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Get the Most from Your Security Deposit

Once classes are about to wrap up, it's time to start thinking about getting ready to move. As you scrounge for boxes and bribe your friends into helping with the haul, you'll probably want to give some thought to your security deposit.

In almost all cases, your landlord will want to do some work on your apartment to get it ready for the next tenant. If you do some of this work yourself, or make it easier for the landlord to do the work, you'll have a better chance of getting your entire deposit back.

Your landlord isn't looking at your security deposit as a way to make money only to make the apartment rentable for the next tenant. So it's worth a phone call to find out how much it would cost to fix something that's been damaged. Fixing it yourself could cost less than the landlord paying someone to do it.

Keep in mind that normal wear and tear is expected but rarely defined by law. Also keep in mind that you'll owe your landlord money if the damages to your apartment are greater than your security deposit.

First, give your apartment the naked eye test. If you can spot physical damage, or better yet, if a friend can, fix it before you move out. Patch any holes in the walls with spackle. Then it's time to clean. Clean the countertops, floors and windows. Don't forget the bathtub. Make the inside of the refrigerator shine. Your oven is important too here's an article on a non-toxic and cheap way to clean it: Don't forget to clean or replace the stove drip pan ($3-5 at the hardware store).

Paint and carpets are commonly damaged in rental apartments. Spot treat any carpet stains and ask your landlord if he or she plans to steam clean the carpet before renting your unit again. If so, you may be able to save the cost and expense of doing it yourself before you move. Likewise, your landlord may or may not be planning to paint the walls after you leave. That bright orange living room might not be to anyone's liking but your own, but you may not have to worry about it either.

Here are a few other suggestions from landlords that tenants don't often think about before they move:

  1. Keys. Don't forget to return all of them.
  2. Smoke. If you've had smokers in your apartment, or burned candles or incense, check the ceiling for soot. A landlord won't always paint the ceiling between tenants, but might charge you for it if he or she has to do so.
  3. Your stuff. Either take everything with you or throw it out before you leave. Don't assume you're doing the next tenant a favor by leaving that sofa behind, because your landlord may have to hire someone to cart it away and leave you with the bill...
Finally, if you have time, walk through your empty apartment with your landlord or a representative of the management company. Go over the list of damages at the end of the tour, and get it in writing with a signature.

Unless damages and dollar amounts are clearly spelled out in your lease, your landlord will have the ultimate say over how much of your deposit you'receive. Some states require an itemized list of all the items added to and deducted from a security deposit.

You have a deadline to clear out your things, and your landlord has a deadline too. You can find out more here: Waiting to Get Your Damage Deposit Back.

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