By Jasmina Nikolov
Establish the condition of the apartment prior to moving in or on the move-in date by:
1) Taking pictures of the apartment with a film camera
2) Include a picture of the newspaper with the date on it
3) Log existing problems on a "landlord/tenant checklist" and photograph existing condition problems. The landlord/tenant checklist is easy enough to find via Google.
4) Develop two copies of the pictures; landlord and tenant initials all copies on the back and sign the landlord/tenant checklist.
5) Landlord gets a copy, tenant gets a copy
Before you leave the apartment look at the photos and make sure that the apartment looks exactly as it did when you moved in. In the month prior to your departure, e-mail the landlord to ask her/him to review the landlord/tenant checklist with you so that you can address any small fixes that must be completed for you to receive your entire deposit back.
A Word About "Wear and Tear"
For obvious reasons wear-and-tear is generally strictly defined by landlords and less so by tenants. For example, scuffs on a floor may infuriate a landlord who had sanded and re-polyed the floor (a significant cost in time and money) before a tenant moved in one year ago. However, a tenant may consider his normal wear-and-tear, and a court may too.
It is important to establish wear-and-tear expectations. I am a landlord and I have included clauses in my lease to address my pet peeves. Believe it or not, I don't like sewer back-ups. So when people move in I make it clear that they may not flush anything down our old pipes aside from toilet paper. The lease clearly states that no paper towels, clothes (yes, this actually happened), tampons, oil, and kitty litter are allowed the toilet. It also states that if a sewer back-up can be attributed to a tenant that s/he must pay the fee for roto rooter to come clear the pipes out.
The lesson here for landlords is that if you can't stand it when a tenant does a particular sort of something, tell him/her in advance. Document your expectations. And give the tenant plenty of time to cure the problem before s/he leaves by reminding her 2 or more weeks in advance of the move date. The tenant will need to fit repairs in between packing up her life, finding a new space, and moving.
Also, if you notice a condition that must be cured, don't let it fester. In fact, writing this post has reminded me that I really should tell my tenant that his stove was brand new when he moved in, gosh darn it, and it the baked on grime won't clean itself.