Landlording & Rental Properties

Follow This Moving Out Checklist Before Tenants Leave

Expertise: Landlording & Rental Properties, Personal Finance, Personal Development
32 Articles Written

If you've ever been a renter, you've likely paid a security deposit. Deposits can be steep! You probably really wanted the entire amount returned. Now that you're a landlord, you know you're more than happy to give renters their security deposit back—so long as they left your property tidy and free of damage. A moving-out checklist ensures keeps both renters and landlords happy. (We’ve even got a moving-in checklist, so you can start on the right foot.

Procedures and checklists 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!" Here's our recommended process for renter move-out and move-in.

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What Landlords Must Do for Move-Out

Moving out doesn’t happen in a day. It can be a long process—so make sure you’re dotting your is and crossing your ts from the moment your tenant turns in notice.

Related: Breaking a Lease: What Landlords Should Know

One to two weeks before move-out

  1. Schedule a preliminary walk-through. Afterwards, 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.
  2. Send tenant a “cleaning checklist” that outlines the expectations of how clean the unit must be. (See below.)
  3. Remind tenant that all their possessions must be removed by 12 p.m. on move-out day, 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.

On moving day

  1. Come to the walkthrough with two copies (to be signed in duplicate) of three forms:
    1. The move-out inspection checklist
    2. The final move-out form, which states that the tenant’s lease is over, all obligations are finished, and they will not be staying
    3. A form for a forwarding address and phone number.
  2. Bring a camera. Any issues with the unit must be documented.
  3. Walkthrough the unit with your tenant, photographing any and all damage or uncleanliness.
  4. Have tenant sign all three forms.
  5. Email tenant any photos of damage.
  6. After tenant leaves, instruct cleaning crew and handyman as necessary.

Add pet-related or yard-related items to the move-out instructions, if necessary.

Related: How to Conduct an Inspection When Your Tenant Moves Out

Within 30 days of move-out

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.

Move-Out Letter from Landlord to Tenant

Make sure your tenants are clear on what needs to be done. Alongside the moving out checklist, we recommend sending an explanatory letter. Here’s one example of what it should say:

Dear Tenant,

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Thank you for providing timely notice that you will not be renewing your lease. As you prepare to leave, keep the following in mind:

Please allow ample time to perform necessary cleaning/repairs. Any repainting, repairs, cleaning, trash removal, and any other expenses associated with returning the condition of your home to your move-in condition will be deducted from your security deposit at a rate of $25.00 an hour.

Your security deposit will be mailed to the new address you provide within 14 days [or however long according to local laws] after your move-out inspection has been completed. We expect you to return your home to the same condition as when you moved in.

If you have any questions, please call. Good luck with your move!



Related: The 6 Best Tenant Screening Services for 2020

Renter Moving Out Checklist

Make things easier for you and your renters by providing this all-inclusive move-out checklist. Remember, you may need to edit to suit your property—if there's no lawn, don't confuse them by asking to clear it. Typically, landlords ask for rentals to be "broom clean." This move-out cleaning checklist should cover all the bases.

  • Phone landlord three to five days in advance to schedule move-out inspection
  • Sweep, mop, and dry all floors
  • Dust and clean all walls, ceilings, and ceiling fans, ensuring all dirt, smudges, and grease are gone
  • Wash all baseboards, woodwork, and windowsills.
  • Clean all light fixtures
  • Thoroughly clean all bathroom fixtures, including toilets, bathtubs, showers, sinks, and cabinets—inside and out
  • Clean and wash the kitchen, including the sink and fixtures, making sure to remove all dirt and grease
  • Keep all utilities on until the day after the move-out inspection
  • Clean underneath, behind, and between stove and refrigerator area
  • Wash down outside of stove and refrigerator
  • Clean the inside of stove, refrigerator, and dishwasher using appropriate cleaners
  • Clean and wash inside and outside of cabinets, using degreaser when necessary
  • Sweep and mop hallway floors and dust hallway walls
  • Vacuum carpets
  • Clean closets, including wiping down the shelves and rods
  • Clean all windows and screens and return screens, if they have been removed
  • Remove any items from the deck, balcony, closet, attic, crawlspace, basement, yard, shed, etc.
  • Remove all trash, rubbish, and personal property from the lawn, driveway, garage, and other outbuildings—and don’t pile up garbage at the curb
  • Leave curtain rods and brackets in place, unless they are personal property
  • Return all keys at or before move-out inspection
  • Wash windows
  • Ensure all light fixtures have working light bulbs
  • Check that smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms are working.


