People tend to think of renting a home as a temporary thing that isn’t a good deal for the renter. But in truth, it can be a very good arrangement. You get a place to live without any of the financial responsibility that lands on the property owner. You don’t have to worry about whether the housing market goes up or down.
However, there are steps you should take to protect your investment in the property, by which we mean your security deposit. Typically set at an amount equal to one month’s rent, the deposit protects the property owner in case you cause certain types of damage.
The landlord has the responsibility to keep your home “habitable,” meaning that it has working plumbing and appliances and is free from defects that could pose a health hazard. But if your dog tears a big chunk out of the carpet, or your friend puts his fist through the wall in a drunken stupor, that’s on you.
Because moving is expensive, you need to protect your security deposit so that it can go towards your new situation. It’s easy to stress over every instance of wear and tear that occurs during your tenure in a rental home, but protecting your deposit is really just a matter of understanding the conditions of your lease and staying proactive throughout your time there.
Following are the steps to take before move-in, while you live there, and when you move out. With attention to these action items, the law is on your side if you ever find yourself in a legal dispute with your landlord.
When the space is empty, take some time to photograph any instances of damage that are already present. This includes nail holes in the wall, stains on the carpet, leaky faucets, scratched paint, sticky doors, windows, or locks, and rattling appliances.
Hopefully you won’t find much of this, but do a thorough review anyway. Often your lease will have a spot for noting these items of existing damage, but when you back up each notation with a photograph, it leaves no question as to the extent of the damage.
And finally, this should go without saying, but definitely read all portions of your lease before signing it! It needs to lay out all of your rights and responsibilities as well as your landlord’s. If it doesn’t, ask for any questions to be clarified in writing before you sign on the dotted line.
During Your Residence
Remember that your landlord must, by law, keep your home habitable. If you don’t have heat in the dead of winter, that’s a violation. If you can’t cook or bathe, your landlord needs to address that quickly. If a portion of carpet or flooring comes loose, that represents a tripping hazard that also needs to be handled by your landlord.
Normal wear and tear will also occur throughout your time in the space, and this is not your responsibility to fix. You don’t need to buy new appliances or replace the carpet when it shows clear walking patterns – your landlord should have a schedule for replacing all of these items as they wear out.
Damage that occurs from the outside in, such as a window broken by hail, is similarly your landlord’s responsibility. But if your kids get a little too rowdy and pull down a ceiling fan, that is something you should fix. You may also be held responsible for spackling over any nail holes you placed in the wall.
Understanding the line between yours and your landlord’s financial responsibilities is important because you should take care of any unusual damage that belongs to you as soon as it occurs. A little hole in the wall can easily become bigger and bigger over time.
Similarly, be sure to let your landlord know in a timely manner about issues that he or she will need to fix. You may be inclined to just deal with that drip in the bathroom, but anytime water shows up where it shouldn’t, there could be damage behind the walls that will only get worse if left unchecked.
Now is the time to get that lease out and make sure you follow all instructions for giving notice and leaving the space in an appropriate condition. We’ve found that it can be helpful to ask your landlord to come by sometime in the weeks before you leave and tell you exactly what repairs they’d like you to make. That way, you don’t stress out over something that they don’t mind. For example, if the carpeting is due to be replaced anyway, you don’t want to shell out for its cleaning or repair.
One thing you always need to do is make sure to leave the space clean and ready for the landlord to assess. Even if you keep the space pretty tidy on a daily basis, all kinds of dust and gunk can accumulate over the years, especially in the kitchen, along baseboards, and behind furniture.
It is often a worthwhile investment to hire residential cleaning services to come in and take care of that heavy duty work. Getting a proper clean on things like grout, exhaust fans, and kitchen appliances can require a lot of elbow grease, not to mention time, which you will surely be short on. Just be sure to choose residential cleaning services that specifically mention move-out cleaning as part of their expertise.
Not only is leaving your rental clean part of your responsibility as a tenant, it also leaves your landlord with a more favorable impression of you. If they enter the space and find it filthy, they are more likely to attribute other damage to your stay there. But if the space is clean and smells fresh, it is easier for them to see any damage that does exist as part of normal wear and tear.
If you take these steps to protect your security deposit, you will find that renting a home can be a good deal for you as the tenant. Renting leaves you much freer to pick up and move when new opportunities come your way. And when you keep that deposit safe, you’re already ahead of the game in terms of choosing your next home. That said, we wish you the best of luck in all your future ventures and rentals!