Renting a home has lots of benefits. Among them are geographic flexibility, limited liability when appliances break and no property taxes. But things tend to get contentious when disbursement of the security deposit is on the table. We’ve created a list of tasks that tenants should consider in order to avoid those unexpected charges from their security deposit.
1. Do a Thorough Walk Through at Move-In
Make sure you receive a property condition report, usually within 5 days, of moving into your new rental. Once you have that report in hand, don’t just toss it in a drawer to be forgotten about. Take the time and walk through the home, report in hand. Make sure you agree with the findings on the report and if you find any discrepancies…get them to your landlord or property manager IN WRITING as soon as possible. Act fast because most leases require your discrepancies be turned in within a certain period of time in order to be considered part of the initial report (typically 5-10 days after receipt of the report).
This is critical to ensuring you are not charged for pre-existing damages when you vacate. A second set of eyes almost always uncovers something. Don’t be afraid to be particular; it will work to your benefit in the end. Consider taking pictures to support your findings.
The Lesson: Make sure you and your landlord or property manager are in complete agreement as to the condition of the property when it was handed over to you.
2. Use Adequate Floor Coverings
It is paramount as a tenant to protect the hardwood floors in your home. We get it, those gleaming floors (and even the dingy, character filled ones) are heartbreaking to cover up; it’s why you rented the home in the first place, right? But…put a scratch in those floors? You’ll be wishing you had bought that area rug!
Repairing a scratch in hardwood floors, for example, is not as simple as many may think. If the scratch is deep enough, the whole board will need to be replaced and if the floor has not been recently refinished…the entire room will need to be sanded and refinished to ensure consistency in the stain. Many tenants are shocked to discover they can be liable for a good chunk of the cost to complete this repair and it is not cheap.
Consider, using floor protection when moving in to avoid the inevitable scratch produced by pushing furniture across the room. Area rugs come in all shapes, sizes and quality. A second hand rug can give you great value and can be easily spruced up with a carpet cleaning rental from the hardware store. Furniture pads are also a great solution but don’t count on them to do the entire job. Many condos require actual carpeting on the floors to protect against noise.
The Lesson: Avoid scratches and stains on your hardwood floors, you could be liable.
3. Spot Treat Carpets
Back to flooring…carpet can be costly to replace and as a tenant you can be responsible for a portion of the cost to replace the carpet if the landlord or property manager find a stain (or major damage) that was a result of your tenancy. The life of a carpet is typically considered to be 10 years. If you move in to a home with a five year old carpet, spill fruit punch on the carpet, cover it up and forget about it…you could be responsible for 50% of the cost to replace the carpet in that room once you vacate.
Now, while we encourage you to quickly act when a spill occurs, we don’t want you to do this with reckless abandon. You could be adding fuel to the fire if you use a bleaching agent in your efforts to remove a stain from the carpet. Follow the instructions on the bottle which will often urge you to test the solution out in an inconspicuous space to ensure it’s not going to damage your carpet.
The Lesson: Spills happen but act quickly to avoid set in stains which you could be liable for.
4. Ask for Permission
Many well meaning tenants are surprised when they are charged to paint a room back to white that they had proudly painted gray. Or when a landlord charges them to reinstall a light fixture that they had replaced without permission (of course, believing they were upgrading the home). It can be frustrating as a tenant to remember that you do not own the home and while something may be appealing to your aesthetic, it’s ultimately up to the landlord how to present their home to the rental market. You might think those cabinets could use refinishing and that the landlord will thank you for it but chances are they won’t and you’ll pay the price!
This includes well meaning repairs that you take care of on your own. Many tenants will repair dripping faucets, running toilets, place mulch in shrub beds, etc… at their own cost and never say anything about it but then are surprised when they are charged for damages from their deposit. The landlord can’t account for repairs you are making that you don’t let them know about. Yes, most landlords will appreciate you saving them the exorbitant cost of a service call for these items but they have to know about it in order to appreciate it. So speak up and ask them if you can take care of minor repairs that pop up and get reimbursed for the parts. This way there are no surprises and everyone benefits!
The Lesson: Ask before making ANY changes to the home!
5. Use Wall Hangings Sparingly
It’s tempting when you move in to a new space to get those walls filled up with all your family memories and expressions of yourself but take a step back and think about what is really necessary.
Most standard leases allow for a reasonable amount of nail holes and picture hooks. “Reasonable” being the operative word. That picture gallery inspo you found on Pinterest might have to wait until you are able to buy a place of your own. It’s also important to remember that screws and anchors are not the same as nails. The former leaving behind much larger, destructive holes in drywall than the latter.
If you absolutely MUST have your picture gallery or hang that extra heavy mirror on your wall, talk to your landlord or property manager and find out if the walls were recently painted and if you can purchase a can of paint for touch-ups. This way you can fill in holes and touch-up paint when you vacate. Leaving damaged drywall when you vacate could leave you responsible for the cost to repair and repaint (or at least a portion).
The Lesson: Hang pictures but don’t go overboard!
6. Pay Your Final Utility Bills
This one may be surprising to many of you as we consider our bills something we deal with privately. In many states and counties, the water/sewer bill (in particular) will carry with the home. If you do not pay your final water bill, a lien can be placed on the property. For this reason, you will find that your Landlord may withhold the amount due on your final water bill from your security deposit in case you do not pay it. This amount will be reimbursed to you when you make that final payment to the water company but the sooner you make payment on that bill, the better for everyone.
The Lesson: Your past due utility bills can impact your Landlord and your security deposit. Pay them promptly.
Have more to add? Let us know in the comments! Happy renting!
-Nicole Campana for Peake Management