Should I document the condition of my rental? And what should I say to my landlord?

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By Emily Myers  |
December 12, 2018 - 4:30PM

It's all in the delivery: Make your message about being a good tenant who cares about the condition of the apartment.


If your new New York City rental isn’t in an immaculate new building, the chances are it’ll have some nicks and scratches. Hopefully, it will have some fresh paint on the walls but if you’re worried you might have trouble getting your security deposit back when you move out, it’s not a bad idea to document the condition of the unit before you move in.

But how does a tenant know this will be favorably received by the landlord? Teresa Stephenson, a broker at Platinum Properties, says it doesn’t have to be seen as a bad thing for the owner.

“You’re not going to email the landlord and say the place is a wreck. A lot of it is in the spirit of the communication," she says.

But what if you're already months into your tenancy? There a few things you can do retroactively, and most of it revolves around building good lines of communication with your landlord.

Documenting the condition is always a good idea

Stephenson believes the best approach would be to say you just wanted to send some pictures to let your landlord know about the condition of the apartment as you move in. “If anything that can make the landlord feel that you are a really responsible person,” she says.

Jay Fox, content director with the forum Landlords NY, says the problem that always arises is ambiguity. Documenting the property with photos or a video can help. He says, “the primary goal is to have so much evidence that it is indisputable that there’s no point going to court and no question of you losing your security deposit.”

What if you failed to do that when you moved in?

In the best case scenario, the landlord may have documented the apartment condition before you moved in. Fox admits that’s pretty rare. He advises reaching out to the landlord before you leave your unit and asking if you can walk through together. You can even ask what minor repairs you might need to do, whether it is putting spackle in the walls or fixing a breakage.

“If you are showing an effort to give the property back in the state that you found it, I think that goes a long way and ultimately you won’t end up losing your security deposit.”

Keep communication clear

Picture nails are fine but if you have pock marks from anchor studs in the walls, that probably won’t go down well with the landlord. Fox says, “try to resolve everything before you leave.”

There’s often a gray area about what is normal wear and tear and what is not. Some landlords are simply more accepting than others. If you have pictures and videos of the apartment when you leave it could also help resolve issues without a situation escalating. Stephenson says at all costs you are going to want to avoid getting into a legal fight with your landlord.

“Regardless of what has happened, once you’ve been in any landlord tenant court, it is very difficult to rent from a landlord in New York again.”


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Emily Myers

Senior Writer/Podcast Producer

Emily Myers is a senior writer, podcast host, and producer at Brick Underground. She writes about issues ranging from market analysis and tenants' rights to the intricacies of buying and selling condos and co-ops. As host of the Brick Underground podcast, she has earned four silver awards from the National Association of Real Estate Editors.

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