Whether or not you paid a security deposit when you moved into your apartment, there are several steps that you should take to protect yourself against claims by your landlord that you either damaged the apartment or left it so dirty that they had to hire a professional cleaning service. While many landlords are honest, there are some that may make false claims that you damaged the apartment or left it in an unclean condition so that they can keep your security deposit or use it to prepare the apartment for the next renter (which is illegal).
In order to protect your security deposit and have evidence to defend yourself in the event that the landlord tries to sue you for damage to the apartment that you did not cause, you need to take several steps to document the condition in which you leave your apartment:
Do a walk-through with the landlord.
Try to arrange to have the landlord come to the apartment and walk through the apartment with you to view the condition of unit. If possible, you should have moved out most or all of your belongings and have cleaned the apartment prior to the walk through, so any damage (or lack thereof) will be plainly evident. You should make a list of everything you see during this walk through and try to get your landlord to sign it. If the landlord will not sign it, mail the landlord a copy after you move out and save a copy for yourself.
Whether or not you do a walk through with your landlord, you should take pictures of the condition you leave the apartment in before you move out. It is best if you take pictures after you have moved out all of your belongings and cleaned the apartment, so the landlord cannot later claim that your furniture hid a big hole in the wall or you left the refrigerator or the rugs filthy.
Return the keys.
If you do not return your keys at all or do not return them by the end of the day you are supposed to move out of your apartment, the landlord may try to charge you rent for the following month and either take such "rent" out of your security deposit or try to sue you for unpaid rent. To prevent this from happening, be sure to return the keys to the landlord no later than the agreed upon move out date, and if possible, bring along someone who does not live in the apartment as a witness.
Send your landlord a letter after you move out with your forwarding address.
Sometimes landlords claim they did not return a security deposit because they did not know where to send it. To prevent your landlord from making this claim, send her
a letter asking her to forward your security deposit to a particular address. Keep a copy of this letter for yourself.