3 Important Practices Landlords Should Use During the Move-in Inspection

by | BiggerPockets.com

For real estate investors who hold and rent income-producing property and manage them themselves, having a system for moving a new tenant into the property is critical to the success of that property. One of the most common disputes that arises between a tenant and a landlord has to do with how expectations were set before the tenant ever moved into the property.

Most landlords meet their prospective tenant at the property during the initial showing, as well as when the lease is signed and security deposit collected. However, I would venture to say that most landlords don’t take the time to truly set the tone and expectation regarding the condition of the property and the potential disbursements from the security deposit at the end of the lease.

Interestingly, if you Google something along the lines of “Disputing Security Deposit,” almost every page that comes up is from the perspective of a tenant. Most conflicts between a tenant and a landlord arise because the tenant feels the landlord unjustly withheld a portion (or all) of the security deposit when the tenant moved out of the property. While there are plenty of unscrupulous landlords who likely do take advantage of tenants, many landlords are justified in keeping the security deposit – but they simply didn’t set the expectation and appropriately document condition and costs up front.

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

In our business, we lease between 5-10 new properties every month. We’ve learned over the years that it’s best to have a system in place to make sure we don’t have the same disputes with our tenants at the end of the lease term. Here are 3 important practices we’ve put in place to help ensure we’ve documented carefully and educated our tenants well.

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3 Important Practices Landlords Should Use During the Move-in Inspection

Walk the Entire Property With the Tenant Carefully

While some property managers and landlords tend to whiz through this step, I think it’s one of the most important components to leasing a property. It’s important that you and your tenant are on the same page regarding the condition of the property upon move-in. Be as thorough as possible and document the condition of everything that could potentially experience wear and tear during the course of the lease.

I think it’s important to notate items such as lawn condition, fence condition, exterior items (gutters, roof, siding, sidewalks, mailbox, soffit and fascia), screens, front door, wall paint colors, light fixtures (model and color), mirrors, vanities, flooring type and condition, plumbing fixtures, smoke detectors, garage door openers, appliances (make and model), water heater (age and condition), HVAC (age and condition), etc. You get the gist. The idea is that you document everything. Make sure you do this with your tenant so that your tenant understands how well you documented the condition of the property before they moved in.

Take Pictures

While this is somewhat self-explanatory, taking pictures as you walk the property with the tenant serves two purposes. For one, you are documenting the condition of everything in and around the house so that when the tenant moves out, you can make an easy comparison to condition of the property before move-in. If for some reason your tenant decides to dispute any of the deductions from their security deposit, you have pictures (proof) that document the condition of a particular item before it was used by the tenant.

Secondly, taking pictures in front of the tenant also reiterates the fact that you are carefully documenting the condition of the property. In many cases, this will cause the tenant to be more careful with the property and less likely to dispute a potential charge later because they know you are paying careful attention to all items in and around the property.

Related: Landlords: Use These Tenant Deposit Policies & Reduce Lost Profit!

Include a Replacement Cost Worksheet With the Lease

This is something we’ve implemented recently that I believe will help alleviate almost all disputes arising from security deposit deductions. Our lease agreement now includes a list of items that typically get fixed or replaced after move-out, along with the associated cost for these items. Our tenants know from the outset that if we have to replace a hole in the wall, it will cost them $55 dollars. Or if we have to replace a towel bar, $22 dollars will be deducted from their security deposit. Our list contains over 70 common items that we can deduct from a security deposit along with a price tag so that nobody is surprised at the end of the lease term at how we arrive at the total deduction.

Getting sued by a tenant over a security deposit dispute is a major hassle for any investor. Save yourself the time and headaches by putting a good system in place up front for moving tenants into your property.

What about you? Do you have a particular practice for moving tenants into properties that has worked for you?

Leave your comments and suggestions below!

About Author

Ken Corsini

Ken Corsini G+ is the host of the Deal Farm Podcast (on iTunes) and has 10 years of full-time real estate investing experience. His company, Georgia Residential Partners buys and sells an average of 100 deals per year and has helped hundreds of investors around the country make great investments in the Atlanta market. Ken has a business degree from the University of Georgia and a Master Degree in Building Construction from Georgia Tech. He currently resides in Woodstock, Georgia with his wife and 3 children.


