What Happens if I Don’t Clean My Apartment Before Moving Out?

If you don’t clean your apartment before you move out it will cost you money.

The dirtier the apartment, the higher the cost, and not only in terms of money.

Cleaning the Apartment Was Part of the Deal

Leaving a dirty or cluttered apartment is one of the best ways to kiss your move-in security deposit good-by.

If you don’t believe this, take a look at your rental agreement or lease. You’ll likely see the words broom clean condition referring to how you should leave the apartment.

And if you turn to the last page there you’ll see your signature.

Signing on the dotted line made it official.

You agreed to leave the apartment as clean as you found it.

Look at it from Your Landlord’s Point of View

Once you leave the keys and walk away, the apartment is his once more which means if you don’t clean it, the job falls to him.

Doing it himself takes up his time, a valuable commodity to him since there are probably other things he could and should be doing.

Sure he may hire a cleaning company to do it, but cleaning companies don’t work for free.

Or it’s a large apartment building or complex, he can ask one of the supers or custodians to clean it.

But he will have to pay them overtime if he asks them to do it other than during their regular work hours. Either way ka-ching ka-ching, it starts adding up.

And then there’s the matter of the storage area. If you left any large items like an old bike or furniture you thought you’d use, but never did, that has to be cleared away as well.

Add the price of hiring a hauler, and his cleaning costs continue to mount.

How this impacts your likelihood of getting your security department refunded to you in full depends on where you live.

If your state is like most, and his turn cost amounts to more than what is considered normal, he is legally justified in choosing to subtract the excess from your security deposit.

Turn Cost (Turnover Cost) for Landlord

If turn cost is a new term for you, it’s short for turnover cost and refers to the expense a landlord incurs each time a previous tenant moves out of an apartment and he prepares it for a new tenant to move in.

This can include painting, repairing wall cracks, patching nail holes, replacing locks, or doing updates like putting in new carpeting or appliances.

But as long as you did nothing to necessitate these rehabilitation-type chores, they’re not your concern.

So they won’t come out of your move-in deposit.

However, since cleaning your apartment upon vacating the apartment is right there in black and white in your lease that is your concern.

Or at least it should be because if you shrug it off, it will cost you in more ways than one.

What You Should Clean when Moving Out

Many landlords answer this question by leaving you a cleaning list in your mailbox or under your door about two weeks before your move-out date.

But if your landlord doesn’t, take a look at your lease, your responsibilities may be listed there.

If they’re not, pick up the phone and give him a call. You’ll find out, plus it will let him know you’re on the job.

But just in case, he doesn’t get back to you, here’s what a top-to-bottom great cleaning job entails.

Emphasis on top to bottom because if you work in the opposite direction, you’ll end up cleaning the floor twice since the dust you brush off the light fixtures will end up on the floor you just cleaned.

Having said that, here’s your list of the minimum you need to do to leave your apartment broom swept clean.

  1. Use a broom to clear any cobwebs from your ceiling
  2. Dust all light fixtures with a soft cloth and replace any bulbs that have worn out
  3. If you have window blinds, take an old sock and slip your hand into it like a glove. Then dip your hand in water and grasp each slat as your slide your hand across it
  4. Wash your windows with a newspaper and window spray for a streak-free job
  5. Carefully remove nails or picture hangers from the walls, then spackle and paint the spot.
  6. Hopefully you haven’t packed your vacuum away. You’ll need it to vacuum the walls, trim, and baseboards. If there are stains or scuffs on the walls or baseboards, clean them off with a microfiber cloth and surface cleaner.
  7. If there are rugs, clean them with carpet cleaner
  8. Mop and/or vacuum the floors, and you’re all done!

And if you had to buy any cleaning supplies, don’t complain.

You should have had them all along, and now they’ll help you stay on top of cleaning chores in your new apartment.

Before You Leave the Apartment

To make sure your idea of broom swept clean matches your landlord’s idea, schedule a time when he can walk through the apartment with you and inspect it.

Go through each room so that if there’s anything you might have overlooked he can point it out to you.

And it doesn’t hurt to take pictures in case any disputes arise.

After You Leave The Apartment

If perchance you did not clean the apartment, and a few weeks later the landlord sends you either a partial refund of your security deposit or none at all, it’s because the turn costs warranted his keeping part or all of it.

In either case, you should get an itemized list of what your money went for. If he doesn’t send you a written explanation, you may have grounds to sue him.

Whether or not this is an option depends on where you live.

In California, landlords must send tenants a receipt if they withhold any amount over $126.

To fail to send an itemized explanation opens a landlord up for what is termed a Wrongful Withholding of Security Deposit Lawsuit.

If you receive neither a refund of your deposit nor an explanation of all the work the landlord had to do to clean the apartment and how much it cost him it’s a good idea to check with an attorney and find out whether your state offers this option.

Can the Landlord Sue You?

Conversely, in some places, and in extreme cases, a landlord is justified in withholding the entire security deposit plus if it is not enough to cover the full cost of all the cleaning and repairs he had to do, he can sue the tenant for additional funds.

But rest assured, this would only apply to you if the condition of the apartment went beyond what is considered to be the result of ordinary or normal wear and tear.

Other Consequences of Not Cleaning Your Apartment Before you Move Out

Leaving an apartment unclean can result in a loss of money you intended to put toward a down payment on a new car or even on the purchase of a house.

But it can also result in the loss of something even more important — the loss of your good reputation.

And this can make it more difficult in future moves.

When Filling Out Rental Applications

As you probably found out the first time you rented an apartment, rental applications usually require you to supply a rental reference.

It can be anyone who knows you well enough to be able to vouch for you.

Such votes of confidence can come from a former teacher, personal friend, employer, co-worker, financial advisor, or former landlord.

The property manager or landlord wants to be assured that the person he is considering as a potential tenant is mature, financially stable, trustworthy, clean, and considerate.

Most applicants automatically list a former landlord(s).

But if you have not kept your end of the cleaning bargain, your previous landlord can hardly say you proved to be clean or trustworthy when you were his tenant.

Out of liability concerns, most landlords are hesitant to come out and say a tenant was a bad one.

On the other hand, they don’t want to lie and possibly stiff a fellow landlord with someone they know is not a good candidate. And so most find a way to get that idea across.

Suffice it to say if you list a landlord who had to clean up after you, you will be taking a gamble.

You may also come up against this problem in other situations such as when applying for credit or seeking a home mortgage.

Credit Reports

Although most landlords, especially one-man operations, do not report to credit bureaus if any of your previous landlords had to seek a judgment against you to recover unpaid cleaning costs, it may show up as a negative in your credit history.

And as you know a bad mark on your credit history, even one as small as this will impact how much interest credit cards charge you as well as how much interest you pay on car loans.

Mortgage Applications

Mortgage lenders will be satisfied if your financial income is sufficient, and your credit history is good.

But they also count it as a plus if a mortgage applicant is in good standing with all his previous landlords.

Leaving a dirty apartment will reduce the number of landlords you can list.

Ask Yourself This Question

Ideally, you are happy in your present rental apartment and will be there for many years to come.

But when the time comes to move on, and you are faced with a final cleanup, pick up that broom, plug in the vacuum, and get out the sanitizing wipes.

While you may not like the few hours of drudgery that go into leaving a broom clean apartment, you’ll absolutely hate the consequences of not doing so

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