Use An Apartment Inventory. Carefully examine the apartment before moving in using an apartment inventory to record any damages. It is your main tool in protecting your damage deposit. An inventory may consist of a list of items found in the apartment, such as carpet, walls, range, bathroom tub, etc. Each item has a blank beside it in which the landlord and you together note the condition of the particular item.
The apartment inventory should be completed on move-in day. Both parties sign the inventory and keep a copy. If the landlord is unavailable on move-in day you should fill out the apartment inventory and mail the landlord a copy. When you move out, both parties may refer to the inventory to determine whether the damage was done by you or was already present when you moved in. (see sample apartment inventory)
Take Photos. It is a good idea to take photos on move-in day. The inventory and the photos will create a record of the condition of the apartment when you moved in and you can use them later if a dispute arises concerning the return of your damage deposit. The photos and inventory may even serve as evidence in court if you have to sue for your deposit. Put the inventory and photos in a file containing a signed copy of the lease.