It is rare these days to rent an apartment, room, or house without paying an upfront security deposit. The deposit is there to ensure the renter doesn't willfully damage the apartment, and to pay for any damages caused by the renter, whether they were intentional or not.

The building owner is responsible for the general upkeep and maintenance of the building. A tenant should not be charged for replacement of a ten-year-old carpet or for painting the exterior or replacing a worn out roof.

At the same time, renters should not attempt repairs or maintenance that the building owner's responsibility. By all means, if something was damaged and it is your fault, fixing it is your responsibility. But when something breaks and it is not your fault, don't rush out to buy tools or supplies to repair it. Take any necessary steps to secure your personal property and call the landlord to have it fixed.

In short, a security deposit protects the owner of the building and ensures that tenants will exercise due care and not willfully cause damage. It also makes sure tenants don't leave a mess when they move out and clean the premises.

Assorted tools: hammer, screwdriver, torpedo level, wrench, wire cutter.

Even Renters Need Tools

Photo by Scott Liddell

How many people can say they've never accidentally damaged something? Perhaps something was spilled a carpet or they accidentally made a dent in a wall while moving furniture. Vinyl floors are usually pretty resilient, but sometimes sliding something heavy across one will put a gouge in it.

When the tenant moves out, the landlord assesses the apartment and charges the tenant for any damages that require a repair. More than likely the landlord will have to pay someone else to do it, and that means full-rate charges for a handyman, painter, or other tradesmen. It doesn't take a big repair to lose a large chunk of that deposit.

Very often, repairing something yourself will save a lot of money in the end. Not only that, but your personal reputation is also at stake. Many building owners and landlords require references, and a former landlord that had to make costly repairs may relate to the new landlord and the tenant is left looking for someplace else.

If your plans include owning your home someday, learning some DIY repairs now will prepare you for the future. You'll already own a tool belt with a number of tools. Those first repairs you make on your home will seem like a piece of cake because you already have some experience. Experience gives you confidence.

A few tips to get any renter started:

Do a walk-through of the entire apartment or house the day you get the keys. Make sure everything works and note any needed repairs—especially those you are responsible for when you move out.

If something breaks and you're responsible, own up and fix it. Taking care of it immediately will help ensure your security deposit is returned when you move out.

Invest in quality tools. Cheap tools break easily and can cause injury when they do. That doesn't mean you need a contractor grade tool chest. Look for name-brand tools and avoid the giant tool set in a box that is probably filled with stuff they couldn't sell otherwise.

Always think long term when you're buying tools or supplies. A utility knife is great, but three blades won't last long and a dull blade isn't much better than no blade. Keep at least ten on hand. Equip your battery drill with packages of the most common screwdriver tips and drill bit sizes instead of going for the big box set with a gillion and seven things no one ever uses.