Moving Out of a Rental Checklist

If you've decided to move out of your current rental, you're no doubt focused on exciting future plans, whether you're moving to a larger place, relocating out of town or buying your first home. The rental you're leaving may be low on your list of priorities, but taking it into consideration as you plan your move can help you stay on good terms with your landlord, get back more of your security deposit and minimize the headaches and hassles of moving.

Key Points

  • 1 Take care of advance notifications. Check the required time frame for letting your landlord know you’re moving and put it in writing. Notify any utility and service providers you deal with too.
  • 2 Don’t leave damage behind. Fix any damage to the property yourself or hire someone with the necessary skills so your landlord doesn’t have to deal with the repairs and won’t ding your security deposit.
  • 3 Leave the place spick-and-span. Don’t leave belongings or trash behind and make sure the entire rental is in clean, move-in condition for the next tenant.
  • 4 Be proactive about your deposit. Document the condition of the rental before you leave, take the time to do a final walk-through with your landlord, and read up on your state’s laws about security deposits.

Notify Your Landlord

An important first step when planning a move is to read through your lease to learn the required time frame for notifying your landlord. The norm with most leases is 30 days written notice, but it may be longer. To make sure your notice is received in time, prepare and mail it a week in advance. Mention the date of your move, provide your new address and ask that your security deposit be returned.

If your move isn’t going to coincide with the end of your lease, you should contact the landlord by phone or in person before sending a written notice. Explain why you’re moving out early and ask if the lease can be canceled, which may be possible if the landlord has a waiting list of potential tenants. As an alternative, ask if you can sublet the space or assign the lease to a new tenant. If the landlord doesn’t agree to these options and can’t find a suitable tenant, you may be responsible for paying the rent until the end of your lease period, even if you move out.

Transfer Utilities and Other Services

If you pay for any utilities and services tied to your current address, such as cable, water or waste management fees, notify the providers to remove your name from the account the day you plan to move. Also, make sure all such bills are paid up to that date so your landlord doesn’t take anything extra out of your deposit. Contact the providers of any services you plan to take with you, such as satellite TV or landline phone, at least three weeks in advance to notify them of your change of address. If necessary, schedule a time for installation at your new location. If you won’t need a service once you move or for a certain period, arrange to cancel it or put it on pause.

Repair Any Damages

As a tenant, you’re responsible for fixing any damages you’ve caused to the property beyond normal wear and tear. To check for possible damages, go from room to room and do a detailed inspection using your move-in condition report as a guide. You may be able to save some money by fixing minor issues yourself, such as filling holes in the walls where you hung pictures, repairing a scratch on the wood flooring or replacing a broken light fixture shade. If you can’t make adequate repairs yourself, it may be less expensive to hire someone who can fix the problem correctly rather than leaving it up to your landlord and having extra costs taken out of your security deposit. Be sure to keep a record of any repairs you make and receipts for work done by anyone you hire.

Clean Thoroughly

Rentals typically need to be left in move-in condition, or a landlord may deduct cleaning costs from a departing tenant’s security deposit. You can check your lease for specific details about cleaning, and talk to your landlord about what’s required to get back your full deposit and their usual between-tenant process. For instance, cleaning the carpet is often part of a landlord’s routine refresh of a rental in between tenants to address normal wear and wear. If this is something your landlord handles, it’s a waste of time or money to do it yourself or hire a cleaning company unless the carpet is excessively dirty.

Your lease or landlord may specify other tasks, but as a general guide, it’s wise to give the rental a deep cleaning by tackling these chores before you hand over the keys:

  • Washing the windows and wiping off the sills
  • Dusting and wiping down window blinds
  • Dusting and cleaning ceiling fans and light fixtures
  • Wiping down the baseboards, doorknobs, doors and door frames
  • Cleaning the light switches and outlet covers
  • Scrubbing the stove top, oven, range hood and microwave
  • Cleaning the refrigerator inside and out
  • Wiping down kitchen and bathroom cabinets and countertops
  • Cleaning cabinet and drawer interiors
  • Scrubbing and polishing kitchen and bathroom sinks and all faucets
  • Disinfecting toilets, bathtubs, shower stalls and surrounds
  • Sweeping and mopping hard floors
  • Vacuuming all carpets

Don’t Leave Anything Behind

When you’re packing to move, it can be tempting to leave behind items you no longer want or need. It’s also easy to simply forget items you’ve stored in out-of-the-way places or installed when you first moved in, such as ceiling fans or custom curtains. Exactly what happens to your left-behind belongings and whether your security deposit gets charged depends on the rental laws where you live.

In most states, a landlord can charge for the removal of belongings and for storing them too, which they may be required to do for 30 days or more. If you leave behind items you’ve installed, such as window treatments, an attached bathroom storage unit or decorative ceiling fans, they may become part of the unit’s fixtures and the landlord’s property as soon as you move out.

To preserve your security deposit and avoid accidentally giving away items you’ve paid for, give the entire unit and any additional storage areas a thorough inspection on moving day. Check the tops and interiors of all cabinets, inside drawers and the corners and shelves in bedroom, bathroom and linen closets. Look for rugs outside the door(s), items on the balcony or patio, shower curtains, window treatments, lighting and fans you’ve installed, and don’t forget to check the designated storage area if the unit has one.

Rather than leaving usable items you no longer want inside the rental, sell them online in advance of the move or give them away. You can throw broken or damaged small items in the dumpster, but talk to your landlord about how to handle disposing of furniture or larger goods so your security deposit doesn’t get hit with an unexpected haul-away fee.

Document the Property’s Condition

Once you’ve moved all your furniture and belongings and cleaned the rental thoroughly, walk through each room and take as many videos and pictures as possible. Take note of damage that existed when you moved in and any you’ve repaired, as well as the condition of all the appliances, inside and out. Doing so gives you proof of the property’s condition when you left, and it may help you get back your full security deposit in case there’s a dispute with your landlord.

Try to Attend the Move-Out Inspection

Some landlords want a departing tenant to go through the unit while they perform a move-out inspection, but others don’t make it a priority. Either way, it’s best to contact your landlord about a week before your move-out date to coordinate a time for the inspection so you can attend. Being there in person gives you an opportunity to talk about and resolve any concerns the landlord has with the rental’s condition, and it may help you avoid having extra repair or cleaning charges deducted from your security deposit.

Learn How to Get Your Security Deposit Back

Following the above advice can not only make moving easier and less stressful, but it can also help you maximize your security deposit refund. How quickly your deposit is returned and how much the landlord can keep is dictated by state law, so be sure to read up on the rental laws where you live. The time allowed for refunding a deposit ranges from 14 to 60 days depending on the state, and most locales require that a landlord provides a statement detailing the amount refunded and any charges they deduct.

If you don’t receive a statement and a full or partial refund within the allowed time period, or you don’t agree with the charges deducted, you have the option of taking your landlord to small claims court in your state. If you have documentation and pictures to back up your claim and the court agrees with you, your former landlord may have to refund your deposit and pay any court costs.