Moving Out of a Rental
Getting a Jump on Moving Day
No one looks forward to moving day, but it's almost as inevitable as death and taxes. If you're planning a move, the kindest thing you can do for yourself, your roommates, and your furry friends is to try to lighten up. It helps to be organized, and start early! Even if you're also juggling finals and goodbye parties, do one moving task a day beginning up to six weeks before your move.
- If you'll be hiring movers, contact three companies for estimates, and start taking videos or photos of appliances, antiques, and irreplaceable treasures.
- If you're moving on your own, contact truck rental companies and line up some hale and hearty friends for the big day (bribe them with beer and pizza).
- Begin collecting boxes and packing materials.
- If you have pets or young children, arrange for a sitter to take them on moving day.
- Gradually begin deep-cleaning to reduce the stress of final cleanup.
- Start packing items you won't be using before the move; kids can help by packing their own off-season clothing and soft toys, or placing stickers on boxes.
Most leases and rental agreements specify how much notice you're required to give your landlord before moving -usually 30 days. Put your notice in writing and include that day's date, your unit's number if you're in an apartment, and a forwarding address for your deposit refund. Keep a copy in a safe place. If you're forced to move before the term of your lease has expired, discuss options as soon as possible with your landlord. In most states, landlords are required by law to hunt for a new tenant as soon as possible, sparing you from paying for the full term.
Ask your current landlord for an extra day or two at the month's end. You may be required to pay a prorated fee, but it's worth it for a low-stress cleaning day. If not, ask your future landlord if you can move in a day or two early.
One month in advance
- If you're moving to a new town, make final dental and medical appointments and get a checkup for that trusty old car.
- What can you do without? Have a garage sale, get busy on eBay, or make a donation to a favorite charity. If you have a big enough load, some not-for-profit organizations will make pickups.
- Start eating your frozen foods! Less to move.
- If you have a security system, give notice to the provider. Do you subscribe to any other services that require a 30-day notice to disconnect?
Three weeks in advance
- Keep a-packin', but don't pack your camera. You'll see why under "Making a Clean Break."
- Submit a change of address with your post office. Start contacting your friends and family, employer (important for tax time), school and student loan office, and medical professionals and veterinarians; business contacts including clients, banks, insurance carriers, and credit card carriers; utilities, phone company, and ISP; and newspapers, periodicals, and favorite catalogs.
- Have new checks, business cards, and letterhead printed.
- Arrange for help on cleaning day.
- Ask your landlord if he or she will do a walk-through with you after you've moved out and cleaned; it's the best precaution against surprise deposit deductions. If the landlord has a cleaning checklist, ask for a copy to refer to when cleaning.
Two weeks in advance
- Talk to your bank now if you need to transfer accounts and clear your safety deposit box.
- Arrange to have new utilities connected the day before you move into your next home: gas, electricity, water, garbage, phone lines, high-speed computer access, and modem hookups. If you're moving out of town, you may need to give notice to your current ISP and arrange a new one.
- Change the address on your driver's license and car registration.
- Call your current utilities providers and follow instructions for having meters read. Don't cut off important utilities, including phone, until the day after you've moved out and cleaned up.
- Dig up your lease or rental agreement and check the sections that refer to your deposit. Some landlords specifically require that you fill nail holes, repaint, and the like.
- Confirm travel plans and accommodations.
- Pack an "emergency kit" of essentials (such as snacks, pen and paper, scissors, soap, and a set of utensils) and a special box of valuables and documents for easy access after your move.
- If you're leaving town, pick up items you've left at repair shops and dry cleaners.
- Return cable equipment.
- Confirm that your landlord has your forwarding address.
- Put cleaning materials in a box and stash it with your vacuum and broom.
- Cook, eat, or give away perishable foods.
- At least one day before moving, unplug, defrost, and clean the refrigerator.
- On the night before your move, get plenty of sleep, and have a high-powered breakfast in the morning.
It's movin' time!
- On moving day, put bedding and other last-minute items in a box labeled "Load Last."
- Take a deep breath -by tomorrow at this time, you'll be all done. Oh, aside from cleaning.
Making a Clean Break
Cleaning and deposit
Now that your furniture and boxes are out of the way, it's time to get busy with the all-important job of cleaning. Think of it as being paid by the hour; you want that money back, right? If you're a neatnik, this may be easy, but if you haven't so much as dusted since you moved in or if you're the last to leave a messy four-bedroom house, it could take a day or two.
If your landlord gave you a checklist, follow it closely. If friends are available to help, divide labors based on equipment needed -one of you can scrub the stove while another washes windows and another gets started on the bathroom.
When you're all done, take that tour with your landlord. Inspect every nook and cranny together, and write down any problems. If he or she is dissatisfied with any areas, stay calm, and discuss it on the spot until you agree on a solution. Discuss how much deposit money you should expect, and when you will receive it. In most states, law dictates that deposits (or portions thereof) must be returned within 30 days. Put all of this in writing, and have the landlord sign and date the sheet.
Finally, take pictures of everything -every corner of every room. Photographs will be your best defense if you end up in a disagreement.
In case of dispute
In some states, landlords are required to provide you with an itemized list of deductions. What makes a deduction reasonable? Your lease should spell that out.
If you don't get your deposit back within your state's legal time frame, or if you receive what you consider an unfairly high deduction, follow these steps:
- Phone your landlord, and tactfully ask about the delay. Invite him or her to meet with you to review documents and photographs. Sometimes simply showing that you're willing to pursue a solution gets the ball rolling.
- If the problem persists, phone your local Better Business Bureau and ask for their advice.
- Consult with another neutral third party. Many cities offer publicly funded mediation at little or no cost. Call the office of your mayor or city manager and ask to be connected with someone who specializes in housing disputes or landlord-tenant mediation.
- As a last resort, you can contact small claims court. (Then again, simply mentioning court might jog your landlord's sense of fairness.) Filing a small claims suit can sometimes cost more than the money you're trying to reclaim. Find out what your local law says about responsibility for court fees; in many states tenants have no legal mandate to pay for the landlord's attorney fees, even if the lease says otherwise. Contact your state bar association to get a good picture of your options. In many cities legal support is available for tenants at low or no fee.
Good luck -and don't forget to take your vitamins!
Sally Anderson is a writer and editor based in Seattle.