For most, renting an apartment comes with many, many fees up front. The standard is usually two months’ rent – first and last – along with a security deposit.

So, why would you need to pay last month’s rent on an apartment you weren’t living in? You don’t always have to. It really depends on your landlord or property management company.

Some landlords hedge their bets with a simple security deposit – refundable at move-out as long as you pay that last month in full, and perhaps minus any damages found upon your final inspection.

In this case, the security deposit serves as the property management’s rent insurance. But for people or places that charge you last month’s rent, they’re likely just padding the coffers in the event an unreliable tenant skips out before the end of the lease.

It is what it is

If your landlord is going to consider your security deposit as last month’s rent, that’s all it can be used for, so take note of your lease language. This means that the up-front money paid (assuming you didn’t pay a separate security deposit) can’t be used to pay for any damages or wear and tear in the rental. Wonky locks, stained carpet, loose drawer handles and any other fixes will have to come out of the landlord’s pocket – not yours.

And this goes for both apartment units and single-family home rentals.

Has your rent gone up since you moved in?

Again, note your lease language.

If your property manager or landlord increases your rent during the course of your tenancy, but does not require you (within a reasonable time period following the increase) to similarly add to your up-front last month’s rent deposit, he or she cannot collect the higher rent for the last month you’re living in the rental.

Always give notice in writing

Even if you’re on great terms with your landlord, renting an apartment or home is still a business arrangement and it’s best to notify him or her of your intent to vacate in a formal letter (keep a copy for your records).

If for some reason you’ve paid rent for the last month you are occupying the apartment, you can absolutely ask your landlord for a refund of the deposit you paid at the beginning of your lease. If for some reason the property manager fails to do so, you’ll be within your right to pursue settlement of the matter in small claims court.

The landlord’s policy will dictate the rules, just be sure to keep your lease and all other records of your tenancy organized, and make sure you review all of it – paying close attention to the language regarding your charges – upon lease renewals and before you give notice that you’ll be moving out.

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