Cleaning and repair rules when you move out

Written on April 24, 2018 by

communicationThe last thing you probably feel like doing as you move out of a rental is cleaning the place. Like it or not, though, you’re expected to leave it just as nice as it was when you moved in.

If you leave a dirty place for your landlord, they can hold back the cost to clean up from your security deposit. After all, it is your mess. But the security deposit is your money. You want as much of it back as possible, right? So just what are your responsibilities?

Related: How to get your security deposit back

Read your lease

Besides typical cleanup duties such as washing the floor or vacuuming the carpet, the landlord expects you to do a thorough job of getting that rental back into shape. Move-out expectations vary, so check your rental agreement or lease to see what the landlord wants you to do.

Common cleanup duties

Common cleaning requests include wiping down baseboards, doorknobs, and light switches; dusting ceiling fixtures; washing the windows; and thoroughly cleaning appliances. Some landlords may expect a professional carpet cleaning as well. It’s definitely worth your time to read every move-out detail in your agreement, as some landlords levy extra fees if you don’t take care of an item on the list or if you don’t do it within the specified time frame.

Repair damages

Even minor damage to the rental must be repaired before you hand over the keys. A couple of nail holes may not seem like much to you, but if you don’t repair them, the landlord has to. That means they can bill you in the form of a deduction from your security deposit. Here’s a checklist of things to do:

  • Patch nail and tack holes with a small amount of spackle.
  • Erase scuff marks on walls and floors with a melamine foam eraser, aka a Magic Eraser.
  • Rub a walnut over scratches in wood floors, or fill them in with a wood marker that matches the floor color.
  • Replace anything you may have temporarily removed, such as cabinet hardware you swapped out for something that suits your own style.
  • Go through each room and closet, replacing any light bulbs that no longer illuminate.

Cleaning not your thing? Hire someone

If you choose not to clean and repair everything on the move-out list, there’s still hope. Hire a cleaning company to tackle your checklist. Just make sure you’re available to inspect the space afterwards to make sure they took care of everything. The same goes for repairs. If you broke a handrail off in a stairwell, for instance, and don’t have time to repair it, hire a handyman or contractor to take care of the problem.

Tell your landlord about any damages

Inform the landlord of specific items you can’t fix on your own, such as a broken handrail. Your landlord may ask to see the damage and assess whether they can repair it easily. If so, you may be off the hook. If not, expect a repair bill.

Informing the landlord of potential damage or cleaning concerns is always better than just skipping out and leaving the work for your landlord. If you completely bail on your responsibilities, you’ll probably not get some—or all—your security deposit back.

You might be charged extra for damages

If the damage is beyond minimal, such as missing floor tiles, mold on the shower surround, or massive stains on the carpet, the landlord could charge you more than the amount of your deposit. For instance, if your security deposit is $900 and it will cost $1,200 to repair everything in your unit, you may owe $300 to cover the difference.

Rules for holding back a security deposit

Whenever a landlord withholds any money from your security deposit (including charging you extra), you are entitled to a detailed breakdown of charges. Check your state laws to ensure the charges are legitimate. Common sense also applies; for instance, a $250 charge to fill in three small nail holes is extreme and likely would not hold up in court.

Related: What to do if your landlord wrongfully kept your security deposit

All in all, taking care of a minor aggravation—cleaning your old place—is well worth your time. Besides, you agree to do it when you sign your rental contract. Once you’ve refreshed your old abode, you’ll get your deposit money back, as well as peace of mind, knowing you’re leaving on good terms with your former landlord. On to a fresh start!

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5 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • sabeegahalamin

    Yes whoever it may be one must clean and repair the place that they leave. It’s their duty to do that as if it was their home they would also demand the same thing from others. Thanks for mentioning all these cleaning up tips in the blog and your suggestion on the same. They will definitely charge extra for damages done in the home. Also if you cannot clean by yourself, you can hire someone outsiders who do the job perfectly.

    • Mina Williams

      Absolute BS. Landlords or rental companies get paid a whole lot for rent anyway. If you stayed at a place more than a year it should be normal wear and tear unless you trashed the place. How can landlords expect a place that has been lived in to be exactly the same as when a tenant moved in. That is the landlords’s responsibility to fix for the next tenant. Tenants need to take a stand and take the greedy landlords to court for this type of stuff.

  • Suzanne Cornell

    So, if it was specified for them to clean carpet upon move-out & they did not, it is legal for me to charge them carpet cleaning fee? Carpet was new when they moved in, they left stains & now claim it’s considered “wear & tear” and claim that “legally” they are not accountable/liable for cleaning carpet. I would like to know if she is correct in her point.

    • B Anderson

      Suzanne
      Always ck your state/city rules but if cleaning carpets is in the lease , whether it has stains or not – we tenants have to clean it. Its not just about visible stains anyway.
      Wear and tear can get a bit gray but if I made the stain Im responsible for the solution or I lose some deposit. . Tthe solution could be “landlord I cleaned it there is still a stain. I want you to come and see it. What do you think?
      Tenants are definitely weaseling you around. Take photos before and after cleaning.

  • Carolyn

    How long do I have to hold onto a renters belongs when left behind and I have no way to contact them:

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