A Landlord Move-Out Inspection Guide

By Lorena Roberts on May 28, 2019

As graduations commence around the country, summertime arrives, and barbecue parties are in full swing, many tenants will begin preparing for their move-out inspections. Many students have signed leases that will extend through the end of the summer, while other tenants may have leases that end at various times. It’s typical that tenants sign leases that will end at some point over the summer, though, as people don’t typically want to move during the winter/cold months. As a landlord, regardless of whether your tenants are moving to a new place, or relocating across the country, move-out inspections are one of the most important parts of ending a lease (for a tenant and a landlord).

When a tenant is ready to move out of a property, or their lease is over, they typically let a landlord know (in writing) that they’d like to schedule a move-out inspection. Alternatively, a landlord can schedule a move-out inspection in writing to the tenant. A walk-through is best executed when both parties are present.

via Pexels.com

As a landlord, you’ll be looking for damages beyond “normal wear and tear.”You’ll want to make sure you conduct a thorough walk-through of your property with your tenant present. Take photos, take notes, and be hyper-aware throughout the walk-through. You should also compare the damages you find with your move-in inspection paperwork that you conducted when your tenant moved into your property.

Depending on the state in which you rent out a property, the move-out inspection can happen at various times. Sometimes, it needs to be on the exact date that a tenant moves out. Other times, it can be a few days after. Regardless, it needs to happen once your tenant’s items have been completely moved out of the property. You’ll want all rooms and spaces to be clear of anything your tenant owned so you can easily see any damages that occurred.

Your tenant should have the opportunity to repair any damages to ensure they can receive their deposit back. Now, I’m not talking about re-doing the drywall or replacing the hardwood floors. I mean that your tenant should have the opportunity to fill in the holes where they hung photos, vacuum the carpets a few times, wipe down the baseboards, and replace any broken blinds. If they don’t, you are fully within your rights to use their deposit to fix those issues. That’s what a security deposit is for.

As you’re walking through the property, make sure you take notes. You’re going to need to make sure the rental is in perfect condition for your next tenant, so you’ll want to be sure you don’t miss anything that needs to be fixed, updated, or improved. You might want to be mentally tallying up the amount of money it’s going to cost to get it back into good shape as well. One new set of blinds won’t run you too much money, but having to replace the blinds on every window in the house is going to be quite a large chunk of change.

Again, depending on your state laws, you might need to provide your tenant with a written notice of when their walk-through will occur. They’ll need prior notice — you can’t just simply show up on their doorstep with a camera and a notepad. As a landlord, you should be sure to review the state’s laws on move-out inspections, as some states don’t require one at all (though I would recommend it!). To read about landlord laws in a specific state, follow this link.

via Pexels.com

For landlords, a move-out inspection can be quite beneficial. Not only can you assess damages, but you can also evaluate how well a tenant treated your property. Chances are, a new landlord will be calling you as a reference for a previous tenant. You’ll want to have accurate information regarding how the left your property.

Another reason why you should do a walk-through with your tenant is so you are both aware of the damages that are present and therefore avoid any future disputes. Don’t be afraid to have a conversation with your tenant about the damages! However, a mistake that many landlords make is prematurely telling their tenants that they will receive their entire security deposit back. If there are damages that you need to fix beyond normal wear and tear, you’re going to have to use their security deposit to make improvements.

What exactly does “normal wear and tear” mean? When expecting the shower, you might remember it being a bit cleaner before they moved into the unit — this is normal wear and tear. Cigarette burns or a hole in the tub/shower insert is not. If you have to replace an entire shower stall because your tenant has cracked the material, you’re going to need to use their security deposit to fix the issue.

by Lorena Roberts via Canva.com

If your tenant has painted their walls, you can request that they paint them back to the shade they were when they moved in. All light bulbs should be replaced and trash should be removed from the premises. All smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors should be in working condition before your tenant moves out.

Your tenant should be on board with a move-out inspection for some of the same reasons. They’ll want to be present when you walk through the unit, seeing for themselves what kind of damages have occurred. Many tenants will want to have copies of pictures themselves, will take notes, and will do everything they can to avoid a dispute in the future. They want their full security deposit back just as much as you want a property that’s in good condition.

