5 Tips for a Smooth Apartment Move Out (And Keeping Your Security Deposit)

Susan Broderick

Moving is a stressful time, and with all of your belongings in transit, it’s easy to overlook a step in the process. Forgetting to properly leave your old apartment can be costly, and too many renters end up forfeiting some or all of the security deposit. Try following these steps for a smooth move out and to keep more of your deposit with every move.

1. Communication is key

Check your lease for the required notice to give your current landlord. Giving ample notice is the first step to making sure you maintain a good relationship with your management company, and don’t lose any of your deposit due to penalties.

Once you have a forwarding address, provide this to your landlord. Changing your address with the post office will also help ensure that your mail and your returned security deposit check reach you after you’ve moved out.

When you’re ending a lease agreement and hoping to get back all or most of your security deposit, communicate with your existing property manager. Keep them updated on your timeline, ask questions proactively, and make sure they’re aware of any extenuating circumstances. Not only is this courteous and shows a mutual respect, it creates a documented trail of communication that, if needed, you can use to prove your due diligence without fault. If you have a good property manager, you already have a good rapport.

2. Fix what is broken/damaged

The owner of the apartment is aware that normal wear and tear on surfaces and appliances happens. Your landlord should have also scheduled a move in inspection with you so you had an opportunity to note any concerns when you moved in. For damages beyond normal wear and tear, you are responsible for making or paying for repairs.

Your lease may specify how an appliance or wall hole may need to be repaired, so read your terms before scheduling a fix. You should contact your landlord to confirm how repairs should be handled, if you are uncertain.

Especially for pet owners, you are responsible for anything that is damaged beyond normal wear and tear. Most pet-friendly apartments have an additional pet deposit, that you may or may not get back. Check your lease well before you move out to understand how much of the pet deposit may be kept for a deep clean after you and your furry roommate move out.

3. Schedule a move-out inspection

Before you move, contact your property manager for a move out inspection so there are no surprises when your statement of security deposit is received. Ask if there are any particular areas to clean (under the kitchen sink, in drawers, behind toilets) that they usually see residents forget. Your landlord may share vacating cleaning guidelines with you to make the process less stressful.

4. Clean thoroughly and completely

Even if you think the next residents might appreciate a piece of furniture, your shower curtain, or your designer curtains and rods, your responsibility to your landlord is to leave the apartment free of any and all of your belongings. That extends to rugs, couches, lighting fixtures, or cleaning supplies that you are tempted to leave behind.

When it comes to cleaning your apartment out, work from the top down. Get a head start on cleaning and finish all of the items of this checklist before your final moving day:

  • Remove cobwebs from the ceiling, walls, overhead lighting, or ceiling fans. Recommended method: wrap a rag around the soft end of a broom, or invest in a long handled duster to reach everything.
  • Clean the inside of the windows (as you can reach reasonably). Vacuum the window blinds or shades to remove dust and bugs. Wipe down the trim and sash to remove dirt and grime. Recommended method: clean with a clean soft cloth and a gentle water-based cleanser. Wipe the windows to remove any dog nose prints or fingerprints.
  • Clean the wood in the apartment – around the windows, doorways, and floors. Asses the doorways, trim and baseboards to see if cleaning is enough, or if they require some touch-up paint as well.
  • Clean inside drawers and cabinets that are fixtures in the apartment. Recommended method: use a vacuum and paper towels to wipe out any debris, food crumbs, and grime.
  • Clean appliances inside and out. Oven, stovetop, microwave, etc. Recommended method for an oven: make a vinegar-baking soda mixture, and apply this to the inside with a damp cloth to remove residue. FYI, most components on the stove are removable, so you can actually clean out the crumbs and the grime under the burners.
  • Lastly, don’t forget the refrigerator. Wipe down the shelves and clean out the crisper drawers. You can also safely assume that no one wants an almost-full bottle of ketchup or other condiments. A good rule of thumb is to leave it as you would like to find it in your next apartment.

Moving day will always include the final clean. Wipe down mirrors and faucets so they are streak-free. Remember to sweep, vacuum, and leave clean floors in every single room of the apartment. Never be afraid to ask your landlord for cleaning guidelines to ensure you are covered.

5. Document the process

Take pictures and get a receipt that you’ve returned your keys. This is the best way to avoid any conflict after you’ve moved out. Sometimes there is simple confusion with a landlord, but even in the worst case scenario, document the steps you’ve taken to provide a clean and clear apartment for the new residents.

Once all of your belongings are out and the unit is sparkly clean, take photos of each room. Take pictures of closets, inside cabinets, the bathroom – this is your last chance to get proof of all of your hard work to deep clean the apartment. Keep these pictures until after you’re received your security deposit back.

If you return your keys separately, send an email confirming where and when you are dropping them off, and another after the drop has been made. Ask your property manager for an email to confirm receipt as well, just to be sure. If you are mailing your keys, be sure to use a padded envelope to ensure your property manager receives them.

Moving out and moving on

If you follow all of these steps, you’re in good standing to get most, if not all, of your deposit back. Remember to keep all of your photos and correspondence with your landlord until you get your security deposit back. In Vermont, your security deposit should be returned to you within 14 days of moving out. For help with any disputes or issues after having followed these steps, defer to the rules in this handbook.

Good luck moving!

Published: Jul 17, 2018.