Picture this: It's moving day, and everything is working out just as you planned. You've found the best movers for the job, everything is on schedule, and even the weather is playing along nicely. Then, along comes your landlord who hands you a statement regarding the loss of your damage deposit. He's charging you for additional cleaning services, and damages that you don't recall. You may have never had any problems with getting your deposit back in the past. How could this happen now?
True, most landlords are reasonable people, willing to work along with you to correct any issues during your move. There are some that represent themselves dishonestly however, and will try to get whatever they can from you financially.
This can be avoided. Action can be taken before you move in, during your stay, and while moving out of the property to ensure that you are never taken advantage of.
Before moving, first search the internet for the building and landlord under consideration. What do people say about them? Has anyone had any problems? What does the Better Business Bureau have to say about them?
Once you're satisfied with your search, take a walk through the apartment. Bring your digital camera along, and document what you see. Your landlord should provide you with a checklist of rooms, and ask you to detail their condition. Don't leave out anything, no matter how insignificant. Bent window screen? Take a picture, and write it down. Chipped tile in the bathroom? Take a picture, and write it down. Paint scuff in the closet? Take a picture, and write it down. Even if it's something you do not care to have fixed during your residency, it's important to know the state of the apartment before you move in. This way, you can't be charged for something you did not do.
This is also a good time to discuss with your landlord what you do expect to have fixed before moving in. If the apartment is to your liking, they will give you a tenancy agreement to sign. Check it as thoroughly as the apartment you just walked through. Look for a section that specifies the obligations of both the landlord, and yourself. These agreements are not all encompassing, and do allow you to make additions. Include your checklist of concerns from the walk-through, and specify whether or not you expect them to be fixed during your residency. Both you and your landlord are expected to sign this agreement, and each of you get your own copy as well. Make sure you hold on to it.
Damage deposits are usually not lost on moving day. They're lost during the actual residency. What can we do to avoid this?
Keep it clean. It seems like common sense (and it is), but there might be some things that slip your mind, or would not seem to be your responsibility on first glance. Cleaning inside and outside of balcony doors, the removal of mould from window tracks, and the periodic cleaning of carpets are all a responsibility of the tenant here in British Columbia.
Any changes that you make to the apartment must also be discussed and agreed upon with the landlord beforehand. If you want to replace the carpets with laminate floors, or update that horrible kitchen wallpaper, you need the owners permission. Changes made without permission allow the landlord to claim the cost of reversing those changes.
If the property requires repair, inform your landlord as soon as possible. Leaving it in a state of disrepair may lessen the value of the property, and make you responsible. If you wish to hire your own contractor, discuss it with your landlord. Some buildings have agreements with service providers that do not allow them to hire outside help.
If it's an emergency, you are required to make an attempt to contact your landlord by phone at least twice before undertaking any repairs either by yourself, or by hiring a contractor. Also, make sure it's a real emergency. A broken towel rack is obviously not an emergency, but a broken heating or plumbing system would be. It must be necessary to preserve your health, or prevent further damage to the property.
Moving out is a lot like moving in. You want to go through each room with a checklist, and make sure everything looks to be in good order. This time though, it's your responsibility to make sure that everything looks spotless. It's a good idea to do your final clean up after all the furniture has already been removed. Have the carpets shampooed, and the drapes dry cleaned. The fridge and stove should each be washed inside and out. Be sure to wipe out the smaller compartments such as the vegetable crisper or egg holder. If your fridge and stove are on rollers, you will be required to wheel them out and wash behind and under each appliance. Be careful to use cleaning products that will not damage the surfaces you are working on. Remove any nails or adhesive from the walls. Light fixtures should be free of dead bugs, and ceiling fans wiped for dust.
Once everything is clean, it's time to take more pictures. Document the fantastic job you've done on the apartment. The landlord should then do a final walk through with you, and discuss any issues that they may have about your damage deposit. If everything goes well, make sure they sign an agreement that you have left the property in fair condition. Don't let them make you feel bad about this. It is only right that you protect yourself.
If your landlord is insisting on holding on to the damage deposit, demand an itemized list of the charges. Once you have this list, learn your rights. If they are charging you for the replacement of a carpet, find out when the carpet was last replaced and ask for the receipt. You are not responsible for things like normal wear and tear, and if the carpet was due for a replacement you would not be responsible for it at all. In BC, you are also not responsible for painting the premises, or repairing appliances provided by the landlord, unless you were specifically responsible for damages. Even in such a case where you are responsible for damages, you would only be required to paint or repair the offending area. For example, if you broke an element on the stove, you would only be required to replace the element, not the stove.
In BC, both yourself, and the landlord, have the right to apply for dispute resolution from your local residential tenancy board within fifteen days from the end of your tenancy or whenever the landlord receives your forwarding address. If something isn’t right, try to work it out, but don't let it sit for too long.
9 times out of 10, everything will be just fine. Like we already said, most landlords mean well, and want the best for their tenants. If it goes bad though, it's best to protect yourself. Know your rights and obligations.
The links below should help you define what those are, depending on where you live in Canada.
Prince Edward Island: