Preparing Rental Property for a New Tenancy & Related Legal Concerns
Once you have selected and screened a new tenant for your rental property, it may feel as though the hard part of getting the vacancy filled is over. This may be true to a large degree, but there are a few more important steps to keep in mind with regard to the logistics of moving the tenant in. In addition to making sure the unit is ready for the new tenant, one of the most critical aspects of this process is having a clear and detailed move-in checklist that you and the tenant have reviewed and signed prior to the tenant taking possession. This sort of documentation is invaluable in the event of any sort of dispute with regard to the condition of the rental when the tenant moves out, particularly in cases where you decide not to return part or all of the security deposit.
Preparing the Rental for Move-In
Before your new tenant moves in, it is essential to have your rental property clean and in good condition. In addition to ensuring that you are in compliance with any regulations regarding health and safety, such as checking for issues with mold, lead paint in older buildings, and the functioning of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, it is important to confirm that all utilities are functioning as well. Particularly with regard to things like heat and plumbing, it is your responsibility as a landlord to ensure that the property is habitable, or you will potentially face liability. Further, whether the unit is being turned over between tenants or rented out for the first time, make sure your rental is clean and pest-free before a new tenant moves in. And even if it is not required in your city or state, it is generally a good idea to change the locks each time a new tenant takes possession of the rental property.
Preparing a detailed move-in checklist is something that can go a long way toward diffusing disputes with tenants, either in the short term if they are requesting repairs, or in the long term if they have damaged the property and are moving out. Some states require move-in checklists, but even if yours doesn’t, it is worth the time and effort to prepare a very specific checklist that addresses all portions of the rental unit. It is best to do a walk-through with your tenant prior to move-in, and to document the existing condition of the rental and highlight any current damage, ideally with photographs in addition to the written checklist. Both you and the tenant should sign the documents, and each retain a copy. This way, if there is a future disagreement about who is responsible for damage or repairs, or whether you are justified in withholding security deposit funds upon move-out, both parties have access to clear documentation of the state of the unit at the time the tenant moved in.
Light and ventilation
Trash and garbage disposal
Security and safety
Furniture, if applicable
At this stage it can also be wise to provide each new tenant with a move-in letter that details the rules for living on the property, contact information for you or the property manager, and any other specific information or recommendations that would be helpful. The contents of this letter should be consistent with what appears in your written lease or rental agreement, though it may go into more detail than what is practical in the legal tenancy agreement. The tenant should review this letter and return a signed copy to you.
Initial Payment of Rent and Security Deposit
In order to ensure that your new tenant can cover at least the initial expenses associated with living in your rental unit, it is generally advisable to require cash, a cashier’s check, or money order for the first month’s rent and security deposit, or to cash any personal checks for these amounts prior to move-in. Be sure to provide a receipt, and to confirm whether your state requires you to hold security deposit funds in a special trust account.
Keep records of any tenant move-in documents, such as the move-in checklist, move-in letter, and receipt of payment.