Say the words “security deposit” and every landlord’s and tenant’s ears are sure to twitch. At the end of a lease, tenants are eager to see their security deposit returned, and landlords want to see their property to the state they left it in. And this is why the move-out inspection is so important. But what about the things that can be done before and after the inspection? And what happens during the actual inspection?
What is the point of the move-out inspection? The purpose of these inspections is for the landlord to document the condition of a rental property, determining whether or not the damage done to the unit was done while the current renter lived there. The level of damage done to the property may decrease the amount of the security deposit returned to the tenant, and if the value of the damage is beyond the deposit, the tenant will pay for that as well. While not all states require a move-out inspection, they are often used regardless of state law.
Before you even begin to consider the move-out inspection, there are a few important things to consider. It is crucial, whether you are a tenant or landlord, that you give notice of an impending inspection or notice to vacate. Typically, the minimum requirement is 30 days, though this can vary based on payment schedule and state law. If you are a renter on a fixed lease, not a month-to-month lease, you are required to give your landlord the remaining rent balance, which may be deducted from your security deposit.
Another way you can prepare is by asking for a preliminary inspection. This inspection is done prior to a move out inspection, and is done so that areas which might justify security deposit deductions can be identified. By identifying these problems early on, the tenant can be given time to repair them. And while identifying these problems early on is advisable, it should be done thoughtfully. Before the tenant begins making repairs and cleaning, they should inform their landlord about their plans. This way, the landlord can give their approval or provide further instructions. Communicating will allow boundaries to be set for how much should be invested into cleaning and repairs on the tenant’s part, so the unit can be returned to its original condition, minus the damage from normal wear and tear.
At the end of a lease, most tenants are eager to get their security deposit back. There can, however, be complications with this, depending on when you end your lease. If you are a tenant on a year long, or fixed lease, and leave before your lease is up, you will want to find a tenant as soon as possible. If you cannot find a new tenant, and your landlord is unable to locate one as well, you may have to pay rent for the remainder of the time on your lease. This can potentially mean that your security deposit will be used up to cover the costs. While these situations are sometimes unavoidable, if you plan ahead, you can be more prepared. Typically, your landlord must return your security deposit within two or three weeks after you move out, as set by state guidelines. When your landlord returns your deposit, they will usually include a statement about how the security deposit was used for unpaid rent, cleaning, and repairs and what is left of the deposit after these things were taken care of.
Despite the popular misconception that move-out inspections only benefit the landlord, they actually have positive outcomes for the tenant as well. For landlords, inspections help determine repair costs and ensures that the tenant will fix the damages they are responsible for. For tenants, they get assurance that the damages that they were solely responsible for are fixed before they leave. Cleaning and fixing any damages also increase the likelihood that a tenant will get their security deposit back. Lastly, for both parties, inspections give peace of mind and minimize opportunities for disputes.
To prepare yourself for the inspection, there are a few things which you can do to the rental unit to make sure your rental is ready, though of course you should ask your landlord what their requirements are first. You should clean both the interior and exterior of the rental unit, including the lawn and landscaping. This includes repainting the walls to the color they originally were when you first entered the rental unit. Any personal belongings should be removed from the apartment, so you can take them with you. This includes returning the keys, though this should be done at the inspection, not prior. Any current systems in the house including electricity and plumbing should be fixed, and any damages or problems in the apartment should be reported to the landlord. Of course, any of the major damages which require repairs will be uncovered during a preliminary inspection, and you and your landlord can decide what should be done while you are still a resident, and what you can pay for after you move out.
In most cases, tenants should be in the unit during the final inspection. If your landlord does not require that you be present during the inspection, you could request to be there. In this way, you can keep track of the damages that your landlord takes note of and can resolve any issues before you leave.