Renting? Get your deposit back by cleaning properly

When you're renting property, there always comes the nasty moment when you move out and you wait to get your deposit back. In the past I've lost part of my deposit through simply not cleaning properly. The agency charge for cleaning will often be much higher than cleaning yourself, or even getting a cleaning company in to clean for you.

If you're cleaning the flat or house yourself, get some rubber gloves and proper cleaning products. They don't have to be expensive, but they'll save you a lot of time and the gloves will stop your hands being damaged by all the cleaners. Get a radio or charge up your iPod with some fast tunes to keep you going through the boredom ahead.

Some areas of the property might have been dirty before you moved in. Unless you brought this up with the letting agent at the time, or it's on the inventory paperwork made when you moved in, you are stuck with cleaning it even though it's not your fault. This sucks, but if you can't prove you didn't do it, you're the one that's going to get hit with the charge for sorting it out.

When cleaning, don't forget these important areas:

Kitchen - clean out the fridge and freezer. You may need to defrost the freezer if it has got iced up (I once got charged for leaving things in a freezer, and it was a few peas that had got caught in the ice.) When you defrost the freezer (e.g. by unplugging it) when the ice melts it will likely flood on to your kitchen floor, so put some towels down to soak the water up, and a bowl under where it's leaking if you can.

If you've left it quite late and the freezer won't defrost quickly, boil the kettle and put the water in a bowl, then put the bowl inside the freezer. If you're really desperate, you can use a hair dryer to warm up the ice. Whatever you do, don't leave the hair dryer resting on the ice, or you'll have a lot of explaining to do when the water and electricity mix and cause a bigger problem than an iced up freezer!

Make sure the area around the bin is clean, and if the bin belongs to the property, clean that too. This may be disgusting, but it's the sort of thing that gets checked and if it isn't clean, there goes some of your money.

Bathroom - properly clean the bath, sink, tiles and floor. If the grouting between the tiles is grubby try to get hold of a specialist bathroom grout cleaner. They contain extra-strong bleach and you just squirt it on the grout and clean it off a few minutes later, it saves a lot of scrubbing. You may want to clean the toilet last so you can throw away the cleaning cloths afterwards.

Don't forget to clean the plugs. This may be gross, depending on the amount of hair down there, but it'll only take a minute or two. Think of the money you're saving while you do it to keep your mind off what you're doing.

When cleaning the general rooms, make sure the woodwork around the doors, the skirting boards, and window frames are clean. Clean the windows and dry them off with a dry cloth or bit of kitchen paper so they don't get dirty again when the water on them dries.

Make sure there's no residue of blutack or tape on the walls if you've had posters up. If you've put nails in the wall to hold picture frames, you may need to remove them and fill up the holes with a little filler, depending on what your contract says. Sometimes you can get away with leaving just the picture hooks there, but this can be risky as some letting agents do not like it, even if they look smart.

Once the cleaning is done, get a friend to have a quick check, and make them be honest. If you've let a place get very dirty, you may think it's looking great because it's so much better than normal, but it may still look dirty to an outside eye.

In the UK, I've been invited to be in the property when the post-tenancy inspection is made. It's a really good idea to be there when someone from the letting agency comes to check the place - I've always got my deposit back in full when I've been there for the check. I've found as long as you're friendly, the person checking is happy to let you fix minor problems they may spot before marking them down as a problem.

If there is damage to a wall or floor, it may be put down as general wear and tear, especially if it looks like you've looked after the rest of the property and kept it clean. If there is minor damage, it may be worth not pointing it out and see if the inspector notices it at all. What can look like a big problem to you may just be a minor piece of wear and tear to them.

However, if you've broken something, it's worth coming clean about it rather than waiting for it to be discovered. You may be able to replace it with something similar rather than having the charge come out of your deposit.

If you're busy and can't afford the cleaning time, get some quotes from local cleaning companies for doing the cleaning for you. If you use one, keep the receipt and show it to the letting agency. It can help reassure them that you've treated the property well.

Good luck with your cleaning!

Paul Silver has lived in many rental properties in Brighton & Hove. He recommends Brighton cleaners Simply Cleaning and their post-tenancy cleaning service to anyone in the East Sussex area who's moving house.

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