Depending on how long you’ve lived in your rental property before it’s time for you to move on, you may not even remember how much you put down in a security deposit—but you’ll be pretty happy when you get a chunk of money back that can help you with your expenses as you settle into your new place. We talk a lot about the ways to legally ensure you get it back and hold your landlord accountable for forking it over, but you have some responsibility here, too. Here’s what you should clean and fix up before you dip.
The first thing you need to tackle is the walls. Minor damage to them is not your landlord’s responsibility, whether you’re currently living there or on your way out. Once everything of yours has been removed from the unit, give all the walls a good scrub. Take any nails, screws, and tacks out of the walls and ceilings. Look for any cosmetic imperfections on the wall, like where a sticky strip held up a picture, and patch those at the same time you patch the screw and nail holes. (Here’s a full guide to fixing all of that right up.)
If your unit has carpet, you’re going to need to get any stains out of it. Your best bet is to do a full deep-cleaning. Even though that might be pricey, depending on when you have to rent a steamer, it’s not going to cost as much as not getting the deposit back.
Other than that, you’re fine to just generally sweep and mop the floors as normal, according to Innovation Rentals, but be sure to check if there are any major damages to them that you could feasibly fix yourself.
I once moved into a unit where the previous tenant had left everything in the fridge, from expired food to extremely caked-on grime. The landlord hadn’t taken any initiative to clean that out for me before I inherited the responsibility, which was disgusting—but also, according to Innovation Rentals, against the rules on the previous tenant’s part. Failure to clean out the fridge can result in a ding to your security deposit total (plus your unit’s successor cursing your name).
You’ll also need to clean up any minor water damage caused by pipes under your sink and give the oven a big cleaning. Finally, double-check any cupboards or cabinets for old food and be sure to clear that out, too. There’s no way to know how long your unit will remain on the market, but if mice or roaches head in to clean up after you, that could still end up being your problem. (It also goes without saying, but take the trash out before you leave. Don’t give the landlord any ammo to say you’re creating a pest problem or a stench issue.)
According to Pods, a moving and storage company, you have to wipe down your windows, mirrors, and other glass surfaces, so don’t forget the ones in your bathroom—even your shower. The more pressing issue in the shower, though, is going to be scum. Soap scum and grime needs to go. Prior to your move, start keeping a fillable dish brush in there and clean the shower bit by bit each time you take a rinse so the task isn’t as daunting toward the end. Don’t forget the shower head, either. Soak it in four cups of white vinegar, one-half cup of baking soda, and a cup of water, then give it a scrub with an old toothbrush. (If you can’t remove the shower head, put that mixture in a big plastic bag and secure the bag around the head for a while while you clean something else.)
For the most part, you want it to look as clean and empty when you leave as the day it did when you first got your keys. This means getting any stains, dirt, and trash out of the way, but it also means not leaving behind any furniture. Landlords can charge you for whatever it costs to get the furniture removed. If you do leave any major furniture behind, alert your landlord, get their permission, and make sure it’s all in writing. Don’t forget anything you have on the fire escape, either. Not only could you just generally get in hot water for having it obstructed at any point during your time in the place, you could be charged on your move-out. (This very nearly happened to me over two cushions.)
Don’t unplug any appliances unless your landlord tells you to, but make sure nothing is in them anyway. Your landlord will ultimately have to do their own round through the place to make sure it’s livable for the next person, so you don’t have to go hog wild, but you do have to make it clean and empty before you’re free to take your deposit and move on.