How to Leave a Rental Unit in Good Condition

Leaving a rental unit (a home or an apartment) in very good condition serves a few good purposes: 1) you're likely to get your deposit back; 2) you're likely to get a good referral from the landlord; and 3) it's the right thing to do, whether you believe in karma, "doing unto others as you'd have done unto you", or any similar line of thought. There's often unexpected benefits from doing the right thing.


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    Take inventory. Once you've decided to leave the rental unit (house/condo/apartment) you've been living in, take inventory of what will be left behind once you're gone. Generally that includes the walls, ceilings, floors, heating system, faucets and sinks, shower, maybe a tub, toilet, towel racks, windows, curtains (if they were there when you moved in), carpets, appliances, and the like.
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    Take notice of the condition. As you walk around inspecting the parts of the place that won't be moving with you, ask yourself if they're in good shape. Would someone else feel comfortable moving in without having to scrub them clean? Most rental and lease agreements allow for "usual wear and tear", so some things might be a bit more worn than they were when you moved in and would be costly to repair. If you can spruce them up a bit, great: go for it. But if not, leave them as neat and clean as you can.
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    Remove artwork and nail. If you've hung art work on the walls using nails or picture hangers, remove the art work, and then remove the nails or hangers as carefully as you can. Depending on the kind of wall, might be just a little damage and there might be a lot.
    • If the hole made by the nail or hanger is a small one, just press a little spackle over the area and smooth it over with your finger or with a putty knife. If the hole is larger, fill the opening will crunched up newspaper so that you fill the space without protruding beyond the opening. Then apply the spackle and smooth over it with the putty knife. Let the spackle dry completely before you doing anything else.
    • Once it's dry, you'll probably need to sand the area a bit so it will blend with the surrounding area. And now comes the hard part: you need to match the paint. You don't need to paint the whole room. You just need to cover the parts of the wall that have been damaged by the holes you made.
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    Paint the walls, if necessary. Matching the paint to cover damage to walls and woodwork can be relatively easy once you know how to do it. If you happen to be a former designer with a complete Pantone Matching System, you're golden. But if you aren't so blessed, look around your place for items with colors in them that are the same as the color of the paint you want to match.
    • There's one glitch: when you compare the samples you find at your place to the samples in the store, you need to remember that paint dries darker than it looks, so although you should be looking at sample paints (because they're so much cheaper) make sure you check the card that shows how the paint looks when it's dried.
    • Another word of caution about using only sample paints to touch up walls: as of this writing, it is hard to find any sample paints that come in anything format other than "flat". So unless your landlord has an affinity for strictly flat paints, chances are you'll wind up having to buy a quart of "satin" or "semi-gloss", or maybe even "gloss", to make your repair to the wall invisible to a discerning eye (and that's your goal).
    • A warning about matching "white". Of all the colors you have to match, white might very well be the most difficult because there are so many variations of it. "Colonial White" has a brownish-orange tint to it (surprise!), "Adobe White" has brown in it, "Ceiling White" is white as paper white, but it's pretty much always a flat white. Your best bet is to go into a paint store and pick up as many samples of white as you can find and then bring them back to the walls (or other wood project) you need to repair and find the one that's the perfect fit. Make sure to notice the level of gloss on the paint you're trying to match. If it's really shiny, it's probably gloss. It's it's almost really shine, it's probably semi-gloss; if it's sort of shiny, it's probably satin, and if there's no shine, it's flat.
    • About brushes: unless you feel there's a need to use a good brush, buy a few cheap ones.
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    Once you've found the right paint matches, set aside an afternoon and cover the areas you've spackled, and touch up areas where paint has worn off (often on door frame edges). It's usually a dab here and a dab there. If you notice you've got a bad color match, stop and wipe the paint off right away. You don't want to get into repainting the whole door or wall or whatever it is. You might need to spend a few dollars on another paint, but by now you've learned more about the process and you'll probably get it exactly right the next time.
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    Scrub the bathroom fixtures REALLY clean. Something like Barkeeper's Friend, which you can buy at pretty much any grocery store in the cleaning aisle. It's a great cleaner for pots and pans, but it's also a whiz with porcelain sinks, tubs, and toilets. And it smells nice.
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    If you have carpets, and they're dirty, rent a carpet cleaner at the grocery store and just do it. It's a pain.
    • If you find spots that won't come clean, try a mix of Dawn Liquid Soap and Hydrogen Peroxide. (Mix together half and half. Pour over the stained area, gently rub, then let sit for about 30 minutes. Wipe some away to see if any progress has been made. If so, wonderful. If not, let it sit for several hours. If still no joy, wipe it clean entirely and try another cleaner that's appropriate for the specific material your carpet is made of. There's almost always a cleaner that will remove a difficult. Google is wonderful for searching this kind of thing.
