What Can A Landlord Charge For When You Move Out?

We’ve all heard the term “wear and tear” when it comes to the typical nicks and scratches even the most careful apartment renter causes. But what separates normal “wear and tear” from damages you’re expected to pay for out of your security deposit? (Or, worse yet, in addition to your security deposit?) And how can you address what you consider unfair bills from your landlord when you’re moving out?

The following three suggestions will help you receive a security deposit refund and find a solution for unreasonable landlord charges when you move out.

1. Review your lease

Make sure you’re familiar with any specifics outlined in your lease. Anything you read online, are told by a friend, or even hear from an attorney takes a backseat to the legally binding contract you signed with your landlord before moving in.

The American Apartment Owners Association offers a “wear and tear” checklist that helps provide the groundwork for what’s covered. It includes checking that:

  • All doors and hinges are working well
  • Carpet is not notably dirty or worn
  • Walls and ceilings are stain- and crack-free
  • The toilet is not running
  • … and more

These are just a few things your landlord may be able to charge for when you move out. It’s not an all-inclusive list. It can, however, provide you with a foundation in what exactly your landlord will be looking for regarding “wear and tear.”

2. Refresh the space

A clean apartment increases the odds of your entire security deposit being returned. What qualifies as clean?

  • Disinfecting the bathroom
  • Cleaning the carpet, especially if you have pets
  • Patching holes where pictures were hung
  • Sweeping, vacuuming, and dusting

Depending on what’s stipulated in your lease, you may be in for more — or maybe even less — work.

3. Ready a defense

Dubious last-minute charges from your landlord can put a damper on the excitement of moving to a new apartment. Landlords everywhere have all sorts of horror stories about terrible tenants. Some won’t leave even after they stop paying rent. Others turn out to be drug dealers. And the especially bad ones hide dead fish in the walls. (Seriously! You can read about these stories in The Telegraph.) If this isn’t you, you deserve to be treated with the utmost respect … which includes not receiving unfair last-minute charges.

If you feel your landlord is piling on unfair charges, consider taking an approach similar to this one:

  1. Start by having an open and honest dialogue about the charges, including where they are outlined in the lease.
  2. Turn to a local tenant advocacy group to work on your behalf. Check out the Tenant Rights section of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to find one near you.
  3. As a last resort, head to small-claims court.

Obviously, no one wants that third option — court — to come into the picture. That’s why taking care of the first two items in this list, reviewing your lease, and refreshing the space, are so important. But if that doesn’t work, having somewhere to turn for immediate support, like a tenant advocacy group, can help. If small-claims court is necessary, resources such as this one can help.

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