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How Landlords Should Inspect Properties with Residents

The number one source of landlord-resident disputes is the disposition of the resident’s security deposit. You can avoid many of these potential problems by conducting a pre-move-in inspection with your new resident and completing and signing an inspection checklist.

Complete and sign the inspection checklist

By using an inspection checklist at the time of both move-in and move-out, you can avoid many potential misunderstandings and disagreements.

To conduct your inspection and lead the new resident through the process of completing the form properly, make sure you do the following:

  • Physically walk through the rental unit with your new resident and guide her through the inspection form. Let the resident tell you what she observes, especially any problems that are unsatisfactory, and make sure the description of any damage or concern is clearly worded.

    Whenever possible, have the resident fill out the checklist legibly in her own handwriting. If a dispute arises later that finds its way into small claims court, the credibility of the form will be stronger if the resident was the one who completed it.

    If doing this walk-through with your resident isn’t possible, then you should complete the move-in/move-out inspection checklist on your own and ask that all adult occupants review and sign the form as soon as possible upon move-in. Inform the resident that you’ll be glad to deliver her mailbox key after you have the approved form in hand.

  • Note the condition of every item in every room. Indicate each item’s condition — new, excellent, very good, dirty, scratched, broken, and so on — but also include details, such as writing “the built-in timer doesn’t work” rather than just saying that the oven is “broken.” That way your resident understands that the oven does in fact work and knows she won’t be held responsible for this specific item upon move-out.

    You may think everyone knows that all items without notation are in satisfactory condition, but the resident will likely tell the court that the item was already damaged and that you shouldn’t be able to collect for it.

    Always note the conditions of the carpets, floor coverings, window coverings, walls, and ceilings because they’re often the most common areas of dispute with residents upon move-out.

  • Note any items that need to be fixed. If you discover any problems during your inspection walk-through, note them on the inspection form and take steps to have them corrected, unless the corrections aren’t economically feasible. Just note the condition on the inspection form so that your resident isn’t erroneously charged upon move-out.

    Be sure your inspection checklist reflects any repairs or improvements made after the initial walk-through inspection.

  • Note any and all mildew, mold, pest, or rodent problems. These issues require immediate attention, because they make the property uninhabitable and give the resident the legal grounds to break the contract, seek a rent reduction, or even subject you to expensive penalties.

  • Sign the inspection checklist and have your new resident sign it. Without signatures, a court may not allow the inspection checklist as evidence.

  • Give your resident a copy of the completed and signed checklist for her records. That way the resident can review her own copy when she moves out if there are charges.

Your resident may discover that an item doesn’t work only after move-in when she tries to use it, so you need to be flexible. For example, the oven may have tested in working order, but when the resident initially used it, it doesn’t properly heat. Encourage your new resident to inform you within seven days or so if something’s not working, so you can quickly address any issues.

When properly completed and signed, an inspection checklist documents the resident’s acceptance of the property’s condition at move-in and serves as a baseline for the entire tenancy. If the resident withholds rent or tries to break the lease by claiming the unit needs substantial repairs, you can prove the unit’s condition at move-in by referring to the checklist.

Taking photos or a video

To avoid disputes over security deposits, record the rental unit’s condition before the resident moves in using photos and/or video. In addition to your inspection checklist, you’ll have some visual evidence to help refresh the resident’s memory or to show the court if the matter ends up there.

If you use a video camera, be sure to get the resident on video stating the date and time. If your resident isn’t present, bring a copy of that day’s newspaper and include it in your recording. With photography, be sure to include a caption or descriptions with all photos and provide a running, detailed narrative with the recording. If your camera has a date-stamp feature, enable it.

Orienting a new resident to appliances and utility shut-offs

When your resident moves in, don’t assume she knows everything about the property. Take a few minutes after your walk-through with the resident to do the following:

  • Provide your resident with the appliance manuals or at least copies of the basic operating instructions. These manuals get lost over the years, but many manufacturers have manuals online that you can download and print.

  • If you have natural gas appliances or gas heat, instruct your resident to contact the local utility company if she has any questions or concerns. This step is particularly important if she detects the foul smell commonly associated with a gas leak or has any concerns or questions about proper operation of the appliances.

  • Tell your resident where the utilities are and how to shut them off. Utilities may need to be shut off because of severe weather, a water leak, an electrical short, or fire on the property. If you have a serious storm or earthquake, your resident needs to be able to immediately turn off the natural gas supply as well.

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