Moving is expensive enough as it is, so nobody wants to get the bad news that they aren't getting their security deposit back due to a dirty apartment. But it happens more often than you might think. According to a 2013 survey by Rent.com, more than 25 percent of renters have lost part or all of their security deposit at some point.
Just as a refresher, your landlord can't keep your security deposit just because of normal wear and tear. "Apartments are made to be lived in," says Tim Flynn, owner of Flynn Group Consulting, a property management firm in Massachusetts. That means they can't nick your deposit for that dust on top of refrigerators or under the stove.
They can, however, withhold part of your deposit if you haven't done your due diligence in cleaning out the space before you turn in the keys. (Keep yourself accountable with this handy move-out cleaning checklist!) In most states, if the apartment is left so dirty that it will cost the landlord more than a normal "turn cost" (the cost for cleaning a unit and preparing it for a new tenant), the landlord may be justified in withholding the deposit. If they do, they're required to prepare and deliver to the tenant an itemized breakdown of the charges so it's clear why the deposit is being kept.
The most common way security deposits get dinged? Leaving belongings in storage units, closets, and cabinets, says Flynn. And it's not just totes or bikes—trash, boxes, or any other debris that your landlord will have to remove themselves (or pay someone to remove) will usually be taken out of your security deposit. Remember: Out of sight, out of mind doesn't apply when moving out.
And while you probably won't lose your security deposit (you're covered against hidden away dust under "normal wear and tear"), you might want to do the new tenants a favor and clean out the dryer and HVAC vents, as well as your light fixtures, baseboards, fan blades, and window treatments while you're in the cleaning mood—they're commonly missed during the turnover cleaning.
Many times your landlord will let you know what's expected of you cleaning-wise before your move-out date. But if they don't notify you at least two weeks before, check your lease to see if there's any mention of move-out requirements and if not, check in with them so you're not hit with surprise deductions.