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Getting Your Security Deposit Back...

If you are not careful, moving out of an apartment could mean losing much of your security deposit. You may be charged hundreds of dollars for cleaning and repairs that you could do yourself in just a few hours.

Keep in mind these easy, but often overlooked, cleaning chores and minor repairs:

Identify what you will need to repair and clean in your apartment.

As a tenant, you are responsible for "leaving the apartment the way it was before you came in." This means repairing any damage that you did not note in the apartment checklist when you originally signed the lease.

Find out how much your Landlord charges for cleaning and repairs

Most large apartment complexes will have a list of charges for different repairs and cleaning activities. You should request a list of these to find out where you can best spend your time cleaning and repairing your apartment when you move out. Then decide which of these you should do yourself to save yourself the cost. Depending on your schedule and timeframe, you may choose to do some, and pay for the rest. But often times, the charges for apartment cleaning and repairs are quite steep (It can cost you over $100 for an un-vacuumed carpet!) These charges are designed to make sure tenants properly clean their units.

For individual landlords and smaller owners, you should consult directly with them to see what their expectations for cleaning and repairs on move out are.

Common Repairs: Filling holes and pin-pricks in your walls

If you've nailed or screwed anything to the wall during your apartment stay, you will need to fill in the hole you've made into the dry-wall or wood surfaces. If you don't you can be charged up to $60 for a repair you could do in minutes! Fill dry-wall hole with dry wall filler (it's a paste that comes in small buckets at your local hardware store) and your wood holes with wood filler (similar to dry-wall filler but designed for wood) follow the directions on the package as to how long to wait for it to dry.

Fixing Broken Blinds: Often, its just dust that makes those old blinds look unsightly. Remove the blinds and clean them in your bath tub.

If you damaged the blinds, speak to the landlord about replacing them. If need be, you can go to the local hardware store and buy the right-sized replacements yourself.

Replacing Burned out Light Bulbs: A very easy task, but if overlooked you will be paying for a very expensive light bulb. Make sure you replace all burnt out bulbs.

Wall Painting Touch-Ups: In rent stabilized apartments, the landlord must repaint your apartment once every four years. If you have lived in your apartment longer than four years, and it is stabilized, you may not have to concern yourself with this chore, as the landlord will paint the entire apartment when you vacate - and do it at no cost to you.

However, if you’ve been in the apartment less than four years, or it was less less than four years since the last painting, you may be responsible for delivering the apartment with clean walls. Talk to your landlord about this before you move out.

TIP:   This is the age of digital cameras; use them! Upon gaining possession of your new apartment, document every flaw, broker drawer, missing handle, burn mark on the counter top, missing refrigerator shelf, and missing tile. Send an email and a postal letter to your landlord with copies of your pictures, clearly labeled, including the date and location of the flaw. Keep a copy for yourself. Upon move-out, this document can be invaluable for pressing your claim to a return of your full security deposit.

TIP:   Talk to your landlord about any major repairs, and confirm who will make the repairs. Major repairs can often come with possible liability on your part if anything should happen while you make the repairs.

Common Cleaning Tasks

Below is a list of common cleaning tasks that can be easily overlooked, especially if you are in a rush to move out of your apartment. As will all moving activities, making sure you have plenty of time (don't plan to clean on the same day as your move-out) to get things cleaned.

Bedrooms / Living Room:

  • Wipe and dust blinds.
  • Wipe dust off baseboards and windowsills.
  • Vacuum the Carpet.
  • Clean Mirrors.
  • Clean scuffs and marks from walls.
  • Wipe down Lighting fixtures and clean out any insects that may have gotten stuck in them.


  • Clean out the refrigerator of all items.
  • Wipe and disinfect refrigerator shelves, drawers.
  • Clean the microwave, oven, and stove top of all debris and grease.
  • Clean counter tops and sink.
  • Wipe the insides of cabinets and shelves.
  • Remove old shelving paper.
  • Mop the floor.


  • Remove shower curtains and rings.
  • Scrub the shower walls and tub. Remove mildew.
  • Cleaning the toilet, sinks, and counter tops.
  • Clean mirrors and clean lighting fixtures.

In Conclusion:

Pick the low hanging fruit and get the easy bang for the buck cleaning and repair tasks done. Often, its not about getting all of your security deposit back but not getting charged for the easy stuff. Some repairs can be very time consuming, especially if you don't know what you are doing. If you are short of time, you might consider leaving some things undone, knowing you will be charged for it. Just ask yourself, “Is it worth paying someone else the amount you'd lose on the security deposit to do the job for you?”. If so, then leave the job undone.

TIP :   If you are very busy, you might consider hiring cleaning people to professionally clean your apartment. It is costlier than doing it yourself, but often not as costly as paying your landlord to do it.

Plan to have removed the bulk of your articles before you clean your apartment. It makes the cleaning job much easier and faster.

Clean from the inside to your doorway and top down - and do all your repair tasks first! Cleaning top down means anything that ends up on the floor will be vacuumed up when you clean the floor so you don't have to do it twice. Cleaning from the inside out make sure you don't track any extra dirt back to places you've already cleaned.

TIP:   Make a thorough list of all the cleaning articles and repair products you will need before you go shopping. The list often long and extensive and items are very similar. Making sure you gather all your cleaning materials in one go will make sure that you don't spend excess time having to constantly go back to the store to get items you need.

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