Consumers who frequently rent a car know the drill: You and the rental clerk do a quick tour around the car to document dings and scratches so you won’t be held responsible for previous damage when you return the car.

The process is similar when renting an apartment. Both you and your landlord should agree on the condition of the unit before you move in, at periodic inspections and when you move out to ensure that your security deposit is returned.

“Documenting your rental at move-in and throughout the lease informs you what’s expected at move-out to get your full security deposit back,” said Lydia Winkler, co-founder and COO of RentCheck, a digital property management system that facilitates remote inspections for landlords. “Even if a crack in the floor or a kitchen cabinet not opening properly doesn’t bother you, document it anyway so you don’t get blamed for any preexisting damage when it comes time to move-out. By having your previous inspection as a reference point, you’re aware of what your home needs to look like at move-out.”

While some landlords prefer to handle all inspections personally, others allow tenants to participate or to do some inspections themselves.

“Including residents in the inspection process educates them on what’s expected and helps foster open communication with their landlord,” Winkler said.

Data from RentCheck shows that the kitchen is the most common location for issues that could prevent a tenant from getting their deposit back.

Among the most common issues are:

  • Dishwashers. Dishwashers can be expensive to repair, so when tenants move out and leave behind a dishwasher that doesn’t run for a full cycle, has broken controls or racks that don’t pull out properly, that can lead to a loss of some or all of a security deposit.
  • Dirty cabinets, fridge and counters. Landlords often keep back some of a deposit because of dirty or damaged counters, cabinets and refrigerators. Cleaning thoroughly before moving can help you get your full deposit returned.
  • Dirty floors, walls and stoves. RentCheck’s data also shows that dirty and damaged walls and floors are often cited by landlords in inspection reports. Similarly, a dirty oven, microwave or stovetop is also a big complaint.
  • Replace your lightbulbs and hardware. If your lightbulb is burned out or a knob or handle is missing from a drawer or cabinet, replacing it can be a simple and inexpensive fix that will show your landlord you’ve been careful to maintain the apartment.

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