Don’t Forget This Important Step After Signing Your Apartment Lease

Take measures to protect your security deposit before you even move into your new apartment.
Deirdre Mundorf Avatar
rental inspection checklist lease agreement on desk with keys

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Don’t Lose Your Security Deposit

rental inspection checklist couple getting keys

If you’ve ever rented a property and lost some or all of your security deposit—or even ended up owing money—due to normal wear and tear or pre-existing damages, you know how frustrating it can be. Avoid making this mistake again (or at all if you’re a first-time renter) by documenting any imperfections in the apartment before you even move in.

Before signing your lease or immediately after, complete a rental inspection checklist. When you’re ready to move out, you can use this checklist and the corresponding pictures you took before signing to talk to a landlord who might try to keep some or all of your security deposit.

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What is a rental inspection checklist?

Rental inspection checklist walking around apartment

A rental inspection checklist is just what it sounds like: a checklist to guide renters through conducting a thorough inspection of the property. Rental inspection checklists—like this one available for instant download on—are broken down into several categories, including the various rooms in the unit, utilities, and exterior features. During a walk-through of your new apartment or condo, you can use the checklist to help look for any signs of damage, wear and tear, or other issues.

Why is a rental inspection checklist important?

rental inspection checklist man checking ceiling damage

Completing a rental checklist can help you protect your security deposit and ensure that it isn’t unfairly retained by your landlord. We’ve all heard stories or had firsthand experience of landlords claiming the tenants were responsible for damages that were present before they even moved in. If you have the checklist and corresponding photos to back you up, you’ll be more successful in confronting a landlord making false claims.

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Bring a few things to our walk-through.

rental inspection checklist taking photo of moldy shower

Before signing the lease for a new apartment, you should complete a walk-through of the property with the landlord or property management company. Make sure you’re prepared for this walk-through with a copy of your rental inspection checklist. You’ll also want to have a fully charged smartphone or camera set to add time stamps to each picture you take to document the property’s condition.

Bring along a flashlight to help check darker areas, such as utility closets or under the sinks. A pen and a notebook may also come in handy if you think of any questions or want to write down any notes. Add a measuring tape to your list in case you need to record distances or measure for furniture.

Use all of your rental inspection checklist.

rental inspection checklist man looking at list

Use the rental inspection checklist as a guide to help you assess each area of the property. Many available checklists are broken down by room and include a list of items to check in each space. For example, in the kitchen, some of the items listed will include the range/cooktop, microwave, refrigerator, cabinet doors, flooring, and sink/plumbing. You can mark the condition of each item on the list.

Provide additional documentation for anything that looks to be damaged, broken, or outdated. This documentation should include time-stamped photographs or videos and written notes further describing the condition.

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What to Look for During the Inspection

rental inspection checklist looking at window damage.

It’s easy to overlook areas of the apartment during an inspection. Take care to perform a thorough inspection to make sure you have documentation of anything that your landlord could use to withhold your security deposit. Some key items to inspect include:

  • Safety: Check important safety features such as working smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, and secure doors.
  • Plumbing: Assess plumbing fixtures, check the water pressure, and look for any signs of water damage.
  • Electrical: Test each electrical outlet using a hairdryer or cellphone charger and phone. Check that all of the light switches work, and identify any potential electrical hazards like exposed wiring.
  • Doors and windows: Confirm that all doors and windows function properly. Look for faulty handles, squeaky windows, missing screens, or drafty areas.
  • Appliances: Check each appliance to ensure it works. Confirm that the refrigerator and freezer are sufficiently cold and that the doors seal properly. Turn on the oven, stovetop, dishwasher, washer, and dryer to assess functionality.
  • Overall apartment condition: Look for and document any signs of wear and tear or damage, including peeling paint, stained carpet, broken blinds, or cracked tiles.
  • Unit exterior: If your rental includes any exterior areas, be sure to closely inspect them as well. You can also take note of any common areas and document safety or cleanliness hazards.

Communicate damages and other concerns with the landlord.

rental inspection checklist talking to landlord

After completing your checklist, make a copy of it to share with your landlord. Attach the photographs that support your claims of damaged or broken items. If you want to request any repairs or upgrades, now would be a good time to do so. Be sure to save a copy of the checklist and pictures in a safe spot where you’ll be able to access them before moving out.

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What could happen if you skip the rental inspection checklist?

rental inspection checklist angry landlord and tenant

Completing a rental inspection checklist is as important as making sure you have renter’s insurance. Both help protect you. If you don’t perform a rental inspection and do not have pictures to document any broken or damaged items, you’ll have no recourse against a landlord who is claiming that you were responsible for said damages. Without evidence to back your claims, any fight you put up to keep your rental deposit is not likely to succeed.