO YOUR HOMEWORK.
To increase the chances of getting your deposit back, there are some precautions you need to take before even writing the check. For starters, review the lease carefully to see what type of damage could end up costing you after you leave. If your building prohibits pets, for example, make sure you know that before moving in with your slobbery sheepdog.
It’s also worth brushing up on your state’s laws regarding tenant’s rights. While back rent, cleaning, and repair costs are usually fair game, landlords aren’t allowed to charge you for normal wear and tear to the apartment. Things like worn-out carpeting and minor nicks and scuffs in the walls would fall under this category. And before finally taking the plunge and signing the lease, do a quick web search of the landlord and leasing company to see if there’s any history of tenants getting ripped off by unfair charges. You may be protected legally from such bogus deductions, but it’s much easier to avoid these situations all together.
2. DOCUMENT EVERYTHING.
You may insist that that hole in the wall was there when you moved in, but in a court of law it’s your word against your landlord’s. Avoid getting charged for prior damages by photographing every corner of the apartment while it’s still empty. Scratches, stains, and dents that you overlooked on the initial tour may end up coming back to haunt you months—or years—down the road. Hopefully you’ll never need to use them, but keep the photographs in a safe place on your computer in case you ever do.
3. DON’T MAKE CHANGES WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION.
If you’re not sure what you can get away with in terms of customizing your apartment, a good rule of thumb is to err on the conservative side. But if temporary décor options simply won’t do and you feel you need to give your living room a vibrant new coat of paint, make sure to get explicit written permission from your landlord before doing so. This rule also applies to installing new fixtures or making any renovations to the space.
4. DON’T PUT OFF REPAIRS.
If something stops working properly in an apartment, it’s normally the responsibility of the landlord to pay for repairs. But this financial burden might end up becoming the tenant’s problem if they wait too long to report the issue. For example, a leaky shower could end up damaging the surrounding linoleum if left ignored for too long, in which case the tenants might be liable for the repair costs. When you notice something that needs fixing in your unit, immediately report your concerns to management; do so in writing and retain a copy for future security.
5. FILL IN SMALLER HOLES.
Even if you were a model tenant throughout your stay, chances are you left your mark on the apartment in some shape or form. A wall riddled with holes from nails and thumbtacks isn’t easy to look at, but it is easy to fix. Pay a visit to your local hardware store and purchase some spackling paste and a putty knife. Smoothing a tiny dab of this stuff over the smaller holes in your wall will make it look good as new, and the investment shouldn’t set you back any more than $5.
6. PATCH UP LARGER ONES.
A moving mishap, furniture delivery fumble, or rowdy party leave a sizable hole in your wall? You may be tempted to abandon all hope of getting your full deposit back right then and there, but you can fix it yourself with the right tools and some determination. You’ll need the same type of spackling paste you’d use on a smaller hole and a mesh repair patch, which you can also find at a hardware store. Cut a circle from the patch that’s large enough to cover the hole and some of the surrounding wall. Use a putty knife to completely cover the patch with paste and, after it dries, sand down the edges.
7. WHEN IT COMES TO STAINS, BE PREPARED FOR THE WORST.
An apartment with pristine, light-colored carpet is a disaster waiting to happen. But this doesn’t mean you have to give up your evening glass of Merlot once you move in. When your floor falls victim to the inevitable spill, just make sure you have the right cleaning supplies to tackle the stain before it sets. In addition to an all-purpose cleaner, baking soda is a useful tool to have on hand (this is especially effective on dark stains like red wine or coffee). Carpet cleaner is good for getting deep into the shag of your carpet and removing those hard-to-reach messes. And if you find yourself cleaning up a violent splash of red wine on the floor, rubbing salt into the spill will also prevent it from staining.
8. DISGUISE SCRATCHES IN THE FLOOR.
You agreed to pet-sit for your friend for one night, and now your apartment’s hardwood floor looks like a worn-out scratching post. While you may not be able to reverse these marks, there is a way to make them less noticeable. For shallow scratches on light wood floors, try rubbing a raw walnut along the scrape until it blends in with the rest of the floor. This method won’t work quite as well on darker floors with deep scratches, so check your local hardware store for a wood-colored marker or pencil made exactly for this purpose.