How an Apartment Inspection Simplifies Your Security Deposit Return

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How an Apartment Inspection Simplifies Your Security Deposit Return

Lisa Bernstein · Aug 9, 2009

When renting an apartment, a security deposit is one of the expenses you will face. Unlike your monthly rent, which is a set amount, there are circumstances under which your entire security deposit  may not be returned. Naturally, you would like to maximize the odds of having your security deposit returned when you move out. In a rental property, people move in and out, and anyone could cause damage to the apartment. The key to getting back your entire security deposit is to document the condition of the apartment before you move in, take good care of it, and demonstrate that you didn’t cause damage while living there.

Apartment Inspections as Documentation

Security deposit laws in some states may require your landlord to pay security deposit interest or to provide a written statement of the apartment’s condition at move-in time, including a list of existing damage. Other states don’t have such requirements.

The best way to ensure the return of your security deposit is by conducting an apartment inspection. Do this while the apartment is empty and prior to signing the lease. You and your landlord should meet at the apartment to make a checklist reflecting the condition of the apartment. For added security, consider bringing along a friend or roommate as a witness.

It’s important for your checklist to be thorough and include detailed information about any damage already there before you move in. Don’t confine yourself to a visual inspection; test things as you walk through the apartment. For instance, turn on the faucets to check the water pressure. Run the water for a few minutes in the sinks and the shower to determine whether they drain properly. Inspect and test all of the fixtures. In the kitchen, turn on the appliances and note any problems you find.

To be on the safe side, consider taking photographs or video of the apartment. A photographic record of the apartment’s condition, along with your detailed checklist, is a good way to avoid disputes over what damage existed and what damage you caused during your tenancy. Photograph the entire apartment, taking close-up shots of any damage you see. By dating each photograph and sending a copy to your landlord immediately after taking the pictures, you will have a record of how the apartment looked prior to moving in.

How an Apartment Inspection Relates to Your Security Deposit

At move-out time, you should repeat the process of inspecting your apartment. This is the time when disagreements between you and your landlord are most likely to occur. There is an element of subjectivity in determining what is normal “wear and tear” and what constitutes damage. By comparing your move-in and move-out inspection checklists and photographs, you stand a better chance of showing that something was already worn and that normal daily use caused its current condition. Unless there is obvious damage, such as a broken mirror or large holes in the walls, your inspection documents should be adequate proof that you caused no damage to the apartment and are entitled to have your entire security deposit returned.

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Lisa Bernstein: As a long-time apartment dweller and seasoned condominium trustee, I have dealt with numerous landlord-tenant, property management, and day-to-day apartment complex issues. My extensive, direct experience has led to invaluable insights into apartment life from both the tenant and management perspectives.

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