What to do when moving out of a rental property: tenant move out checklist

A good tenant move out checklist will help you avoid conflicts with your landlord and get your security deposit back when leaving a rental property.More about Ethan Greenfield

When moving out of a rental property, you’re certainly looking to the future – a new life, in a new place (maybe one to call your own this time), with new friends, and new experiences… You need to get ready for the big change, organize your move, and overcome all kinds of challenges – the last thing on your mind is the rental property you’re leaving (it hardly ever felt like home anyway). And yet, you surely want the move-out to go smoothly, without any conflicts and hassles. To achieve this, you need to comply with all your tenants’ responsibilities when moving out, give your landlord a proper move out notice, and leave the rental in good condition.

The comprehensive tenant move out checklist below will guide you through the entire process and ensure that you don’t overlook anything important when vacating the rental property – so that you can get your security deposit back and part on good terms with your landlord.

Review your lease agreement

The first thing to do when planning to move out of a rental is review your rental agreement and find out how to properly end the lease. Rules and regulations regarding the moving out notice, maintenance obligations, utility transfers, etc. vary depending on whether you have a month-to-month rental agreement or a fixed-term lease. Besides, every rental agency and property manager has different policies and requirements, so you need to check the specific terms you have agreed to.

The lease will define how far in advance you need to give your landlord a vacate notice (usually about a month before move-out day) and will stipulate what is expected of you upon leaving the property. Once you have reviewed all the provisions in your rental contract and know your tenant move out responsibilities, make sure you add all the tasks and deadlines to your moving calendar and complete all the chores in due time and with maximum efficiency.

Give your landlord a move out notice

Most rental contracts require the tenant to provide a written notification to the property owner 30 days before moving out of the rental. So, you need to write a tenant move out letter and send it to your landlord at least 5 weeks prior to moving day. Your notice should include a statement of the good condition of the rental property, the specific date of your move, and your new address, as well as a request to have your tenancy deposit returned.

In case you’re moving out of a rental before the lease expires, you need to provide the reasons for leaving the property ahead of time and ask your landlord to cancel the lease (or at least allow you to rent the property to someone else – this is called “subleasing” or “subletting” (the new tenant will pay you rent and then you’ll pay the landlord)). Keep in mind though that if your landlord does not agree to either of these options or a suitable replacement tenant is not found, you’ll be responsible for paying rent for the full lease term.

It is a good idea to keep your landlord updated throughout the moving process, so he/she can show the apartment to potential new tenants and guarantee them a move-in date (make sure you’re out of the property by the time you said you would be).

Inspect the property and fix damage

You’re required to return the property in the same condition as it was when you moved in, so your next step is to inspect the home for any damage you may have caused over your time there – make sure you check the property against the condition report from when you moved in to find out what exactly you’re responsible for.

Normal wear and tear is expected and acceptable, but you’re responsible for repairing holes in the walls you’ve made for hanging pictures and other things, fixing scratches and dents on the walls and floors, repainting the walls to their original color, replacing broken windows, making sure the electrical and plumbing systems are in good condition and all the lighting fixtures, kitchen appliances, and any other home equipment that was in the property when you moved in is functioning properly, etc.

Have any repair works documented and keep the receipts – if you made some permanent improvements to the property, you can request the amount of money you spent on them to be deducted from your last rent.

Pay off your bills

Your landlord has the legal right to use your deposit money for any unpaid charges and bills, so make sure you pay off any due taxes and fees before moving out of the rental – waste management fees, utility bills (for gas, electricity, and water), service fees (for Internet, cable TV, and phone), etc. Inform all your service providers that you’re moving out and arrange the services at your rental to be disconnected on the day after your move (unless you have a different agreement with your landlord) and the utilities in your new home to be turned on by move-in day. Don’t forget to take readings of all gas, electricity, and water meters on moving day and photograph them for proof. (See also: How to transfer utilities when moving)

Unless you can pay online, leave enough money for any bills that are due at a time when you will already be away.

