by David Crown
Move-ins and move-outs can be delicate things. If mishandled by a property manager, they can lead to upset tenants or far worse. Disputes over damages take a toll on both sides, and a late refund of deposit money could land you in legal trouble. Whether you’re managing single family homes or urban high-rises, it’s your responsibility to make sure that every unit is clean and fully functional before the next tenant moves in. Through strict organization and clear communication, you can streamline this process and avoid costly mistakes. Here are my keys to smooth and painless move-outs
1. Get It In Writing
It’s important that you know your rights as a landlord before the move-out process begins. Here in California and in many other states, by law, a tenant must provide a certain amount of notice — typically 30 days — before moving out, meaning the property owner can legally charge rent for that amount of time after they’ve been given that notice. But you should never settle for a verbal notice: Always demand that tenants provide written documentation of their intention to move. This will leave zero room for misunderstandings or bad-faith actions on the part of the tenant. As long as the Intent to Vacate is signed and dated, it’s valid, even if it’s written on a cocktail napkin. Saying they’ll move out in a month is one thing; signing any form of document that details their intention to do so is another. If they fail to vacate the unit within the appropriate time after providing notice, they may be responsible for paying another month’s rent.
2. Tell Tenants What You Expect
Avoid surprising your tenant with any charges by instead telling them exactly what it is you expect from them during the move-out process. My company sends a Receipt of 30-Day Notice to Move-Out document, which includes a bulleted list of things the tenant can do to keep as much of their security deposit as possible. This includes informing them that we require the unit to be professionally cleaned, so if they wish to have it cleaned by a company of their choosing rather than have us pay for it with part of their deposit, they must provide us with a receipt. It also lets them know what items they must return to management before vacating. I highly recommend creating a form like this that you can use repeatedly
3. Provide An Itemized List of Damages
Tenants don’t often take kindly to a landlord taking anything out of their security deposit, no matter how warranted the charge is. Some animosity from a tenant may be unavoidable. But don’t give them additional (and valid) reason to be upset with your service by failing to clearly detail the charges you’ve extracted and exactly what they’re paying for. If you don’t provide this information, you’re opening the door to nasty reviews online or, far worse, putting yourself at risk of serious legal action. I’ve harped on the importance of clear communication in the past, and I’ll do it again here: Don’t neglect to communicate.
4. Document In Detail
This key is also in the spirit of communication. When you provide your itemized list of damages, be painstakingly specific about each and every item you’ve charged the tenant for. The more specific you are with your inspection report, the harder it will be for a tenant to falsely dispute the damages. Walk the unit with a new tenant before they move in, taking photographs of every surface and marking down all current damages. Then take another set of pictures when they move out. A comparison between the two sets of photos will leave nothing to interpretation.
5. Refund On Time
The next crucial key to a smooth move-out may sound simple, but just like the itemized listing of charges, taking it for granted could get you into legal trouble: Always refund your tenant the remainder of their security deposit on time. In fact, make it a point of principle to always refund tenants a week early to avoid any possible dispute. Don’t cut yourself any slack on this. Scheduling is essential, here and in all things property-management related.
By making these strategies a routine that you follow every time a tenant tells you they intend to move out of a unit, you’ll spare both parties many headaches, and protect yourself from the dangers that befall less attentive managers.
David Crown is the C.E.O. of Los Angeles Property Management Group, and has over twenty-five years of experience managing all types of income properties. A hands-on leader who has managed properties in 16 states, Mr. Crown has been asked to serve as an expert witness in property management matters, and currently serves on the Forbes Real Estate Council. He can be reached directly at (818) 646-8151.