The best way to ensure tenants’ smooth departure is to begin planning for it before the tenants move in — before you have even met them. Starting early allows you to attach a rider to the lease, so tenants will know what to expect when they move out. If you did not prepare early, the good news is that it is never too late to start. Here are seven effective ways to ensure that tenants depart smoothly.
- When tenants sign their lease, attach a rider that amounts to a checklist of expectations the tenants must meet to get their security deposit back when they move out. The list can be numbered with a blank space to the left of each item for tenants to check.
- Send the tenants a move-out reminder no more than 30 days before their last day to thank them for giving notice of their departure. The reminder should also contain the checklist from the lease rider, if you have one, or a list of your expectations, such as removing personal items, vacuuming the carpet, reporting any damage in writing, and returning the keys to you after vacating the premises. This reminder should also wish the tenants luck in their future home.
- Schedule an inspection to take place three to five days before the tenants’ last day. The move-out reminder letter or checklist can request that the tenants call or email you to schedule this. Try to accommodate the tenants’ schedule as much as possible; while it is not strictly necessary to have a walk-through before they move out, it is a good idea.
- If you did not attach a checklist to the tenants’ lease or to the move-out reminder, create one now. You can also use a template. Landlord Station has pre- and post-lease inventory checklists. Your checklist should contain essentials such as walls being clean and the same color as when tenants moved in (unless prior permission to paint a new color was given), electrical systems working, windows cleaned and smoke alarms working properly.
- Show up on time for the walk-through inspection. If the relationship has been pleasant, bring the tenant a small token of thanks as a gesture of goodwill. One possibility is a gift card for $20 to $100. Alternatively, depending on your relationship with the tenant, you could bring a handmade gift or baked treats. If you anticipate major issues with the walk-through, it may be best to wait until afterward to see if a gift is appropriate.
- During the walk-through, give the tenant a copy of the checklist, and discuss any items that come up or requirements that cannot be met. Depending on the situation, the tenant may be able to remedy something before moving out. If there is damage, take photos that show the date or use a Polaroid camera with images that print out immediately. Have the tenant initial them.
- If you expect that you will not be able to return part or all of the tenants’ security deposit, explain why and estimate how much. If the tenants end up owing you money, provide them with various payment methods. If necessary, explain that you will send them a bill, and ask for their new address.
Bonus tip: Know the difference between damage and wear and tear. Landlords cannot subtract wear and tear amounts from security deposits. Examples of wear and tear include a thinning carpet, faded paint, and small scratches on the wall. Examples of damage include permanently stained carpet, water spots on the wall caused by hanging plants, and an excessive number of holes in the walls that will require patching or repainting.