Photo (cc) by Matt Biddulph
Call me overly optimistic, but I always believe I’m going to get my full security deposit back when I move out of an apartment.
Why? Because I put my notice in on time, pay my last month’s rent, and leave the place clean and damage-free. And after I move out, I skip to the mailbox every day, fully expecting to see a big fat check from my old landlord – and then it happens. I open the envelope one day to find a slightly less than big fat check, with a laundry list of tiny charges that “exceeded normal wear and tear.” And I’m furious and vow that next time, things will be different. Next time, I’m going to beat normal wear and tear.
But there’s the rub. What’s normal wear and tear to a tenant isn’t always normal to a landlord, and you could end up with a bunch of small charges if you don’t look out for the little things when you’re moving out. Like these…
1. Tiny holes in the wall
You’ve hung up some pictures while living in your rental, and now the pictures have come down and left tiny holes in their place. They may seem barely noticeable to you, but they won’t to your landlord. So patch them up before you leave. This Old House recommends putting a small amount of spackle in the hole, letting the spackle dry, and sanding over the spot to smooth it out. It shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours to patch up every wall.
2. Discoloration in tile grout
Tile grout stains over time, especially in the kitchen. Even a small amount of discoloration makes the floors seem dirty, and your landlord may charge you a cleaning fee. Thankfully, even the worst stains have a quick fix: Spray a mild bleaching product like Clorox Clean-Up on the grout, wait a few moments, and wipe clean with a paper towel.
3. Unhinged cabinets
Cabinet hinges can come loose (or the screws fall out entirely) after several months of use. Tightening or replacing the screws on the inside hinge will put the door back into place.
4. Bent, rusted, or dirty blinds
If your window blinds aren’t clean and neat, your landlord may charge you a cleaning or repair fee. Open the blinds and check each one for dust, bent spots, or rust. Wipe the dust off with a rag. Straighten out small bent spots. For rust, look for a product designed to remove it and follow the directions carefully. Otherwise, you might strip the paint off the blind.
5. Stained drip pans
Electric stoves have aluminum bowls underneath the heating coils to catch spills. Over time, these drip pans accumulate spills and start to rust. A landlord once charged me $6 apiece for each drip pan. Had I known that beforehand, I would have replaced them myself. You can get replacement drip pans for about $2 each at a home improvement store like Lowe’s or Home Depot.
6. Mild pet odors
Pet owners are desensitized to the smell of their pets, but your landlord probably isn’t. Dogs and cats leave a distinct odor that lingers after you clean. Go back in your rental after you move out your pets and coat the floors in baking soda. Let the baking soda sit for several hours and then vacuum or sweep it up. No more pet smell.
7. Missing or dead light bulbs
Some landlords charge for missing light bulbs. My landlord charged me $5 apiece for the blown-out light fixture in my living room. Play it on the safe side and replace the bulbs before you leave. And you don’t need to use your good CFLs – anything will do, as long as the light turns on when the landlord walks in.
8. Electrical cover plates
Light-switch and outlet covers attract dust, and when the rental is empty, they really stick out. Use a mild all-purpose cleaner and a rag to polish each one before your landlord charges you for replacements.
9. Dirty light fixtures
Interior light fixtures and ceiling fans love dust, and exterior light fixtures are bug graveyards. But you have to clean both before you move. For the interior fixtures, a long-handled duster (Swiffer has a great one) or even a broom will work. For outside fixtures, use a small Phillips head screwdriver to unhook the globe, and then wash it out with warm water and mild dish soap.
10. Clogged drains
Once you stop using a sink, it’s easy to forget about a mild clog, but your landlord will probably charge for it. Lifehacker has several ideas for clearing a clog yourself (without having to buy an expensive drain cleaner). My favorite: popping a few Alka-Seltzer tabs down the drain and letting them fizz away the gunk.
11. Smoke detector batteries
Don’t forget to check the smoke detectors before you leave. If the battery is dead, replace it. Otherwise, your landlord could charge you for a more expensive replacement. You can find replacement batteries pretty cheap at super centers like Wal-Mart or Target.