The Complete Moving Out Checklist for Your Rented Space

Not sure what you need to fix or clean before you move out of your rental? Our checklist will get you started — and help you get your deposit back!

Your lease is up at the end of the month and the keys to your new digs are in your hands. You’re ready to pack up your belongings, move out, collect your security deposit and get settled into your new place.

Don’t get ahead of yourself, though. Before you vacate a rented living space, you need to take care of a few things, like cleaning and replacing lightbulbs. Otherwise, that returned security deposit you were banking on? You might not get it back.

It All Begins With Moving In

Before you tackle any to-dos, stop and think back to the day you signed your lease. Believe it or not, the move-out process starts long before you give your landlord your 30-day notice.

“A successful move out begins before you even move in,” says Kellie Tollifson, a managing broker with T-Square Properties in Bothell, Wash. and president of the National Association of Residential Property Managers. She explains that you should make sure the state of the space is well-documented in a move-in condition report provided by your landlord.

The report should include written details and photographs that document how things look and operate throughout the rented space. Many landlords take photos, but taking your own photos is encouraged as well, for backup and your protection.

“We take pictures of a clean refrigerator, because a tenant may move out and leave it dirty and say ‘It was like that when we moved in,’ ” she says. “We have pictures that say no, it wasn’t.”

The report, Tollifson says, tells you exactly what you need to do to return the house or apartment to the condition it was in prior to your arrival. It will vary, based on many factors. In general, there are a few things every renter should count on doing.

Here are the repairs, fixes and checks renters are most commonly required to perform before moving out.

Your Move-Out Checklist

1. Cleaning is probably the first thing that comes to mind, and this is definitely top priority. We’re talking about more than just a basic once-over, though. Your rental should be deep cleaned, including window tracks, drawers, the edge of the dishwasher, door handles, the inside of appliances, the outside of the toilet and basically every single surface that you aren’t taking with you. (Yes, you are going to need to dust those blinds.)

Your aforementioned move-in condition report will serve as your guide. And if there is any doubt, ask your landlord, says Tollifson. If you’re not up to tackling the job, you can hire a professional cleaning service to do it for you. Just make sure you provide the cleaner with a copy of the condition report so they can be sure to meet the expectations.

2. Next, go through the home and replace any dead batteries in things like smoke or carbon monoxide detectors that were working when you arrived. Same goes for light bulbs — replace any that are burned out with the same type of bulb that the landlord initially provided.

3. And while it may be obvious, don’t consider your move-out complete until you remove and dump all of your garbage and debris (your lease likely includes a clause about this). This applies to your personal belongings as well.

“Tenants need to be sure they are removing all trash and personal items completely off the premises or else they are likely to be charged for removal and dump fees,” Tollifson says.

Leave Some Things to the Landlord

While the goal is to return your rental to its original move-in state, some landlords and property managers prefer to handle certain tasks on their own.

Don’t patch holes, paint or replace broken fixtures, for example, without speaking to your landlord first. Same with carpet cleaning. Some landlords will expect you to take care of it; others will not. If you’re not sure, call or email to find out. Make sure you and your landlord are on the same page so there are no surprises, especially regarding your security deposit refund.

“Communication is key,” Tollifson says, adding that most landlords prefer returning the security deposit to charging tenants for move-out tasks left undone.

Dawn Weinberger
Dawn Weinberger is a freelance writer in Portland, Oregon who has contributed to numerous publications and websites over the past 20 years, including RD.com, Glamour, Women's Health, Entrepreneur, and many others. Dawn has a BA in journalism from Western Washington University and is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. She writes about everything from health and medicine to fashion, shopping, and business.