Make sure you do a detailed…and I do mean detailed…walkthrough, and document everything that is wrong with the place. Yes, this is a post about my personal experience, so grab a cup of coffee, sit back, and learn from my mistakes.

Six years ago my husband and I moved to Southern Oregon. It was a quick move, and we were under time pressure to find a place to live. We found a little two bedroom duplex and signed a rental agreement. One year and one baby later, the two bedroom side of the duplex was too small for our growing family. Fortunately for us, the other side of the duplex, a three bedroom place, opened up.

That’s where the trouble starts…

Our landlord wanted us to move as quickly as possible. After all, if he could get us into the three bedroom side quickly, he could rent out the two bedroom side quickly, and that’s good for his bottom line. We didn’t object, because we were looking forward to more space.

We had a pretty good relationship with our landlord, and because of that, we didn’t do things in a very conventional way. To move things along faster, I vacuumed up after the old tenants left. I mopped the floors and wiped down the dusty cabinets.

The landlord did the minimal amount of work to make the house livable, we did a quick walkthrough, and signed the new rental agreement.

5 years later we bought a house and moved out. We had been good tenants, and we had left the place very clean. We were expecting a deposit back. We didn’t get one. Instead we got a bill for $68.

Granted, we didn’t have a very big security deposit…only $150, I believe, though I will be going back to check on that for sure. And we did have a pretty big charge for a refrigerator crisper drawer that cracked. I overfilled it with produce. Oops. So I take full responsibility for that.

Beyond that, however, we were billed for damage to the bathtub where our tension bar was placed….except that the damage was there already when we moved in. I never really considered it “damaged”, because if you place a tension bar there, it will affect the paint job.

We were billed for the dial caps on the faucet mixers that were missing on the bathroom and kitchen sinks. You know, the plastic caps that say “H” and “C”? They just fell off while we used them in the normal course of the day. I personally would consider that normal wear and tear, but perhaps I’m wrong.

We were billed for dented screens that we never took off the windows. I don’t believe we dented them, though I can’t say for sure. If we did, it wasn’t by being rough or anything. My kids were too short to reach the bedroom window screens.

And my favorite charge was $1 for every missing lightbulb. We had those light fixtures that held 4 bulbs to a fixture, a major waste of electricity in my opinion. So while we lived there, I put two energy efficient bulbs (equivalent to 75 or 100 watts) in each of the fixtures and left the two other bulbs empty, rather than placing 4-60 watt bulbs in each fixture. I left the energy efficient bulbs in the house, knowing that both the landlord and the new tenants were into green living.

I know post sounds a little, I don’t know, bitter, and I’ll admit I’m frustrated at the moment. I plan on calling the landlord later today to remind him of a few conversations we’ve had in the past, and I’m confident that I can get him to work with me enough to just call it even, without either of us owing any money.

And perhaps I’m way off base here. I’ll admit I don’t know anything about being a landlord. All I know is that we’ve rented several places in the past, and we’ve always received our full security deposit back. And we haven’t done anything differently, except that I broke the crisper drawer this time. So if you are a landlord, feel free to advise me if you know these charges are customary, or whether they are along the lines of normal wear and tear.

But the lesson here is no matter how comfortable you are with your landlord, and no matter how good your relationship is at the time, make sure you document EVERYTHING that you think could eventually be an issue. Don’t worry about looking nit-picky. 5 years down the road, you’ll be thankful that you did, and it will save you a big headache and possibly lots of money.

5 years ago I knew nothing about personal finance, and I was the kind of person who wanted to be nice and not make waves. I’m glad to say that I’ve learned and grown, and if I were to sign a new rental agreement today, things would go a lot differently. Fortunately that won’t be an issue for me again.

If you’ve ever rented, what has been your experience with security deposits? Have you always gotten everything back? Or does your landlord deduct for every little expense?