Move-In and Move-Out Checklists That Make a Landlord’s Life Easier

by |

“Procedures.” “Process.” “System.”

Ugghh. The words have a jarring sound. Who wakes up in the morning, leaping out of bed, excited about policy and procedures?

But after shuffling dozens of tenants through move-in and move-out, I’ve come to recognize the value of having procedures and checklists. They streamline everything. They make the process faster and more efficient. They prevent you from smacking your forehead and saying, “Darn it, I forgot to do a walk-thru inspection!”

So I’d like to share my process for tenant move-in and move-out. Feel free to copy this and use it for yourself, or sound off in the comments if you think there’s something I’ve overlooked.

Process for Tenant Move-In

When They Sign The Lease:

1. Print two copies of the following documents:

  1. The lease
  2. The EPA’s Lead Warning Statement (if the house was built prior to 1978)

Also print one copy (per tenant) of the EPA’s pamphlet, “Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home.”

2. Sit down with the tenant. Review the lease together. Explain anything that they don’t understand.

3. Have the tenant initial each page of the lease, and sign the last page. Repeat this in duplicate, so you each can keep a copy.

4. Give the tenant the EPA pamphlet.

5. Have the tenant sign two copies of the Lead Warning Statement. Have each party keep a copy.

6. Give the tenant a checklist for move-in procedures, which include:

– Getting renter’s insurance
– Putting the electricity and gas in their names.
– Forwarding their mail

7. Schedule a time to conduct move-in walk-thru. Inform the tenant that they will not be allowed to gain access to the unit until after they complete a walk-thru with the landlord / property manager.

On Move-In Day:

1. Print two copies of the move-in walk-thru form.

2. Conduct walk-thru with tenant. Take photographs. Note the number of keys that you’ve given the tenant. Notate and sign forms in duplicate, so that you each retain a copy.

3. Email photographs to tenant, to further document the condition of the unit at the time of move-in.

One thing that we haven’t done yet, but that I think is a brilliant idea, is a suggestion that I read on this BiggerPockets post, which recommends providing the tenant with a “repair cost list. ” This details how much certain things will cost upon move-out (in terms of the deduction from their security deposit). Leaving a burned-out lightbulb, for example, might cost $10.

“The idea here is to get them thinking at the very beginning to treat your property with respect,” says the author, Kevin Perk.

I’ve never done this, but I think it’s a great idea. I plan to create this list soon, and add it to my move-in and move-out procedures.

Process for Tenant Move-Out

One to Two Weeks Prior to Move-Out:

1. Schedule a preliminary walk-through of the unit. Alert the tenant, in writing, to the issues that need to be resolved in order for the tenant to receive their deposit back in full. (For example: Tenant must repaint walls back to their original color.)

Note: Be clear that this is not a comprehensive list, nor is it a guarantee of a full deposit return. It is merely a preliminary list of some, but not necessarily all, of the issues that need to be resolved.

2. Send tenant a “cleaning checklist” that outlines the expectations of how clean the unit must be.

3. Remind tenant that all their possessions must be removed by 12:00 noon on the day of move-out (or whatever time is specified on the lease). Schedule a time for the final walk-through of the unit, preferably at 12:00 noon or 1 p.m. on move-out day.

4. Arrange for a cleaning crew and a handyman to come to the unit on the afternoon of move-out day (or to at least be available and on-call).

On Move-Out Day:

1. Come to move-out walk-through with two copies (to be signed in duplicate) of three forms:

  1. The move-out inspection checklist
  2. The final move-out form. This form states that the tenant’s lease is over, all obligations are finished, and they will not be holding over (period-to-period).
  3. A form in which they indicate an address for all future mail to get sent.

Also bring a camera.

2. Walk-thru unit with tenant. Photograph any and all damage or uncleanliness.

3. Have tenant sign all three forms.

4. Email tenant any photos of damage.

5. After tenant leaves, instruct cleaning crew and handyman as necessary.

Within 30 Days of Move-Out:

1. Mail tenant their security deposit at the address specified, less any portion of damages that are removed from their deposit. Include a letter outlining the damages, and send copies of contractor estimates covering the cost of damage repair.


Do any other landlords have suggestions for tenant move-in or move-out checklists? Is there anything else that you’d add to the list?
Photo Credit: ^Sandra^

About Author

Paula Pant

Paula Pant quit her 9-to-5 job, invested in 7 rental units, and traveled to 32 countries. Her blog, Afford Anything, shares how to shatter limits, build wealth and maximize life. (At, she shares EXACT numbers from all her rental investments -- costs, cash flow, cap rate; it's all published for the world to read.) Afford Anything is a gathering spot for a tribe dedicated to ditching the cubicle. Read her blog, and join the revolution.


  1. Let’s add; check with your municipality, in Philadelphia we are also required to give out a many more pages of worthless info the tenant throws in the trash, as well as print out a certificate from a City website, soon we are going to need to give a 24/7 direct contact number.

    • Great point, Dennis — and WOW, that sounds annoying as heck. I hope the city will at least (eventually) get around to letting you e-mail the worthless info that the tenant will never read, rather than being forced to print it out. What a waste.

  2. It is my understanding that it’s a federal issue but I know in Colorado it’s required that the lead paint disclosure be signed first, BEFORE the lease. Failure to do so Voids the agreement. I know this is splitting hairs but a lawyer shark or pro-tenant will feast on this.
    The idea is that they acknowledge the risk of the property PRIOR to committing to rent the place.
    Other than that, very good post.

