When moving into a new rental you typically pay a security deposit on top of first month’s rent, which can turn into a large upfront charge. However, you’re totally fine with this arrangement since you can count on getting your security deposit back, right? Well not always.

Learn about what is expected of you and what you can expect from your landlord when it comes to the security deposit. Here are quick tips:

Note for the anxious mind about to read this: there’s a lot of good in this world and if you treat your home as well as you should treat yourself, getting your deposit back should be easy as pie. But it doesn’t hurt to stay in-the-know and be prepared for worst-case scenarios.

Read your lease (more than once)

Seems too simple, right? Before moving in know the conditions of your lease. Read up on all the rules (you should be provided a checklist by the landlord) that have been set around tenants having their deposits returned. Typically, you shouldn’t be held accountable for normal wear and tear, but the place should be as good as it was when you moved in. Some places ask that you have carpets cleaned, holes filled, and windows washed but that’s something you’ll be made aware of before signing a contract.  

Know your rights

Too many renters never have their deposit returned simply because they aren’t familiar with the laws that protect them. Although it varies from state to state, most parts of the country will not permit a landlord to keep the deposit without offering justification for doing so. In general you’re entitled to an explanation, a time frame for when to expect the deposit back, and you may even qualify for interest earned on the deposit depending on where you live. Be sure to conduct thorough research and make sure you aren’t being overcharged (these limits are set by your state).

Document every detail

Before you move in, take pictures of the entire apartment – every room, window, door, scratch in the floor. After you’ve taken photos and written up any concerns about the space, do a walk-through with the landlord and have them sign off on all that you’ve collected. This makes proving the house is in the same (or better) condition as when you moved in which is usually all you need to have the deposit refunded.  

Be clean and report damage

Try your best to be clean. Whether wine spills during a get-together, your pet has an accident, or that DIY project gets a little messy, clean the carpets before stains can set in. Carpet is typically what landlords inspect most carefully and can keep you from the refund. Also, if anything breaks (sink, window, door, etc.) notify your landlord immediately and in writing. Normal wear and tear is something the landlord should pay for not you. As long as you make yourself look like a responsible tenant, you’ll be perfectly okay.