My wife and I rented until we were fully 30 years old, and then bought a 1200-square foot rambler in an inexpensive part of town. We were then, and are now, primarily motivated by the sentimental notion that our house would appreciate in value and make us money. We bought it for, oh, $85,000 and sold it for $102,000 about four years later. Good money? I suppose. A lot of things come out of that $17,000. About six years ago, we bought a nice tract house in Bonney Lake for, oh, $300,000 or so and watched as Bonney Lake went through its pressure-cooker price adjustment. Worth $450,000 only four years later? Wow! Who would want to rent? How can you afford to lose out on appreciation? LOL. After the bubble popped, we wound up in the same boat as most of the folks in our development: upside-down in a refinanced house. What we wouldn't give to be renting! You refinance to $450,000, and then try to sell for $350,000 and can't? Let me tell you, it's a feeling that no renter can (or need) imagine.
At the heart of it, renting is about economy. We rent because we can't afford to buy. At some point, practical reality starts to sway us psychologically. If and when the option to buy comes, is it somehow more meaningful than a number in a bank account? What does it say about us if we choose to continue to rent when we have the means to buy? Very few people who buy actually manage to purchase outright. We live in a culture of mortgage, broken as that culture turned out to be. Just looking at that word, it inspires us to run. Mort gage, from the Latin-informed Old French meaning literally, "Dead Pledge". It is a contract with an end in mind. Either the mortgage defaults for non-payment, or the contract is fulfilled and it ends in full ownership. In essence, a mortgage is rent with the intention to stay, whereas a lease agreement is rent with the intention to leave. It may not be a very sunny mindset, entering every new apartment thinking, "I'm going to leave here soon," but that's exactly what you're saying with a lease. It's like starting a relationship with a pre-determined breakup date.
Every time you move into a new rental you are asked to put down a cleaning deposit with the rest of your move-in costs. When the lease is up, most people just assume that they aren't going to see that money back. Landlords and apartment companies know this and they aren't going to willingly offer it back you.
When moving in you were given a walk though of your new home and you were told in the paper work that you are to return the property the same condition that it was rented in aside from normal wear and tear that is expected to happen over time. Be sure to ask them what they consider to be normal wear and tear as most places don't consider even the holes left in walls from hanging pictures and such. Get documentation of their qualifications and keep it with your rental agreement paperwork.
Take pictures of anything that has damage to it when you do your walk through. This includes appliances, carpet, walls and counter tops. Don't leave anything out. If it doesn't look new document it. Be sure to give your leasing agent or landlord copies of everything with the proper dates and explanations.