money in envelopeIf you’re like most people, you don’t think too much about your security deposit. You can pretty much count on getting it refunded when you move out, right? Well, that depends. If you want to avoid nasty surprises at the end of your lease, follow the three easy tips the Moveline team’s seen work time and time again.

Start right at the start

It may be too late for an existing rental, but in the future, always review the deposit terms before signing the lease. Know what end-of-lease charges are refundable, and which are not (cleaning fee, sanitation fee if you have pets, etc.).

Also, know the landlord’s reputation. While Moveline helps you find trustworthy movers, sites like Yelp and Apartment Ratings help consumers warn others about property managers that seem to get a kick out of sticking it to former tenants.

Exercise your inner Ansel Adams

Not exactly ready to open your own gallery? No worries — we’re talking documentation. Before you bring in even a single box of your stuff, do a walkthrough of the apartment, noting any damage in a log. Take detailed pics of each and every issue. Worn carpet? click Is the bathroom tile broken in a few places? click Does the lock to the basement kinda-sorta-maybe lock sometimes? click Go over all of this with your landlord, in writing, and get it signed before you move in. Keep a copy for yourself, and give a copy to management. Yes, it takes time, but documenting these items now will make all the difference when you move out.

When it’s time to move on, request to be at the final walkthrough with the landlord. Have your initial walk-through documentation in hand to make sure you’re not going to get dinged for damages that were there when you moved in. Even a shady landlord is less likely to try to pull one over on you if you have that signed doc with you.

Take care of the place

This is common sense, but if you don’t damage the apartment or house, you shouldn’t have to pay for damage at the end. Clean up messes that might cause significant problems (water spills that can damage floors, carpet stains, bathroom mold, etc.). Even if you paid a cleaning fee, do a little cleaning yourself when you move out. Wipe down ceiling fans, cabinets, fixtures, and the nooks and crannies that typical renters skip. It won’t take that long, and if it looks like you took care of the place, most landlords assume you did. Do like your mother told you years ago and take care of someone else’s property. Treat it with respect and you’re far more likely to get that deposit back. Unfortunately, yes… this means you’ll probably need to hold those long-standing weekly mudwrestling events offsite. Sorry.

Paper beats rock

So let’s assume you’ve done all of the above, and you’re returning the apartment in the same condition you found it, yet your landlord still stiffs you and charges you for imaginary or pre-existing problems.

You might want to chuck a rock at his head, but… don’t. Rather, be polite but firm. Avoid conversations on the issue (verbal agreements are hard to prove). Write a letter demanding your deposit back immediately. If it wasn’t provided, demand an itemized list of charges that affected your refund. If there are bogus charges, defend yourself with your paperwork – your photos and walkthrough documentation. If they claim that you damaged the carpet or broke the cabinet handle, but you can prove otherwise, you’ll be sitting pretty if things end up in small claims court. And the landlord knows it.

All in all, know your specific rights if things get really sticky. Since rights vary from state to state, the website for your attorney general should prove helpful.

And by the way, if you’re planning a move, you don’t have to go it alone. Moveline simplifies the inventory process, gets fair and accurate quotes from reputable movers, and oversees your move from beginning to end. All without costing you a dime. Let us make your move easier than you imagined, freeing you up to spend time on more important things.