Move-out Inspection with hostile tenant Wisconsin

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The other thing to do to document the security deposit is sent is to do an online pay where the bank shows it was sent to them  and/or send an email copy. I have had trouble with certified mail when they use a p.o. box.

A day of inspection deposit return is dangerous, my sister had a tenant deliberately plug the toilets and she did not know until after they left.  That being said pushing it to the limit on timing of the return does nothing but antagonize so I try to do about a two week return.  If it is great I have been know to write a check the next day.  

One thing with a tenant like this is to be less verbal with a walk through.  So don't argue just be clear about what is broke not what it is going to cost if they are there.

When a tenant gives me notice of their intent to move, I provide them with a Move-Out packet that basically tells them what needs to be cleaned, with each page being a different room (Kitchen, Front Room, Bath Room, etc). This is an item by item list what needs to be cleaned in each room (Steam cleaning included). My leases also have a "Move Out Charges Agreement" which lists how much I charge per item if not done (i.e. clean refrigerator $30, etc).  That way, the tenant knows how much of their security deposit will be withheld if they don't clean/ repair certain things (That they broke). I bring a copy of this same exact packet on move out day and go through it with them and have them sign each page as we go through the property. That way there are no surprises. If the tenant is hostile, I bring someone along with me.

I also don't provide on the spot security deposit returns since there is always something that may come up later. Follow you state's laws regarding this, but I also try to get it back to the former tenants within 2 weeks (my State allows 45 days).

I have been a Realtor specializing in property management since 2003.  And while the laws are most certainly different here in Florida (and I am not a lawyer), I am happy to share my own experiences with you.  

I have attorneys draw up all of my leases (for $45), and am confident in their ability to provide an awesome "product".   How well your lease is written will go a long way in your situation.  

Because I feel confident in my attorney's ability to provide a great lease, I NEVER allow a tenant to be present for a move-out walk-thru because my attorney has advised strongly against doing so... In part bc the tenants may distract me from damages and try to rush me through so that I am unable to perform a thorough inspection.  

I had a Realtor tell me they allowed the tenant to be present during a move-out inspection... And they said they would never do that again bc after they had promised the tenant a full refund, they discovered a cutting board had been glued to the countertop (among other damages, like a hole in the carpet that they hid by standing over the area during the walk-thru).  But because the tenant had put him on a spot and pushed for a verbal promise of a full refund at the walk-thru, that's what he had to do.  

It's very easy for a tenant to use a landlord/Realtor's high level of discomfort and desire to avoid conflict to their benefit.

When a tenant throws a fit about being told they cannot be present, I simply tell them they are welcome to take video and/or pictures of the property immediately before turning over the keys.   Most are fine with that, but even if they aren't, oh well.  There is no existing law in Florida that requires a tenant be allowed to be present for walk-thrus.

I also NEVER allow a tenant to leave the keys at a property upon move-out.  I tell them rent will continue to accrue until/unless they PROPERLY surrender possession.  

When a tenant gives me their notice, I automatically provide them a list of requirements for the move-out process, to include dropping the keys at my office.  I always EMAIL the list to them so there's a paper trail, which reduces the likelihood that they will say, "But you didn't tell me I had to _____________ in order to get my deposit back."

This move-out list I give them (also) includes the following instructions:

1.  The tenant must have the carpets PROFESSIONALLY cleaned, and a copy of the receipt provided to me with the keys. (This is also specified in all my leases).
2.  They are not to leave any trash/personal belongings behind, or the cost to have it hauled away will be deducted from their deposit.  (Also covered in my leases.)
3.  They must have the interior sprayed/treated for fleas/ticks by a PROFESSIONAL pest control company (and a copy of the receipt provided me to with the keys) IF they had pets on the property at any point.  (Yep, you guessed it... This is also covered in my leases.) 
4.  They must replace the a/c filters.  (In the lease).
5.  They must also provide a forwarding address for their deposit refund/claim.  I NEVER allow them to pick up the check in person, no matter how much they complain.  If they fail to provide a forwarding address, current Florida laws simply indicates I must send the claim letter (or refund check) to the "last known address"... Meaning I send it to the rental property. If they completed a forwarding request with the post office, it should get forwarded to them. If they did not, it will likely get returned to me... At which point I place the UNOPENED letter in their file.  In most cases, the only time a tenant fails to give me a forwarding address is when they know they won't be getting any money back.
6.   If they fail to leave the property in a clean condition, the cost to higher a maid service will be deducted from their deposit (at "MARKET RATE"). 

There are other items on my move-out list, but that's what comes to mind off the top of my head.  If they argue with me about doing something listed on the move-out list, I simply refer them back to the appropriate lease page/item number.

I am curious... When your tenants admitted to breaking the window, was it in writing?   That would go a long way with how I would deal with that situation.  If nothing else, maybe you could split the cost with them (via a deposit claim).  I believe that would leave a good impression with a judge, should the matter ever get that far.  It would show that you were trying to be fair/reasonable.... And it may also get the tenants to back off/calm down, so a lawsuit never even gets filed.  From what you wrote in your original post, I would NOT allow them off clean.

ALL tenants would prefer to receive a deposit refund immediately upon move-out, but that's simply not reasonable.  I explain to tenants that I will get the deposit processed as quickly as I can, while remaining in accordance to the law.  I explain there is a process involved, which takes time... To include performing the walk-thru (alone), and obtaining estimates for necessary cleaning, repairs, etc.  I also explain that Florida law gives me two weeks to refund a security deposit if there is no claim... Or one month if there is a claim, (no matter the amount).  I also explain that due to Fair Housing laws, I must treat all tenants equally in order to avoid the appearance of discrimination.  That means if I don't do move-out walk-thrus with other tenants, I can't do it for them either.

