The Wrong Way is “Not Handling It At All.”
If you’re not familiar with property management paperwork, rest assured there’s a lot of it — so much, in fact, that many landlords are tempted to not deal with it whenever the opportunity presents itself. One classic example: the Move-In Checklist.
For the renter, a move-in checklist is probably all about moving in their stuff, paying utility connections, and so on. For landlords, it’s all about making sure that a property is ready for the tenant, and there are a few different elements we have to deal with. The most fundamental aspect is simply to make sure that the question “is this property a safe and healthy place to live?” is “yes.” Until you can do that, you’re not a landlord, you’re probably a slumlord!
Assuming that you actually have a livable location and an erstwhile tenant, the question at hand changes to, “Is the tenant willing to move into this place in its current condition, and will they leave it in that condition (or better) when they leave?”
In order to answer that question, you have to record the details about the condition of the property. Are you leasing it to them with no washer or dryer? With a small hole in one closet door? With scratched paint in the living room? These kinds of things are commonplace to rentals; no home is perfect.
There are two common, accepted ways to handle the process of recording details. The first school of thought says “leave it up to the tenant.” Basically, send the tenant a form that asks them to record everything they can find wrong with the property and mail it back. They’re then supposed to go through the property, take notes, and mail the form back to you – often weeks after they’ve moved in. Many landlords prefer this method because if the tenant doesn’t return the form most states make the tenant liable for ALL damages to the property – even pre-existing ones. This is a sneaky way to make it easier for a landlord to keep a tenant’s security deposit.
That’s the ‘let’s not deal with the paperwork’ attitude, and it will come back to bite you in the rear. There are a few different ways it can:
1. If the tenant simply fails to return the form and a landlord charges them for repairs upon move-out, many tenants will get into a tizzy. The odds increase that the tenant will do further damage to the property, take you to court, post negative comments on social media, make a complaint to the city rental department, etc.
2. If the tenant lies on the paperwork — which happens close enough to ‘always’ as to make little difference, you can end up making repairs on your dime that should rightfully have been paid out of the security deposit.
3. Even if the tenant is completely faithful and punctual about doing the checklist, you’re still only left with subjective notes on paper — words that, in a year or three when they move out, won’t have any reference point. They won’t help you estimate how much the damage has changed, which means they won’t help you figure out how much of a given problem the tenant might have added to what was already there when they moved in.
It’s a 100% better idea to use 21st century technology to supplement your Move-In Checklist – and it’s not that hard! What landlord doesn’t have a cell phone with a camera these days? If you don’t, you’re a fool! Get together with tenants on move-ins and do the Move-In Checklist with them — bring your camera (if your cell phone doesn’t have one), your video camera (again, if your cell phone doesn’t have one) and a tape measure. Go through the property and record everything. Take pictures with the tape measure that show the size of holes and stains, note the cleanliness of the property and appliances, do the same with the landscaping, and so on — because the more you know what’s different upon the move out, the more accurately you can decide how much to withhold from the tenant’s security deposit. Also, get the tenant in the pictures and videos – what better way to have undeniable proof of the condition?
Remember the old saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”? Taking control of the Move-In Checklist procedure will make it easier for a landlord to charge a tenant for damages when they move out – and defend those charges. When a tenant moves out, we send them a list of written damages with links to their Move-In and Move-Out videos we uploaded to our private YouTube channel. Since we started doing this we rarely have tenants seriously challenge our charges against their security deposit and we’ve never had a tenant take us to court. For us, a little extra work upfront is well worth it to avoid major headaches later.