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Protect Your Security Deposit: Move-in Tips for Renters - ThinkstockPhotos-166637213-d3-c.jpg

Protect your security deposit: Move-in tips for renters

Are you moving to a new neighborhood this fall? If so, congrats!

I’m sure you’re excited as well as exhausted. Finding an apartment, applying for the apartment, and moving in are all stressful experiences and many renters are so happy to finally have found a decent place that they forget about inspection. But inspection is the final and perhaps most important step of the renting process.

So before you start celebrating your new apartment, we recommend a few move-in best practices to help you spot any potential problems as well as to protect your security deposit from getting unnecessarily deducted at the end of your lease:

Communication. An important note is that when you find a defect, make sure you email the landlord about these defects so that you have a future paper trail. This is important for both getting your deposit back at the end of your lease and for resolving disputes with your landlord efficiently and without conflict.

Records. A good system is to first call your landlord and have a phone conversation about the issues. Then after the conversation, send a follow-up email detailing what you spoke about on the phone. That way you’re all on the same page and there’s a record of the concerns.

Pictures. Before you sign the lease, go back to the apartment and take pictures of every room. You can use your cellphone to take these pictures, but make sure you upload the pictures to a secure cloud storage system for future reference. You want to note any defects that you can see on the pictures and have clear documentation before you sign a lease. You should look at the walls for any marks, holes, or scratches.

Fixtures. Ask your landlord about what they expect for installation of pictures, clocks, and paintings. In California, earthquakes can be a problem so you may need to ask for permission to secure your bookshelves to the wall.

Locks. Check the locks in all of rooms in the apartment. Make sure the locks all work and you have the keys. If your landlord is okay with it, make a few extra copies of your keys to give to trusted family and friends. Also, it may be helpful to inquire about whether or not you need a deadbolt. Some states have laws about whether a deadbolt is required and you can ask your landlord to install a new lock system if the lock is not up to code.

Windows. Make sure the windows open, close, and lock. Look for broken glass or window fixtures that could have defects.

Faucets. Check the water pressure of all of the faucets and toilets. Is your state in a drought? Ask about water pressure restrictors and whether or not you need one. If you are responsible for paying for the water in your apartment, you may want to ask the neighbors approximately what they pay each month. Issues with the faucets and toilets can increase your water bill.

Appliances. Ask to try out the appliances and make sure the oven, stove, microwave, oven, air conditioning, heat, and dishwasher all work properly.

Outlets. Ask the landlord to show you where the circuit breaker is in your building in case something happens when the landlord cannot be reached. Also, check the location and number of outlets but more important, make sure the outlets work!

Research. Finally, before you sign a lease, make sure you take the extra step to research your new landlord on review sites, like Yelp! If a tenant has taken the step to complain publicly about the landlord or the building, this may be a red flag.

Some of these problems won’t show up until you have moved in and tried to use all of the apartment’s locks, cabinets, and appliances. The important thing to remember is that once you notice a problem, communicate that problem through photo, email, and a phone call to your landlord. That way everyone is always on the same page.

Just remember that every clear shot you snap with your camera is one more piece of evidence that you can point to when it comes time to get your deposit back. The ding on the door or scratch on the floor may have been there when you moved in this fall, but unless you can prove it and have a record of the defect, you may not be able to get your deposit back and the landlord could pass repair costs on to you.

Amanda Gordon, Esq.

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