Security Deposits and the Landlord’s Final Inspection

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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A landlord may inspect a rented unit at the end of the rental period to see if the tenant has damaged the unit or has not cleaned it properly. Some state laws require a landlord to conduct a preliminary inspection before the tenant leaves if the tenant requests it. It is always a good idea for a tenant to request a preliminary inspection, even if the state law does not require it. A preliminary inspection allows a tenant time to make reasonable repairs and to clean the unit to the landlord’s satisfaction and relieves the landlord of the burden of cleaning and repairs. This preliminary inspection may help avoid later disputes about return of the security deposit. Tenants and landlords can refer to lists of existing damage or photos or videos taken at the time the tenant moved in.

A landlord does a final inspection after the tenant has left, and the tenant may have a right to be present at this inspection. The landlord should identify all damage and cleaning that he or she believes the tenant is obligated to pay for, and the tenant can discuss the reasonableness of any proposed deductions.

Most states require the landlord to draft a written itemization of all damage or cleaning that is the responsibility of the tenant and to list the costs of repair or cleaning. The information in the itemized list should be sufficient for the tenant or a court in a later dispute to see if the landlord’s claim is reasonable.

A landlord is not limited to claims for damage or cleaning that was identified during an inspection if there is a reasonable explanation why the landlord may not have noticed the damage at the time. For example, damage or dirt hidden by the tenant’s furniture during a preliminary inspection could be charged for later, as could pet odors not noticeable because of an open window.

For FAQ about Landlord/Tenant Law, visit the Free Advice website or ask a question about your landlord-tenant issue on our Free Advice Law Forum to see how others have handled similar situations.

Check out these related articles:

Security Deposits

How Much a Landlord Can Charge for a Security Deposit

How Security Deposits are Held

Getting Back Your Security Deposit

Returning Security Deposits

Tenants’ Privacy and Landlords’ Access

State Laws: Landlord/Tenant

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