When you make a deposit on your rental property, you likely paid a deposit to your landlord or a management company. The landlord or management company is required to set the money aside without spending it—and in some cases, to place that money in an interest-bearing account—and to repay you that money (plus interest) within one to two months after you vacate it, less any damages beyond normal wear and tear. In most states, landlords who withhold some or all of your deposit are required to itemize reasons why it withheld funds. Of course, what constitutes beyond-normal damages to a residential space is often a subjective call. If you distrust your landlord, you should photograph your apartment or rental home at time of move-out, so that if you and your landlord differ over the property's condition or you want to challenge the landlord on damage claims, you'll have photographic evidence.
According to Vermont Law Help, a consumer legal aid organization, the types of damages that lead to withheld deposits include dents or holes in walls, major stains in carpets, tears or burns in carpets, broken windows and so forth. In addition, if you owe for back-rent or the last month of rent, a landlord can keep some or all of your deposit to cover that balance. Keep in mind that leaving your apartment as clean as it was when you found it will endear you to your landlord, so that if, in the future, you need a reference, you'll definitely get one.
Large, loud, smoky parties are the stuff of spills, burns, and breakages. Party hosts, beware! After the guests leave, you're the one liable for the aftermath.
A thorough vacuum and mop job can help you distinguish between normal stains and dust and serious stains and scuffs.
If the carpet has stains, consider renting a carpet cleaning machine from a local grocery or hardware store. The roughly $30 rental cost plus $5 to $10 worth of cleaning liquid will cost far less than what a landlord may hold from your deposit for professional cleaning. Alternatively, you could hire a professional cleaner who specializes in removing carpet stains; shop around for an affordable professional, and be sure to know your space's square footage to get an accurate price quote.
If you (or, say, your large dog or klutzy kid) banged into a wall or door and left a hole in it, it's possible to patch the hole yourself or by hiring a handyman. Your local hardware store will sell a variety of spackle, putty, and other materials needed for holes and dents of various sizes and in various building materials. Most odd-jobs/handyman workers can tackle projects like these too, for nominal hourly fees.
Some landlords don't mind if tenants paint and are themselves willing to restore walls to their prior neutral shade upon move out. But other landlords will charge you for the hassle of doing so. Double-check your rent contract or call the landlord to ask if you need to restore walls to their former color or if this will lead to a charge.
If you're not repainting walls, at least clean them up a bit by removing any smudges or scuffs. In the kitchen and bathroom, where there's likely semi-gloss paint, household cleaners ought to remove any stains. For stubborn scuffs that household cleaners don't tackle, try a TSP (tri-sodium phosphate) solution sold at hardware stores; this deep cleaner is often used to clean walls thoroughly before a new coat of paint.
While a little trash may be inevitable, leaving sofas, your broken futon, and that old fraternity lamp aren't going to charm landlords, and they may have to charge you for hauling fees. Try getting rid of materials you don't want by using free services like Craig's List or FreeCycle, or call a local junk hauler to take your trash to the dump.
While a landlord won't likely charge you for leaving a few food items behind, it's best to empty the fridge and freezer, thaw them, and give them both a good cleaning. A vinegar-water solution is effective on most refrigerator/freezers.
It's not that hard, really. Rings in the sink, toilet, and tub don't speak well of your tenancy. A scrub will do wonders.
On your final walk-through, you may notice a bit of dust left behind from all the moving. A last vacuum, sweep, or wipe-down will leave the place in ship-shape.