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Renting a Home, How to get Your Deposit Back

Updated on August 13, 2012
Nail in the wall
Nail in the wall | Source
remove nail
remove nail | Source
nail gone
nail gone | Source
run a finger over the nail hole
run a finger over the nail hole | Source
small amount of Spackle on the putty knife
small amount of Spackle on the putty knife | Source
dab on
dab on | Source
level with the end of the knife
level with the end of the knife | Source
Tah-dah!  I made the hole disappear!
Tah-dah! I made the hole disappear! | Source

There are a few things I am good at, for the most part I can do anything with relative success. However there is one thing I am amazing at; moving. From the time I was born until I turned five we had moved every year. Before I turned 18 we moved a total of 10 times. Over the years I have learned two things, how to pack and how to get my deposit back.

We throw around words like common sense and common decency but, really neither of those things are common anymore. The reason I mention this is that so many people rent a home only to leave it in shambles when they go. I understand that some people have falling outs with their landlords over fixing things (had my share of those) or responsibility issues.

When a person is renting  a house/apartment they are borrowing a house. Think about that for a minute, someone let you borrow their house. Personally, I will not even let anyone drive my car, but I can’t imagine how scary it would be to lend someone my house. For this reason and many others I am Hubbing about getting a deposit back and leaving the house you borrowed in better condition than you got it.

Move in Inspection

Let’s start with the move in inspection. The more detailed you are with the move in inspection the less hassle you will have getting your deposit back. The damage you want to look for is not just wall damage. In reality you need to go room by room and note things. If there are any holes or large patches in walls, note it. If the door knob doesn’t work note it. If the carpet has a spot, note it. Some landlords will want you to sign off that there is a working garbage disposal, dishwasher, stove and refrigerator. Note next to these items that they have not been tested yet.  This will save you the hassle of fighting with the landlord the week after you move in and something does not work.

It has been my experience that unless they are brand new, garbage disposals and dishwashers are usually crappy in rentals. They are overused and never replaced by landlords. Look under all the sinks for water damage. In some states water damage goes unreported and the tenant has to pay to fix it. You want to know up front that these areas are not working properly. Be detailed in your damage report; look in closets for missing globes on the light fixtures. Walk the outside of the residence as well, in one house the rain gutter had been torn off by the wind and was laying in the back yard. These details are important. Lastly- take pictures of the damage and general pictures of each room. There are for the  less scrupulous realty companies that will try to come back on you even though you noted damage.



            Start packing the second you know you are moving. Take everything off the walls remove all nails and screws. Wall repair is 1/3 of a deposit. I have heard horror stories about people using tooth paste to repair a wall… don’t even think about it. For $2.47 you can get a small container of lightweight spackling that will fix the wall right. The other thing you will need is a putty knife. If your walls are white then this will be easier because the spackle is white already. If you have a painted wall and have some of the paint then you can mix a small amount of paint and the spackle together to patch the holes. This is a trick that keeps you from having to touch up paint.

Steps to patching Nail/Screw holes:

1.      Remove nail or screw. (nails should be pulled straight out to avoid further damage)

2.      Lightly rub your finger across the nail hole to remove any debris.

3.      Put a tiny bit of spackling compound on the end of the putty knife (it doesn’t take much)

4.      Press the spackle into the hole.

5.      Go across the hole with the putty knife at least twice (in two directions) to level the spackle with the wall.

6.      Allow the spackle to dry and then wipe the wall with a damp sponge or rag.

These steps should leave your landlord guessing if you ever hung anything on those walls at all.


            Lets face it, you can tell when you walk in someone’s house if they have kids. Their white doors have that lovely gray brown haze around the door knob. There is nothing more frustrating than going to move into a house and it is filthy. If you have a flat paint the only thing that can be done is to wipe with a damp rag and possibly repaint. If you have a satin or high gloss finish there is another way. You can clean those doors in less than a minute (I mean for the entire house not one door). If you spray scrubbing bubbles on the area and then wipe with a damp cloth, that grime will lift away and look brand new.  This also works well for walls.


The toilet:

            When I move into a house I like to feel like no one else has been there. The bathroom is one of the places that shows a lot of use. Some of that use is pretty disgusting. Properly cleaning a bathroom is an art. I have no idea what moron ever though that carpet in a bathroom was a good idea, but if this ever happens to you, I would suggest asking if you can have the carpet replaced with tile or linoleum.