Take all your things out of the rental

Make sure you don’t leave any of your stuff behind – you’re going to pack your belongings and move them to your new home, of course, but there may be some things you don’t want to take with you or some things you may completely forget about. None of them should remain in the rental property though, as your landlord can charge you for having to take out and dispose of your stuff. So, make sure you:

  • Sort out your possessions a couple of months before your move and find a way to get rid of everything you don’t want anymore – sell or donate useful items that are still in good condition, throw away damaged items and items that are too worn out to be used ever again, recycle whatever you can, etc.;
  • Remember to take down pictures and calendars from the walls, remove stickers and magnets from the fridge, get all your items from the bathroom (shower curtains, mats, towels, toiletries, etc.), pack decorations and hobby materials, take your door mats and rugs, tools and flower pots, etc.;
  • Open drawers and cupboards, look in the loft and under the stairs, go through the basement and the garage, walk around the yard – just double-check everything;
  • Take out all the trash.

Don’t forget that cleaning supplies, laundry supplies, hazardous materials (paints, fuel supplies, etc.), trash cans, and anything else that was not in the rental unit when you moved in has to go as well.

Clean thoroughly

Your lease may provide specific details as to what is expected of you in terms of cleaning the rental unit before moving out (professional carpet cleaning, steam cleaning, etc.) or simply say that you should leave the property clean and tidy. Either way, you should try to leave the home in the same condition that it was when you moved in – or even cleaner, if possible. This will ensure the return of your security deposit and will help you avoid move-out hassles, conflicts, and stress.

A typical tenant move out cleaning checklist includes:

  • Washing the windows;
  • Cleaning the curtains (depending on what material they are made from, some curtains require dry cleaning, others can be steam cleaned or machine-washed, etc.);
  • Steam cleaning mattresses and upholsteries;
  • Washing the carpets or having them professionally cleaned;
  • Dusting furniture, ceiling fans, and lighting fixtures;
  • Wiping doors and door frames, furniture handles and light switches, etc.;
  • Cleaning kitchen appliances;
  • Washing and disinfecting sinks, toilets, tubs, shower surrounds, countertops, and other kitchen and bathroom surfaces;
  • Vacuuming/sweeping and mopping the floors;
  • Mowing the lawn, trimming the trees and brushes, sweeping the garden paths, removing dead leaves and debris from the gutters, etc. (in case your rental property has a yard);
  • Cleaning up garages, patios, sheds, balconies, etc. (if applicable);
  • Emptying and cleaning the bins.

If you plan to do the cleaning yourself, make sure you have all the necessary cleaning supplies and equipment to get the job done. If you intend to use professional cleaning services, budget for the cost and book an affordable and reliable cleaning company as early as possible.

Document the condition of the rental property

You need proof of the condition you’re leaving the rental in, so you’re strongly advised to document the cleaning and repair works (take videos) and keep all the receipts for materials and services you paid for. Also, make sure you take several photos of the property when all your items are taken out and everything is cleaned – all this evidence will come very handy in case of a conflict with your landlord concerning your security deposit.

Arrange a move out inspection

Every move-out checklist for tenants ends with scheduling a final inspection. So, don’t forget to call your landlord a week or so before leaving the property and ask him/her to conduct a move-out walkthrough of the rental unit to see whether any security deposit deductions are justified. Be present at the move-out inspection, discuss any issues that may arise, try to find mutually beneficial solutions, and request your tenancy deposit back.

Get your security deposit back

When you move out of a rental property, you’re legally entitled to get your tenancy deposit back (unless you have done extensive damage or violated the terms of your lease agreement).

You already know what to do when moving out of a rental to avoid deposit deductions – all that is left to do now is send a written request by certified mail (with return receipt requested) to your former landlord (keep in mind that you’re required to provide your new address in your request). Depending on your state law, the landlord will have two to three weeks after receiving the letter to either return your deposit money or provide a written statement of deductions (for unpaid utility bills, repairing damaged items, cleaning the property, etc.).

If there’s no response or if you disagree with your landlord’s statement, you might need to go to small claims court to settle the issue.

Bonus tip: Whether you’re moving out of a rental or your own property, moving house is a difficult and stressful process that requires a lot of careful planning, meticulous organization, and hard work. Make sure you research all your options, plan your move well, find affordable and trustworthy moving partners to work with, book their services as early as possible, pack safely and efficiently, take care of all the necessary moving tasks and preparations, and ensure a smooth and successful relocation. Happy new life in your new home!

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