  1. Sandeep S.

    I love this post! Thanks a lot, Ken. The 3rd point is an absolute gem that I bet most investors (including myself!) are not doing (but should be doing).

    Is there any way – I can get a copy of your worksheet so that I don’t have to start from zero?

  2. Curtis Bidwell

    Good thoughts, Ken! I’m with Sandeep, perhaps you could post your sample Replacement Cost Woksheet under File place in Resources? I think many of us would benefit. I have a few items listed but a full sheet would be awesome toward maintaining good-will with previous tenants who can readily voice their opinion online to the tenant world when they don’t like what you did!

  3. Darren Sager

    Great article Ken! These things are VITAL to anyone who’s a buy and hold investor and yes MOST landlords don’t do this. We do all you spoke about AND make them sign a sheet of which we’re filling out in front of them asking them the condition for EVERY room. When we’re done with the walk through they sign it because they agreed to the condition while we’re filling it out. We supply them a copy of the signed form by both parties.

    And by the way I like to pull out the range and show them how clean it is underneath, and take pictures of it with them. That way when we have to charge them for cleaning the place they don’t complain. We get charged a set fee for cleaning unless its really bad. We list the fee for cleaning as well.

  4. Brandon Stevens

    Indeed the “checkout list” is one of the most important documents we use. If everything on the list is done or as it was when they inhabited the property they get it back. We try to make it very simple for them. The list incldues wiping down baseboards, wiping out cabinets, etc…all with a price attached…easy gor them to understand easy for us to enforce.

  5. Scott Trench

    Hey Ken – this is a great article – I think a lot of us (myself included) would benefit from you posting your list to the fileplace. Would you be open to that? If so, I could link to it at the end of the article.


  6. Michael Buffington

    I have replaced photographs at the tenant walk through with a video. In the video I document the date, time, lease and tenant(s) with a walk through of the entire property (inside & out). I attempt to complete a 360 of every room with the tenant present. We both have the option to note the condition of anything we see. Gives me a good way to go back and review the condition of the entire property. Plus, it is almost impossible for a tenant to deny the condition at move in.

      • Michael Buffington

        Thank you for sharing your replacement cost worksheet. I plan to incorporate something similar with our leases. This is great information!

        The video is great. I always missed something when taking photographs. Plus I have found the tenants seem to take it more serious. At the beginning of the video I have them verify their names as listed on the lease for the record.

  7. Deanna McCormick

    I managed a 320 Unit complex our move in / move out check sheet and cost for repairs and cleaning was given at lease signing. One thing we noted was ” Nicotine / Grease stained walls” this was a important item for us.
    We would do a Pre-Move out inspection usually within a week after a notice to vacate was submitted. I would take photo’s and circle items on a duplicate Check Sheet and leave with the tenant of things that needed to be cleaned / replaced to make them aware of potential costs. This would also give me good record of their furniture, We had a per item charge disposal fee for furniture left at dumpster or in apartment, and I was able to track items back to the tenant from those photo’s. Doing a Pre-move out inspection also gave our maintenance tech the time to order items needed for the turns. I usually had the maintenance tech go with during that inspection. Our tenants appreciated the heads up on items to clean and our apartments usually had less work to be done because of this practice.
    Good article, Video great tool.

  8. Bob H.

    I suggest adding a garage section to the list, including the replacement of a garage door remote and cleaning the garage floor. I can’t see charging for a lost door key, since the locks should be rekeyed anyway

    My wife, who is a fastidious cleaner when tenants move, contends that it is impossible to hire someone to clean who will do the job as well as you would do it yourself. By this logic, you just can’t get people to _really_ clean, so it’s unwise to try.

    Still, it’s unfair for the landlord to have to personally clean up after the tenant, and this is not a sustainable strategy for most investors. Do others have tips for hiring good cleaners? For less extensive cleaning done by the owners, how much do you deduct from a deposit, knowing that the greater the charges, the greater the chance of disputes regarding deductions?

