One of the most important things a good property management administrator can do before signing a lease with a potential tenant (besides of course run a background and credit check) is complete a property condition checklist. This not only needs to be done before a lease but before the tenant moves in. In many states this document is needed if an owner wants to legally collect or withhold any deposit from the tenant.
If you wait to complete a property condition checklist until after the tenant has moved in, it could make it difficult to prove that “damage” wasn’t there before the move. Even if you have the tenant sign off on the checklist, you are now dealing with a situation where items are already moved in and damage may have already been created or covered up. It is now your problem even though the tenant created it.
Property condition is vital to your financial security as landlord. Here are a few rules that are not only best practices but might be needed legally to collect the deposit in some areas:
- Fill out checklist before tenant signs the lease
- Have tenant sign the checklist before they move in
- Mark on checklist any visible defects and pre-existing damage
- Take photos and video of unit
- Take photos of defects and damage documented on checklist
Don’t worry about over documentation. The more information you have up front, the easier it will be in the long run. The property move in checklist will be used to determine the difference between tenant damage and “normal wear and tear.” So, if things are in “new condition” such as fresh paint or free from defects, the landlord should note clearly that the condition is “new paint” and/or “no defect found.”
Another use for the checklist is to list the serial numbers of each of the appliances. This assures that your tenant doesn’t move out with or change out the appliances. Without this documentation they could exchange an old stove for your nice new one.
Once the tenant gives notice to move out, the landlord is expected to do a walk-through of the premises and determine if there are damages beyond normal wear and tear. Once again, photos will come in handy to show before and after. People have short memories.
If damage is found and it’s the fault of the tenant, you can charge the amount it costs to repair the damage from the security deposit. Now, if there is damage that exceeds the deposit, the amount should be pursued through a collection agency or small claims court.
The reason for the ‘pre-move-out” inspection is to give the tenant a written list of repairs that they have the opportunity to fix and then get their security deposit back.
Documentation and communication are key. The proper background checks, leases and move in documentation are the things that separate a professional property manager and an amateur.
Diana D. Hill – firstname.lastname@example.org