  3. In WA state, we have to return the security deposit within 14 days, so best to check your state’s landlord-tenant laws. The penalties can be harsh if you miss the deadline. At lease signing, we show the tenant the condition of the unit, and we tell them this is the condition we expect the unit returned, minus any normal wear and tear, which we also explain in writing and have them sign. We give our tenant’s a move-out package as soon as we find out they’re moving out, then we check how they’re doing when we bring prospective tenant’s over to view the property. Many tenant’s under estimate the task of returning the unit to move-in condition – especially if they’ve not been keeping the place cleaned up.

  4. Very good post. A repeatable procedure is the best way you do not forget to do something. A side note on the deposit move out letter. While I still do a move out letter with damages or amounts due, I do not have to do it by a certain time (even though I almost always get it out within 30 days). The reason is I do NOT charge a DEPOSIT. I charge a Non-Refundable Move In Fee. The move in fee is about half to 2/3 of the rent and I tell them to leave it broom clean with no damages and there will be nothing charged to them. I then have my cleaning crew clean to MY standards and avoid the fight about charging them to clean when they think they already cleaned it to their standards. This also avoids any legal issues about returning the deposit and I use it as a marketing tool, ( $650 rent, NO Deposit, just a move in / cleaning fee of $350). They can move into my place for $1,000 but the guy down the street who charges a full deposit requires $1,300. Something my attorney hounded me to do for years but I only started about a year ago.

    • Out of curiosity: What do you do if the tenant damages (seriously damages) the unit?

      Example: If you charge $1000 rent plus a $350 move-in fee, and the tenant does $500 worth of damage, do you go after the tenant for the remaining $150? Or the full $500? Or something different?

      • If my rent was $1,000 my move in fee would be between $500-$750. The example I used was a $650 rent plus a $350 move in fee for a total to get keys of $1,000 vs another landlord with a full deposit for a total to move in of $1,300.
        In the example you mentioned, I would send them a move out letter and charge them the full $500. Remember, the non-refundable move in fee is exactly that, a fee (like application fee, pet fee, cleaning fee, etc). I usually call it a move-in / cleaning fee when I refer to it or they ask questions. The main reasons I switched to this fee instead of a deposit are as follows:
        1) 2 disputes with tenants who moved and “cleaned” the units only as tenants can (not my standards) – Neither went to court but lots of hassle with threats of court.
        2) Advise from my attorney. He is a landlord also and had been using this method for years. He said that over 80% of the lawsuits tenants bring against landlords revolves around the security deposit. Remove the deposit and remove the risk of lawsuits they entail.
        3) Remove the requirement for sending a move out / disposition of deposit letter by a fixed deadline.

        I chose to make the move in fee less than a deposit so the tenant sees it as something different. I still send a move out letter but if they leave it like I want them to, I send a letter praising them and offering to rent to them in the future should they need to. If they damage it I fix it and send them a letter as if they had a deposit only the fee is not deducted from amounts due. The difference in the two is a couple hundred $ but by using it as a marketing tool, I rent faster and get the pick of those looking at any given time.

        • I’m really new at all this but have you had problems collecting for extra damages? Say they do $500 in damages. You send them a letter showing the damages and costs…how hard has it been to get that back vice returning a smaller amount to them (deposit minus damages)?

        • That really depends on the tenants. In low income areas the damages (cleaning, painting, screens, etc.) are usually more than the cleaning fee AND more than a deposit would have been. Collecting under either situation (fee vs deposit) is iffy at best.
          In mid income levels, they have jobs and wages that can be garnished but usually leave the house as I want it and all I have to do is clean and maybe touchup paint from moving furniture. If it is more than move in fee it is not much and I eat it.
          In upper income levels, I have yet to have damages or expenses exceed the move in fee.

          The main reason I went to this method was to avoid issues with the return of the deposit. I have turned it into a marketing tool and the $100-$400 I “lose” in deposit vs move in fee is more than made up in a faster rent up, worrying about deadlines in sending letters and money kept vs returned as deposit refund.

  5. Tiffany H. @CircusofHumaniT on

    I believe it’s 21 days in CA to return the security deposit. Good checklist and reminders. I like the one about reminding them to repaint walls. I might do this 3-4 weeks in advance.

  6. Great article, but one suggestion:

    Pictures are sooo 20th century. We now video Move-In’s and Move-Out’s in the 21st century:)

    If a picture is worth a thousand words, how many words is a video worth?

    • @Chris — Currently, I have a “cleaning checklist,” and I tell them that the price for damages will be based on contractor estimates.

      The next step should be to add prices to the “cleaning checklist” for each individual item, or to make a blanket statement that if the unit isn’t cleaned to these specifications, they’ll be charged $100 or $150 to compensate for the price of having a professional team come in to re-clean.

  7. Marcio Wilges

    As a landlord, I can be pretty sure that it’s important to have before and after pictures in that checklist! You’re going to want to make sure that every scuff and muck-up is recorded so that you can compare notes and make sure that your tenant moving out hasn’t made your property worse for wear! At the end of the day, you can close your eyes for the small ones, but it’s always good to keep track of the changes so that your tenants know you’ve been watching…

Leave A Reply

Pair a profile with your post!

Create a Free Account


Log In Here