If you've rented an apartment before, you know the drill. Usually you're expected to come up with first and last month's rent, a security deposit, and possibly a non-refundable cleaning deposit. When the time comes to move out, you're hoping you'll see that security deposit again.
The problem is landlords like to keep a hold of that deposit, unless you can make a good case you should have it returned.
Research the Landlord
Before signing a lease, do a little homework on your landlord or property owner. Check online sources, like apartments for rent in Atlanta, and see what information you can glean. Google their names, check with the Better Business Bureau, and talk to past tenets. Are they unreasonable or easy to work with? You may find it better to not move in at all depending upon what you discover.
Review the Lease Agreement
Read over your lease carefully. Fully understand everything, and don't necessary accept everything as it's written. You can make alterations to things that aren't reasonable. For example, if the lease requires you to give two months notice before leaving, cross it out and change it to one.
Request a Checklist
Ask your landlord for a checklist of each room. Detail each room's condition as you find it. Mention damage, things that don't work right, and every little ding. It may be tedious, but you'll be thankful later once you have it all on paper.
Use a Digital Camera
Use a digital camera and take pictures of everything. Catch every flaw and blemish and include it in your file. Date it and get your landlord to sign it too.
Demand a Walk Through
When you've gathered all this information, do a walk-through with your landlord and review everything. Make sure he signs off on everything. Mail the landlord or owner a copy of everything. If they won't do a walk-through with you, send a certified letter to them requesting they do a walk through and then state if they won't do so within two weeks you'll assume they are giving you their tacit agreement.
Keep the Place Clean
The best thing you can do is be clean. Get to stains immediately. Clean the counters, do the dishes, and always clean up messes as soon as you find them. Don't allow your landlord the opportunity of ever walking in on the place looking anything other than clean.
When you move out, clean it up well. Wipe down everything, dust, and vacuum. Once that's done, take pictures again.
Demand a Second Walk Through
Before moving out, make your landlord go through the place again and show him everything. Have him sign off on things. Make him agree that the place looks fair and worthy of having your deposit returned.
It's a lot of work, but by documenting and taking care of your apartment, you should be able to get your security deposit back. After going to all this trouble, don't be afraid to ask for it.