Getting your first apartment is super exciting. Now, you can stay out as late as you want, eat as much cold pizza at 3 in the morning as your stomach can handle, and walk around in your underwear while singing “Mr. Brightside” until your roommate tells you to shut up and go to sleep. However, there’s no such thing as freedom without a price: security — or, rather, a security deposit. In other words, money that your landlord keeps and may never give back to you if you don’t know the facts. So put that cold pizza to the side and settle in to read the best ways to get your apartment deposit back.

Read (and Re-Read) Your Lease

Don’t dismiss that leasing agreement like it’s the Apple Terms and Services. Make sure you know exactly what it is you need to do to keep your deposit. And make sure you read the full terms before it’s too late: hanging pictures with Command Strips instead of nails could save you hundreds of dollars when your move-out inspection comes.

If It’s Broke, Fix It — ASAP

If you scratch the wall or break a mirror, address it immediately. Don’t just leave it for when you move out. Moving’s painful enough without scrambling to touch up paint and fill nail holes. It will be much easier to fix things immediately than later, anyway. In fact, it’s a good idea to keep touch-up kits for walls, wood, and tile on hand, just in case.

Get To Know Your Landlord

Get to know your landlord. They’ll like you more if you’re friendly to them. If you have questions about your lease, ask your landlord before you move in. And if you have questions about repairs or moving out, ask those, too. Before you move out, request to do a final walk-through with your landlord. That way, you’ll be able to fix anything that needs to be fixed beforehand.

Clean Before Your Leave

The place needs to look good when you leave, so take a day to deep clean. Patch up any holes in the walls from your framed pictures, fix any loose hinges in the drawers, and  vacuum, mop, sweep … In other words, it’s time to use all those cleaning supplies you’ve been ignoring for the year (no judgement! We know how that goes).

A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words — And a Security Deposit

Once you’ve made repairs and deep-cleaned your apartment, take pictures. Lots of them. Photos can prove that you left the place in pristine condition. If someone finds a hole on the wall that wasn’t there when you left, a photo will show it. And it’s hard to argue with a photograph!

Text by Anna Khan