            Toilets are fairly easy to clean with comet or scrubbing bubbles. But the covers where the toilet seat screws to the toilet can get pretty gross. If you have a tile or linoleum floor I suggest dumping a half a cup of hot water on the open cover. You are going to have to mop the floor anyway so if some of the water goes down the toilet its going to get mopped anyway. You will be shocked at how clean the screw covers are without any scrubbing.

            If you have hard water stains in the toilet that will not come out with a regular toilet brush, use a pumice stone that is made especially for toilets. This is an awesome product that you would think damages the toilet but it doesn’t. Best of all it goes quickly.

The faucets:

            I love this tip, its one of those you just want to share will all your family and friends. To clean the hard water around faucets wrap papertowels around the faucet and then soak the paper towel with vinegar, place a plastic shopping bag over the faucet and tie it in front. Leave the faucet for about a half an hour then remove the bag and paper towel. Shocking but the faucet looks brand new!

The Floors:

            Clean the edges and corners of the room first then clean the middle. This is a military trick. If the corners are clean it makes the entire floor look cleaner.


Drawers and cabinets;

            In all honesty I always put shelf paper down when I move in. To me cabinets and drawers without shelf paper are sort of nasty. Shelf paper accomplishes a two fold task   1. It gives you a clean surface. 2. If it does get gross you can peel it up and the surface under it will be clean. Thus, you should never have to clean cabinets or drawer when you move out, just peel up the paper and go. If you never put paper down and you have lots of crumbs, use your vacuum hose to clean out all the crumbs then wipe the cabinet out.

The oven:

If you were not blessed with a self cleaning oven then there are still easy ways to clean that oven. You will need a trash bag, mask, gloves and easy off oven cleaner. DO THIS OUTSIDE: Put the racks in the trash bag, put on your mask, and then spray the racks while they are inside the bag with Easy off. Tie the top of the bag off and leave the racks outside in the bag. After a few hours put your mask back on, pull the racks out and you should be able to wipe the grease off. This also works for burners.

To clean the oven put on your mask, wipe any and all crumbs from the inside of the oven, spray the oven with easy off and close the door. Leave the easy off for at least an hour, when you come back put on your mask, and open the oven, you should be able to wipe it right out.

The Refrigerator:

            Clear everything out of the refrigerator and turn it off with both doors open. Once the freezer has defrosted, spray with Clorox kitchen cleaner and wipe out from top to bottom. NEVER USE A SHARP OBJECT TO TRY TO FREE ICE (you could easily puncture the wall).


            Hot soapy water will clean the grime off the hood. It can be tempting to use harsher chemicals to clean the hood, however it is above your head and it is dangerous to spray things that might fall into your face. The grate on the hood can be removed to soak or these can be replaced at the hardware store for a few dollars.


            I hate carpet. Let’s ignore for a moment that it is completely unsanitary, carpet is truly the worst flooring ever. In the last few years landlords have taken to putting in light tan carpet. This is actually because it shows everything from the tea you spilled to your dogs little accident. So basically if you damage this enough you are going to get to replace it. The problem is that your dog might be house trained but, if the last dog wasn’t, your dog will feel obligated to mark territory.. and you will have to fix it. There are tons of  pet products that remove stains and get rid of odor but if you are going to have pets in a carpeted house buy a steam cleaner. To actually clean a mess out of the carpet you have to remove all the “accident” from the carpet before you clean the spot. Just spraying pet spot cleaner on pee does nothing at all.

            Gum can be removed from carpet by placing ice on the gum, and when it freezes simply pull it out. Candy can be dislodged with a small amount of warm water (blot dry after). Other than that you really should have your carpets cleaned every 3-5 months. I have seen people attempt to put white carpet n houses, I would never do this but if you do be prepared to replace it in a year. If you are a landlord and plan on renting out your home long term, a wood looking linoleum will last forever and be a lot less difficult to maintain.

I may add to this as I think of things. The point is that you want to leave the home in better condition than you got it. It doesn’t matter that the people before you did not clean the cabinets, this time you were the one borrowing the house. It says something about you that the house is left in good condition.

Happy renting!!!


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