A Mover’s Guide to Security Deposits

Nothing ruins a conversation about moving faster than the words “security deposit.” Unfortunately, security deposits are a fact of life for most renters. Security deposits allow landlords to protect themselves from tenants who jump ship or trash the apartment. As a renter, you have to fork over the cash or walk away.

That doesn’t mean your money is gone forever, though. Landlords are legally bound to return your security deposit after you move. The most effective way to get your money back is to leave your house (or apartment) spotless. Most apartment complexes use specific criteria to evaluate your flat. I’ve studied evaluation forms from three different apartment complexes, so you don’t have to. Here are top items they look for:



  • At least one month before moving out, inspect the house for cracks in the ceiling–alert the landlord at least a month before you move


  • Wash your walls with soap and water
  • Ask your landlord if he/she wants you to fill holes made by nails and screws
  • Only touch up the paint job if you have access to the original color


  • Replace torn window screens
  • Replace broken window treatments (blinds and shades)
  • Notify the landlord about cracked glass at least a month before moving out

Doors and Doorknobs

  • If the door is painted, wash it with soap and water
  • If the door is stained, color over scratches with a wood marker
  • Only replace broken door knobs if you can find the same style

Floors and Carpets

  • Thoroughly vacuum all carpeted surfaces
  • Hire a professional carpet clean to treat the floors (required by most landlords)
  • Sweep and mop all concrete, wood, tile, and linoleum surfaces

Cabinets, Closets, and Drawers

  • Wipe off all built in shelving units
  • Make sure sliding hinges are in working order

Electric Sockets and Light Bulbs

  • Test electric sockets and report outages to the front office at least one month before moving out
  • Wipe down fan blades and report malfunctions to the front office

Sinks and Faucets

  • Check the garbage disposal for glass and other debris
  • Do not use Drano on clogged drains–it can damage pipes and end up costing you money
  • Report leaks to management before moving

Countertops and Tiling

  • Look for cracked tiles and report them before moving
  • Check caulking for damage–if you’re into DIY, this is an easy repair

Bathtub and Shower

  • Check for loose or cracked tiles; if you landlord left extras, you can replace these yourself
  • If you purchased a new shower head, put the original back in its place


  • Leave the inside and outside of the toilet spotless
  • If the toilet runs, lift the lid, and readjust-the chain that turns off the water
  • If necessary, tighten the bolts which hold down the toilet bowl seat

Garage (if applicable)

Front and Back Yards (if applicable)

  • Pick up animal droppings and pull weeds
  • Water grass, trees, and other permanent plant residents



  • Wipe down the inside and outside of your refrigerator
  • Check ice maker for malfunctions
  • If the internal light bulb is out, replace it


  • Run the dishwasher empty to get rid of excess food particles
  • Verify that all of the outer controls are working

Stove and Oven

  • Check that all burners are working
  • Clean drip pans by soaking them in vinegar for five hours
  • Check the light and the fan above your range
  • Verify that your oven light is still working
  • Run the clean cycle on your oven and scrape out excess residue

Washer and Dryer

  • Verify that both your washer and dryer are working–report problems at least a month before moving out
  • If the light in your dryer is out, replace it
  • Remember to remove lint from the catcher in your dryer

Final Considerations

As I mentioned, this list is based on evaluation forms from three different property management organizations. If you feel comfortable, consider asking your landlord if they have their own evaluation form. This will help make sure that you’re spending time on chores that matter to your landlord. If you can’t get ahold of an evaluation form, try to weigh the cost of the repair against the size of your security deposit. For example, don’t invest junk removal (which runs around $150), unless your security deposit is only $600.

After your move, wait at least 30 days before asking about your security deposit. After approximately one month, feel free to call the complex and inquire. Finally, when you move into your next apartment complex, remember this checklist. Evaluate your surroundings, and keep a record of any problems. This is another way to protect yourself from disputes with your landlord.