  9. charles gillis

    Yes, I used to bring new tenants up to second floor to look out of window
    to the ground below where they see a chalkline of a the body of
    last tenant who broke any rules. they just aren’t sure if your kidding or not and its best this way, keep’m guessing!
    Common sense is no longer common, its necessary to spell everything out such as. only bodily fluids and official toilet paper can be used in toilet, Don’t make french fries and pour your used grease in drain. Doors or windows cannot be left open during bad weather, Vehicles can only be parked on street adjacent to sidewalk or in driveway and never in yard for any purpose. No writing or drawing on the walls, nor can you make any type of hole in any walls under this roof.
    I could go on but you get the picture.
    With my larger buildings I would park in a spot in front of building so many of the tenants could see the black caddy and know I had arrived, then I’d walk the halls in a black hat and cape announcing “Landlord Here” get your rents out, often times I’d use a bullhorn which really came in handy when tenant would not come to the door….. OPEN UP, LANDLORD HERE, I KNOW YOUR IN THERE RON, COME ON OUT OR I”M COMING IN”……and instantly the door would fly open. Actually i preferred to break the door down but that only occurred few times but it had a lasting effect on the other tenants and meant all rents paid on time.

    In my single family homes where they mailed in the rent, sometimes rents were not sent and I’d show up and listen to their pathetic excuses why they were not paying on time, then tell them, ok, get it paid asap meanwhile I see the front door is sticking and I’m going to fix it, then remove it, place it on my roof racks and drive away…..they would call during the day, is the door fixed, almost I’d say, got the rent yet?..Nobody ever left door off overnite, they always came up with the rent. This and the townhouse rentals were good spot for bullhorn use as most tenants will run out of building as if it was on fire once you start up with the bullhorn as they prefer the neighbors don’t know they are borderline deadbeats.
    I say borderline because they always came up with rent.
    Its a mistake to get too friendly with any tenants or worse, screwing any of them, at a minimum you will lose 1 months rent and at worst you could lose your property should you end up in court for making promises
    your tenant claims you did but didn’t.
    low end properties bring low end people….section 8’s and if kids are involved your really in trouble as the courts see you as the wicked rich landlord who just wants to take advantage of these poor helpless devils and can drag out an eviction for as long as a year without paying a dime, leave your cape and black hat at home on court day.
    Longer term tenants who breed present yet another set of problems because as they hit 3,4,567 yrs old, they will want a place to play outside their apt, that’s usually where cars want to park, then they will want to play on the grassy areas and demand swing sets. Watch these people, they are problematic, its best to use a camera and record what the kid is up to so when you call child protective services you’ll have enough evidence to get rid of them.
    I’ve been a landlord for 47 years starting when I was 22 buying my first 3 family house in Worcester Mass.

    In trying to get my first building an old jewish guy who was selling some buildings sat me down and asked me questions, like what would I do if an old lady could not come up with rent, or a single mother with a crying kid could not pay. questions like this, well gee, of course I’d help out old lady afterall I had 3 grandmothers alive at the time, and the single mother, sure I’d give them more time to come up with rent…
    He abruptly ended our meeting and said he would never sell me a building without paying him in full for it up front….
    Just this morning I’m returning from an appt with septic tank cleaning company who was clearing a blockage
    in sewer line. The tenant told me yesterday the reason she wasn’t concerned with the sewage backup was because the toilets were not backing up, only backing up in basement, when the toilets backup she knows to call septic cleaning people.
    By 4 pm I was tacking up their 30 day eviction notice.
    Leases are worthless and only benefit tenant, and when they leave, forget some judge making them pay to contracts end, never happens. Stick to month to month rental agreements unless they have proven themselves over few year period even then be careful.
    It took few years, few big losses and I got the picture………..that old man was right on!
    Thats my story……. good luck

  10. DP Patel

    Ken, Thanks for the nice info and everyone who has contributed to this article. The Move-out-Charges list is great. Thanks for that. I also liked the great idea of Video, definitely helpful in the process.

  11. Derrick Thomas

    Great article and spreadsheets you included, my only comment is about the “towel bar”. I swear these break all the time, I think mostly because the length doesn’t allow installation on 2 studs. Should we charge a tenant for this if the installation is improper? My best guess is these break so often because they aren’t installed properly.

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