Move-In Checklist

A smooth move-out begins the day your tenants sign their lease. In addition to outlining your expectations—such as proper notice and move-out inspections—in the lease agreement, follow these steps before your renters move into their new apartment.

When tenants sign the lease

  1. Print copies of the following documents:
    1. The lease
    2. The EPA’s Lead Warning Statement (if the house was built prior to 1978)
    3. The EPA’s pamphlet, “Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home.”
  2. Sit down with the tenant. Review the lease together, and 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 moving checklist:
    1. Get renter’s insurance
    2. Put the electricity and gas in their names
    3. Forward their mail
  7. Schedule a time to conduct move-in walkthrough. 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.

Related: The BiggerPockets Guide to Landlord Insurance

On move-in day

  1. Conduct a walkthrough with tenant, taking photographs—these will be essential to compare after move-out. Note the number of keys that you’ve given the tenant. Notate and sign forms in duplicate, so that you each retain a copy.
  2. Email photographs to tenant, to further document the condition of the unit at the time of move-in.

For renters looking to maximize their returned deposit and minimize arguments with the landlord, living up to your end of the bargain is imperative. And landlords who want to reduce their workload when tenants leave a property should be clear and upfront about their expectations.

What best practice move-in/move-out procedures would you add to this list?

Let me know in a comment below. 

A longtime writer and consumer of all things related to the FIRE (financial independence retire early) movement, Chris Prit went from working 50+ hours a week to less than 20 thanks to her real est...
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    Denise Graves from Victoria, BC
    Replied almost 2 years ago
    I love this post with the emphasis on communication! I wish more people would feel more open to their landlord as simply asking about a thing can save so much hassle. I thought the note detailing any work that the landlord does being billed out at $25/hour was great, but myself I would leave out the part about painting. I have seen some “interesting” paint jobs and when a person is leaving, maybe feels rushed there could be brush strokes and roller touches everywhere. I am more than happy to do the painting if need be after someone moves out.
    Steven Arthur Homeowner from Las Vegas, NV
    Replied almost 2 years ago
    I thought the same thing Denise about asking the vacating tenant to paint before they depart. I used to be a professional painter but I don’t think I would be that picky about the quality of my work on my way out. Also, I have not heard of dusting down the walls. Seems I never got that memo this lifetime! Otherwise a great resource for making the transition as smooth as possible
    Silvia Walker Real Estate Investor
    Replied over 1 year ago
    I just cant find the right place to ask a question......... CHANGE IN PROPERTY MANAGERS MID LEASE - does it void the previous PM's lease????????? I unfortunately invested in the midwest, have had 3 shocking property managers. Have just transferred to a new one who I believe will cut the mustard. On the 1st of the Month, 1 July the date new PM took over my properties. One tenant gave 30 days notice on the 1st July. Previous PM would not supply lease as they said it was void now I was with new PM. However, I have got a part copy of the lease, and it went thru to 30 September 2019. Previous PM would not pass over ingoing photos. New PM got tenants in on 1 September and gave me a bill for getting house ready for new tenants, I saw "matching paint in bedroom" $40. I had the house painted in time for the tenants that have just gone at a cost of $3000, a very light neutral gray/beige, so they were in there for nearly 10 months. As previous PM would not pass on ingoing photos. new PM did not realise that the tenants must have painted a bedroom pink. My new PM is of the opinion that the previous lease is void, but I was told told different when I have changed PMs in the past: the new PM has always carried on with the PM's current lease until renewal date. I believe the tenant owes rent for 2 months, Ive had a quote for repainting the 13' x 14' bedroom in the previous color to match the rest of the house at $250 and this would normally be deducted from their deposit. However, I believe they will not pay the 2 months rent so I want to keep the deposit. The past tenants say they were given permission by last PM to paint the room pink, and also paint the heritage bricks over the fireplace. At no time did past PM ask me if tenants could repaint, after spending $3K I would have said no, as they knew they were only there short term. PM should have asked me about painting heritage bricks, in my opinion. Through new PM Ive asked the exiting tenants for proof of permission to paint the room, and fireplace, but since they have not supplied lease and wont, I dont expect that to come thru. As house was re-rented from 1 Sep. so I think its correct that I ask for 1 months rent minimum , and then pass back deposit, less the re-painting quote. However, I am in the real world of tenants, and realise I wont get this, and I am therefore asking PM just to retain the deposit in full. Comments would be appreciated.