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    If you have wooden floors, sweep them, then dry mop them, then vacuum them, the wet mop them with a wood floor cleaner. You might need to wet mop them with the cleaner several times. Repeat the cleaning until your mop rinses clean.
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    Clean the windows. Window are often overlooked. If you're up too high to clean the outside of your windows, at least clean the inside (vinegar and water is a great all around cleaner by the way). Don't forget to wipe down the window ledges, sill, and the grates.
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    Scrub the appliances. Appliances MUST be cleaned so they look as new as possible. This can be a no-fun job, or you can decide your life depends on it and approach it as a person with an important mission. When cleaning the refrigerator, remove all shelving that's meant to be removed for cleaning purposes. Do this as carefully as you can, of course. Then use soap and water and clean the shelves. While the shelves are out of the 'fridge, use soap and water to wipe down the side walls of the 'fridge. Don't miss the drawers, or the butter/dairy covers, or the area around and under the rubber stripping. After you've wiped with soap and water, rinse each part and then dry with a towel. This gives it the best shine. When you're done with the refrigerator, do the same with the freezer. Don't miss anything. Make it look like you wish it had looked while you'd live there.
    • For the stove, if you have a self-cleaning oven, use that cleaning function. If you don't, you can simply turn the oven to the highest heat and leave it for 2 hours, then let it cool down before you wipe it clean. If it doesn't come completely clean, try Barkeeper's Friend again. If that doesn't work, you might need to resort to an oven cleaner. Make sure the oven shelves are cleaned too, whether with the high heat, or with your elbow grease. As a final touch, place an aluminum sheet on the bottom of the oven (you buy these in the grocery store for about $3.00 for 2). That shine from the sheet give the oven a clean, new look. As for the range, be sure to remove the drains below each burner and rinse them in hot water and soap. If they won't come clean, and if you can afford it, just buy some new ones. The impact of the newness of that can't be overstated. If the drains are old and not easily replaced, take some tinfoil and wrap each drain so that they're fully covered and rest nicely under the burner... after you've taken care to clean the entire top (and the burners).
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    For a dishwasher and microwave, simply be sure to wash the removable parts, and place them back where they belong.
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    Wipe down the outside of each appliance so that they shine, and there are no finger prints. Do the same for all faucets.
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    Don't leave anything in the place except for what the landlord's expect to find. That means no garbage, no dust in the closets, no food in the fridge or the cupboard, no nothing.
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    If there are any bulbs that have burnt out, replace them. The idea is to avoid having your landlord showing the place to a potential tenant and flipping on a light switch only to find that no light comes on. That kind of thing doesn't go over well in the minds of landlords. Not even good landlords.
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    Wash the curtains. If the curtains have gotten filthy while you've lived there, and they can be washed in a washing machine, then following the instructions for washing and drying (I'd probably hang dry them in any case, but it depends on the fabric), and you'll probably need to iron them. If you have the money, you can have them laundered or dry-cleaned. The point is, don't leave the place with dirty curtains. It reflects poorly one you in more than one way: what are you doing living with dirty drapes?
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    Remove your name from the mailbox just before you leave.
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    Leave your landlord with your new address and phone number, and let him or her know you'll be happy to be a referral for potential tenants and that you're available should there be any questions about the place.
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    Don't bad mouth your old landlord. If your relationship with your landlord hasn't been particularly good, don't bad mouth him or her (or them). This is probably the hardest rule to follow, but life has an incredibly bizarre way of catching up with you. You never know when the head of the HR department when you really want a job might turn out to be your landlord's new wife. So even if you hate him (or her), keep it to yourself as best you can.
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    When you move, leave with a smile on your face and a note thanking your landlord(s) for their help and (if appropriate) their patience. If it makes sense, leave them a bottle of wine, or other small token. There's nothing to be lost in offering a gesture of kindness to someone(s) you very likely won't see again. And it's a classy thing to do.


  • Go above and beyond the call of duty. Leave the place better than you found if if you possibly can... even if you can't stand your landlord(s).
  • Set aside several days to scrub. It's good exercise.
  • If you ever find yourself as a landlord, you might appreciate having given the extra effort: what goes around really does often come around.
  • Paint away signs of wear. Make sure you match the paint correctly, but when you do, a little paint can make a world of difference.

Things You'll Need

  • paint samples/swatches
  • paint brushes
  • elbow grease
  • vacuum cleaner
  • Barkeeper's Friend
  • Sponges
  • Determination

Article Info

Categories: Home Cleaning Preparations | Moving House and Packing