When you are planning to move out of a rental unit, there are several items you must finalize per a typical lease agreement before, during, and after you turn the keys over to the landlord. Following the lease and local customary terms will help you properly satisfy your obligations, which will hopefully help get you a large amount of your security deposit returned.
A typical lease agreement might have the following terms: Upon termination of lease, the tenant is to:
- Give Landlord all copies of keys;
- Vacate and surrender premises to landlord;
- Vacate storage and parking;
- Remove debris and clean the premises to the original move-in condition;
- Reverse any modifications to premises unless otherwise agreed upon in writing;
- Provide a forwarding address to the Landlord.
Once your decide to move, give proper notice to the landlord per the lease. Most leases require 30 days written notice of intent to vacate the premises, but ensure that you follow your exact lease agreement and make certain that your landlord receives the notice. This way, there will be no misunderstandings regarding the date of your lease termination.
Next, though not typically required per the lease, you should set up a pre-move out inspection with the landlord. Plan for this to occur a week or so before you intend to vacate the property. The landlord can inspect the premises with you and give you written notice of any items that they believe should be cleaned, repaired, repainted, or otherwise fixed before you move. This will give you time to do the work so it will not be taken out of your security deposit once you leave.
When you begin actually moving out, it's a good idea to have a professional service come clean the property. It could be $100 – $150, which may be money well spent to relieve you of the hassle and time-consuming nature of cleaning the property yourself. Let the landlord know and consider using their recommended maid service so that everyone is satisfied with the cleaning job.
You'll also need to restore the unit to the condition it was in when you moved in. That means pulling nails from the walls, patching and painting any holes, repainting as needed, etc. Hopefully, if you made significant alterations to your rental unit, you actually received approval to do these at the time the alterations were made. And if you had them approved, maybe you also had the foresight to obtain approval for the owner to allow those changes to be left at lease termination. If this is the case, this is one step you can skip!
Each state has specific rules regarding security deposits, and your lease governs what the landlord can withhold from that deposit. Any past rent, water bills, or repairs to damages you caused can generally be withheld. However, some landlords may try to keep excessive amounts. If this happens to you, do some research on your state’s landlord/tenant rules and laws and hopefully all parties will come to an agreement on finalizing the lease terms. Sometimes, private sites have good information too, such as San Diego's Tenant’s Legal Center, which provides a lot of information for local renters.
One common move-out dispute issue is what is damage vs. what is normal wear and tear. For example, if you stayed one year and have excessively soiled the carpets with mud and pet hair, that will likely be considered damage. But if you were there for five years, that may be considered as general wear and tear. You should be charged for damage, but you shouldn’t be charged for wear and tear.
When you are finally out of the rental unit and it is sufficiently clean, you should lock the place up, return the keys, and pay the final utility bills. That should effectively terminate your lease. State law will govern when your security deposit has to be returned and how the owner has to account for any monies kept. In addition, if you kept up good relations with the owner, cleaned and repaired the place, and acted responsibly throughout your tenancy, your lease termination should be a fair, reasonable, and good experience for all.