Getting your deposit back is something we all want when we move out of an apartment. Most leases state that a renter is responsible for any damage above "normal wear and tear". Unfortunately "normal wear and tear" is in the eye of the beholder. With MSN.com's tips you can have your best chance of getting that precious money back.
Normal Wear and Tear is judged on the number of occupants of a unit. So a family of four wouldn't be held to the same standards as a person living alone. Of course, that doesn't mean that you should just let your children draw on the walls, but a landlord can't charge more simply because there are children living in the unit. That would be discrimination.
In general, normal wear and tear are things like: some matting of the carpet from furniture, some nail holes, and fading paint. Landlords have to regularly repaint, so if you've lived there for an extended period of time, a little wear is to be expected. Some other things that don't qualify as normal wear and tear are: carpet stains and burns, broken windows, broken blinds, gouges in the doors and walls, fleas caused by your pet, or pet scratches on the molding or door. If you do have these more serious examples of damage, it's best to hire a professional to repair them, after checking with your landlord, of course.
Make sure that whenever a repair is needed during the term of your lease that you call your landlord right away. If you don't get a small problem like a leaky pipe under the sink fixed right away, you might have to pay for the mold and rotting wood under the sink later. Most rental contracts require tenants to report problems promptly.
When it's time to move out, make sure to do a walk-through with your landlord and make written and photographic evidence of any damage. You should also do a walk through when you move in and note any damage at that time as well. Have your landlord sign off on the lists. If there are any problems and you decide to hire a professional to fix them, keep the invoices from them and send your landlord a copy via certified mail along with a letter saying you've fixed the problems and expect your full deposit back.
As far as cleaning, a good rule of thumb is to clean the apartment like it's a hotel. If you were going to stay there as the next guest, is it in satisfactory condition? Clean everything and don't forget things like the oven. You might even consider hiring a professional to make sure a really good job is done.
If you haven't gotten your deposit back within a month, send your landlord a letter and the repair invoices via certified mail asking for your deposit back. If you still don't get an answer, you'll have to take your landlord to small claims court.