The 7 Deadly Sins of Renters, According to Landlords

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Some 35 percent of Americans rent their home instead of owning it, and the majority of that share are people in their 20s. Plus, with median rent prices on the rise, more dollars are at stake in a security deposit than ever before.

Though expectations vary from one landlord to another, there are myriad ways you can affect the return of your security deposit in full. If you want to avoid the disappointment of losing out on that cash, you should heed the seven deadly sins of renters. Ahead, landlords share some of the things you’ll want to avoid doing in your apartment.

1. Having prohibited pets

As someone who’s overseen short-term rentals, I can tell you that you’ll get nowhere fast by trying to break the pet rules of any given rental. Landlords have the exclusive right to decide if animals can be on their property—and which kinds of animals, if so. I have pets, and I know this doesn’t always seem fair or even important. But it is. If you have five Rottweilers, it’s on you to find a rental where that’s permitted, plain and simple.

2. Painting without permission

Painting the walls is a pretty standard practice in rentals, but if you want to cover your bases, ask for permission before you do. Darker colors are more difficult to paint over than you might assume and can lead to a hit on your deposit. Painting other items absolutely needs to be okayed before you take it upon yourself to mess with someone else’s property in a permanent way. Don’t paint the cabinets, tiling, doors, or any other part of the unit and expect the landlord to be glad about it if you didn’t run it past them. (There are ways to add color to a rental without painting, by the way.)

3. Damaging the walls

This should go without saying, but if you damage your rental’s walls beyond normal wear and tear, you should make every effort to fix them before leaving. Normal wear and tear includes things like pushpin marks in the walls. It does not include gaping holes because you didn’t bother to find the studs before hanging shelves. Annie Kohl, a landlord who rents her apartment in Brooklyn, told me about a tenant who burned candles so close to the walls that not only did the candles leave scorched marks all over them (which can be very difficult to remove), but the candles were close enough to the walls that the tenant could have burned the whole place down. 

4. Repairing things yourself

It might sting to hear this, but even if you think you’re improving a place—even if you definitely are—it’s not up to you to make repairs in a rental. Why take on the risk or the burden, anyway? Whether you want to refinish a deck or fix a leaky faucet, just ask. Running any repairs past your landlord is critical. They might not want whatever it is repaired in the way you see fit, and as the property owner, they have a right to decide how repairs are executed and by whom. 

5. Sustaining water damage

Don’t underestimate just how much damage water can do. Abby Rose, who has rented her place, expressed astonishment over this issue. “I’m shocked by how many people give little regard to the shower curtain.” As in: not closing it all the way and allowing water to spray out and damage the floors. And the shower is just one place where water damage can unfold. Be careful with all sinks, hoses, and spills (and open windows during rainstorms). This kind of water damage can be expensive to repair. 

6. Breaking your lease terms

It’s important that you read every single word in your lease. Laborious? Yes. Worth it? Also yes. Landlords can add specific regulations into any standard lease and it’s on you to read and comprehend it thoroughly before you sign. Giving too little notice on your departure, subletting when you’re not permitted to, and so may other fine-print terms can violate your lease and cost you in the end.

7. Not communicating effectively

Communicating about repairs and other issues that arise in your unit is the bare minimum. Not communicating at all tends to be at the core of why renters commit the kinds of renting sins that cost them in the end. It can be tough for a lot of people, but crystal-clear communication at the outset of an agreement does everyone a favor.

Suffice it to say: A little double-checking in the beginning can save renters a lot of hassle at the end.