If you want to make sure you get back all of your security deposit upon moving out of your apartment or student residence, you have to make sure that you treat your temporary home with care and respect during the time you live there. As a tenant, you’re responsible for making minor, visible repairs (i.e. your faucet leaks) and signalling all larger problems (major leaks and broken items) to the landlord or rental agency.
When you go to sign the lease for an apartment or residence, the first step (before you take the keys!) is to go through and do an ‘état des lieux’ or walkthrough. The purpose of doing an état des lieux is to protect YOU, the tenant, from having to pay for repairs caused by previous tenants or from normal wear and tear on the apartment. Without an état des lieux when you move in or out, you can potentially be held responsible for damage you didn’t cause.
Before you sign the lease, DO NOT take the keys, as it may be considered accepting the conditions of the lease and result in you owing a month’s rent, even if you don’t move in.
When you arrive in the apartment, assess each item and area individually, pointing out any cracks or holes in the walls or ceiling, spots or stains on the walls, floor, or furniture. Turn all lights, electrical appliances, and faucets on to make sure they work. Flush the toilet. Check under the sink for drips. And if there’s a washing machine, move it away from the wall to make sure it isn’t leaking in back.
Finally, go through and take pictures of everything with your phone or a camera, especially any marks or stains you identify. You can also take pictures of the inside of the cabinets (number and kind of glasses, plates, silverware, etc.) to make sure you know what belongs to the landlord when you move out (as opposed to items you purchase during the year). It’s not unheard of for landlords to have a completely itemised list, down to the last sugar spoon, and to charge for each missing item, so you’re protecting yourself by having photographic evidence.
Don’t allow the landlord to distract you or draw your attention to certain items (and away from whatever you’re looking at). Again, if you miss something, it could be considered your fault later.
After you’re satisfied that you’ve thoroughly inspected everything, sign the lease, which should include the number of keys you were given. Note that the landlord is NOT authorised to keep a copy of they key or to let himself into your apartment without your express authorization.
Keep the pictures on your computer and a copy in the cloud, and if possible, email them to yourself and your landlord with a request for a ‘read’ receipt, so you can prove the landlord had the original photos in case of problems. Also make sure that both you and your landlord have original signed copies of the ‘état des lieux’ with all of the issues you pointed out, so you can both refer to it later. Scan this document and keep the original in a safe place.
When you move out, it’s not your job to call attention to any new problems that may exist – it’s your landlord’s job to do due diligence and find the leaks, spots, and scratches you may have caused, and show that they were not on the original document. DO NOT assume that your landlord will be honest and waive your right to accompany him on the walkthrough. It’s also not unheard of for landlords to charge tenants for normal repairs and repainting by alleging damage that didn’t exist. French courts are split on whether the landlord has to provide a bill for repairs or just an estimate, so it’s also possible to be charged for non-existent ‘damage’ that the landlord has no intention of repairing.
Again, take pictures of everything and email them to yourself and your landlord, in case you ever need proof. If you choose, it’s also your right to have someone accompany you on the état des lieux.
After you move out, your landlord has one month to return your security deposit and provide justification for any amounts withheld. If your deposit is not returned within that time frame, penalties start accruing and you may have to enlist assistance (from Paris Unraveled or French housing authorities) to get your deposit returned.