If you are conducting a move-out inspection with your tenant, you should use the same checklist you used upon move-in. Many landlords will use the same checklist to be sure that the conditions of the same items are being monitored. If you didn’t ensure the carpet was clean and free of rips and tears, finding some after this tenant has moved out doesn’t mean you can prove they did the damage — it could have come from a previous tenant. That’s why it’s important that you stay on top of move-out inspections and you ensure that as a landlord, you’re following through with all the things required.

Common misconceptions about move-out inspections:

Most people tend to think that move-out inspections are a way for a landlord to get a tenant in trouble for damages and take their security deposit. However, it’s just as beneficial to the tenant to be there for a move-out inspection as it is for the landlord. It’s actually best that both parties be present for the walk-through, and communication happens when there’s something that needs to be discussed.

Some tenants think they don’t have to be present for the move-out inspection, or maybe they even think they aren’t allowed to be at the inspection. However, the best case scenario is that both parties are present. When you provide your tenant with written notice of their move-out inspection, be sure that they can attend. In fact, maybe you’ll consider having a conversation with them about a time that works best for both of you ahead of time.

Both tenants and landlords are welcome to have pictures and videos of damages to the property. If both parties videotape the inspection, you can easily avoid issues in the future. It’s easier to agree on things when there’s proof. Also, heaven forbid you have to go to court over some damages — but if you do, both parties will want access to evidence.

As a landlord, you should make your expectations clear:

Many rental companies and landlords will publish their expectations ahead of time. If you’re expecting your tenant to clean the baseboards and re-paint the walls, you need to put that in writing somewhere. If you’d like an example of a rental company that’s published their expectations, you can find one here.

When you conduct a move-out inspection, your tenant is going to feel fragile. They know that you have power over them if you decide not to give them their deposit back. Of course, there’s always the possibility that it’ll be settled in court, but most people want to agree on damages, pay what they need to, and be on their way. In most cases, tenants will feel entitled to getting their security deposit back.

Avoiding arguments over a security deposit.

Because many tenants will do their best to fix damages and clean up the place in order to get their security deposit back, you should be sure that you document all the details of a security deposit. What will you be looking for when doing a move-out inspection? You should tell them this up front so they can’t come back and say that wasn’t part of the deal. Additionally, you should be upfront about how much they’ll have to give you (usually one month of rent) and how many days you’ll have to return it to them upon move-out inspection. Your state’s laws will determine how many days you have to return the money to your tenant, but the usual number is 30 days.

If you want to be proactive, go ahead and include the amount that you’ll charge for certain damages. Apartment complexes like to lay this out first and foremost by saying that each bag of trash left will be $50, cleaning baseboards and showers will be another $50, and changing lightbulbs will be $12 per bulb. Landlords are allowed to dictate down to the drip pans on the stove how much damages will be. If you decide to be this proactive with your tenant, chances are, they’ll abide by your rules and agree to replace or at least clean up your property before they leave.

Another suggestion I would give you is to give your tenant a receipt for their security deposit. You should make note of what day they paid you, how much they paid, and how they paid just to keep both of you safe if an argument were to arise.

Regardless of how you decide to find renters, renting to students means you might see a little more variation in who rents from you. You’re going to experience a variation in how your property is left. You might be pleasantly surprised after your tenants move out, but you might be horrified at what they leave behind.

When it comes to conducting move-out inspections, these take time. You’ll have to dedicate time to walking around your property to ensure you make note of any damages. If at all possible, your tenant can be present during the move-out inspection, I would highly recommend it.

Remember that as a landlord, your tenant probably feels vulnerable. They probably think you have more power than they do in any situation and they might even be scared of you. When you’re holding their security deposit hostage, they’re going to do whatever it takes to get that money back. At the same time, as a fair landlord, you should ensure that they know what’s required to get that money back.

The more you communicate with your tenant, the better the move-out process will be. For instance, when they know that drip pans and burnt out lightbulbs are going to cost them money, they’ll be more likely to replace/fix these issues themselves. Not only does that make your job easier, but it also makes the move-out inspection a much faster process.

By Lorena Roberts

Uloop Writer
University of Tennessee - Knoxville
Lorena graduated from The University of Tennessee in Knoxville last December with a BA in Honors Psychology. After some serious soul-searching, she's decided to pursue a Master's in teaching in order to teach middle school math! In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her Whippet mix, Gio, at the dog park and binge watching Netflix with endless cups of Hot Cocoa.

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