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Moving? Don't make these mistakes

Do it right or pay the price.

By Donna_Freedman Feb 5, 2010 12:26PM
A tenant just moved out of the building I manage. He did a bunch of things wrong and it cost him, both literally and figuratively.

Things like:
  • Neglecting to give the required 20-day notice: That means he owes this month's rent even though he no longer lives here. (If the place gets rented before the end of that month, he'll get a partial refund.)
  • Not reading the clean-out sheet carefully: He ignored some chores, which meant cleaning charges against his deposit.
  • Deciding suddenly to move: Since he had only 12 days to do everything, the move was much more stressful than it had to be. Also, if he and his friends hadn't been in such a hurry perhaps they wouldn't have knocked a hole in the apartment wall or chipped the hallway drywall -- even more charges against his deposit.
His biggest potential mistake was deciding not to be there for the final walk-through, during which a manager looks for damage or dirt.

"I trust you," the tenant told me by phone when he called to break his appointment.

This was a terrible idea, even though I am pretty darned trustworthy. When you're not present at the walk-through, a manager or landlord could find all sorts of nonexistent problems and charge the "fixes" to your deposit.
If you're moving, here are a few more things to keep in mind:

Donating stuff to a charity gets you a tax write-off if you itemize,
and karma points if you don't. Or you could try some of those online freebie/swap sites. But these things take time; you may not be able to get a pickup scheduled if you wait until the last minute. Call early.

Some charities are selective about what they'll take so you may have to call more than one. For example, a Value Village thrift store near me will take a mattress and box spring but not a mattress or a box spring. A charity might say "no thanks" to a television or a computer. Don't assume you can unload everything in one place.

It all takes time
Remember: The less stuff you have to move, the less you'll have to pay in gas and/or truck rental costs. This is especially true if you're doing the move yourself with a buddy's pickup: Fewer trips means fewer miles.

Donating or giving away furniture also means no dump fees -- unless, of course, the stuff you want to donate is in such poor condition that the charity won't take it. So don't schedule your charity pickup for two hours before you leave. Allow time to make a landfill run if necessary.

Don't leave furniture or other large items in the apartment or out by the trash. You may get charged for disposal costs.

As a courtesy to fellow tenants, don't bogart the Dumpster. This tenant threw a bunch of items in every which way, using up most of the available space -- and it was four more days until the next garbage pickup.

I wound up pulling most of it out, placing the recyclables (paper, cardboard boxes, phone books, magazines) in separate bins and then putting it all back in carefully, to make sure there was a place for everyone else to put their garbage. Sometimes I really don't like this job.
Return all keys (front door, apartment, mailbox) plus the garage remote if applicable. This tenant drove off with the remote still clipped to his visor. Sending it back cost him $1.76 in postage plus a couple more bucks for a bubble-wrap mailer. That may not sound like much, but this guy was very anxious about how quickly he'd get his damage and pet deposits back. Four or five dollars might have made a difference to him.

Bust that dust
Allow enough time to clean your place thoroughly. If the lease requires you to be out by a certain hour, you could technically be charged an extra day's rent if you're still cleaning at midnight. But if you leave without finishing, you'll be charged a cleaning fee.

Read the clean-out sheet carefully. Yes, I really am required to move the fridge to see if you cleaned under it. Take pictures if you think you might be challenged -- or even if you don't think that -- and don't toss them until you've gotten your damage deposit back.

If your check comes back smaller than you expected, don't cash it! This might be construed as acknowledging bogus cleaning/repair costs. Those pictures and that copy of the move-out report will come in handy if you decide to dispute the charges.

Finally, be sure to fill out a change-of-address form either at the post office or online at usps.gov. But make sure the manager and the landlord have your address, too. Mail for past tenants still shows up occasionally; because I have forwarding addresses, I can send it on.

The landlord needs your address to return your damage deposit. If you're due any back, that is. Seriously: If it says clean under the fridge, then clean under the fridge.

Related reading:

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