I also tell them the process calls for a claim letter being mailed to them, and if they don't agree with the enclosed claim, the instructions will be included for disputing it.  

If they do follow-thru with disputing a claim (in writing), at that point, you could negotiate with them if you feel like they made good points.

By the way, in Florida at least, security deposit claims must be mailed via CERTIFIED mail.  
I would also recommend mailing a check for the remaining deposit balance WITH the claim letter.  It's not absolutely necessary (in Florida), but doing so will often squash any threats of lawsuits.   A lot of tenants make an assumption that in order to fight for whatever amount I am claiming, that would mean returning check I sent them with the letter (for the remaining balance).  In other words, they inaccurately assume they would have to forfeit the check I mailed them, if they were to choose to dispute the claimed amount.  Having a check in their hand works magic and is often enough to get them to back off, even if it's not for the full amount they had hoped for.  Sending them a stand-alone claim letter with the promise of a future check means an increased likelihood they will become angry for ANY claim bc they see dollars flying out the window, vs having dollars sitting in their hand at that moment.  (I hope that makes sense?)

It costs money for a tenant to file a lawsuit (currently $350 to $450 in my area), and often times, it's simply not financially beneficial for tenants to do so when considering the actual claim amount -- not to mention their time to appear in court, etc.   They may or may not even be aware of the costs when threatening to sue you... But if/when they attempt to file (or speak to an attorney), they will find out.

Contingency-type attorneys aren't likely to waste their time on cases they don't think they can win.  And if they can't locate a contingency fee attorney to take on their case, they would be left to pay out-of-pocket for a flat-fee or hourly rate... Which could obviously get expensive for them.  

The stronger your lease, the better your odds of the tenant's threats going nowhere.  

I obviously cannot help you with writing your leases, but would highly recommend getting future leases drawn up by a local attorney who specializes in that type of work if you aren't doing so already.  Laws are constantly changing, and my attorneys are great about staying on top of making appropriate lease template adjustments (for new leases). 

If you can find an attorney's office that specializes in evictions, they will likely give you the best deal on lease production.

Also.... I cannot stress this enough:   TAKE A VIDEO OF EVERY ROOM (INCLUDING UNDER SINKS, INSIDE EVERY KITCHEN APPLIANCE, AND AROUND THE ENTIRE EXTERIOR OF THE PROPERTY... THEN FOLLOW THAT UP WITH STILL PICTURES!  Do this at move-in (with the tenants present), and again at move-out (without the tenants).  Again, I say, do this at move-in (with the tenants), AND again at move-out (without the tenants present.) 

I also make sure the tenants' presence is SUPER obvious in my move-in walk-thru video and pictures, so they can't say they weren't there, and claim the photos must have been taken months/years prior to their move in.

I also highly recommend you complete a move-in walk-thru sheet WITH the tenant present (while taking the video/pictures), and have them sign it on the spot.

The last suggestion I'll leave with you is to be prepared to change the locks on all the doors during your move-out walk-thru inspection.  Don't put that off even one day more than necessary.  Even if the tenants return all the keys provided at move-in, they may have had copies made.  Also, don't forget to ensure the tenants didn't (intentionally) leave any windows unlocked.

I apologize that this has turned out to be such a long post, but I hope you found it worth your time.  I realize some of my suggestions may only be helpful for future tenants.  I also acknowledge some of advice may not be congruent with the laws in your state, so I would highly suggest you confirm such before acting.  I encourage you to Google "Tenant/Landlord Laws" along with your state's name if you haven't already done so.

Best of luck!  :)

The advice on this tread is GREAT!  It should give you the conviction to handle this situation, and is one of the reasons I'm on BiggerPockets!

I have had a similar experience with a tenant demanding their full deposit back when they moved out.  Here in NJ we have 30 days for accounting and security refund.  Having a sound lease specifying how the tenant is required to return position to you is step one.

You are finding yourself in a situation with someone who is trying to leverage you and your business by bringing up possible legal action.  This is why I agree with everyone on the post who say to document, document, document.  I also feel strongly that you have to control the situation - not the tenant.  

When new tenants move into a unit, we do a walk through.  I use a "Move IN and OUT" check list.  It has two columns, one to write comments upon check in, and the other at, check out.  As we tour the place I will write comments (such as - Bathroom - in VERY good condition.  No plumbing issues, etc) and take pictures of EVERY room in the unit.  After the walk through, I initial each comment, have the tenant do the same, and we both sign the document.  They receive a scanned version of it from me the next day via email.  

Upon move out, I print two copies and we tour the place again, comparing the previous notes to present conditions.  I also take pictures.  Again, write your new comments on the sheet, and ask the tenant to initial each and sign.  May I suggest that even if you do not have a check in list, create a "move out list". Write notes about rooms conditions and both of you initial and sign.  If the tenant refuses to sign, give them the option again to sign but let them know that if they do not, you will note that the "tenant refused to acknowledge and sign".  

I also agree having a witness there with you to ONLY observe.  This should give you some confidence in dealing with them and helps you control the situation.  Ask your witness to be cordial and NOT to say anything.  Just watch and listen.   If the tenant refuses to sign the "Move OUT" doc, make your refusal note and have your witness sign the document in front of the tenant. 

Compromise is always good.  Going to Court is not.  This is why I would look at the situation from your tenants perspective.  How much time and money would it take for them to take you to Court?  Even Small Claims Court?  Knowing the filing fees for this will give you some leverage if the tenant brings up Court at the move out inspection.   If the fees are  close to what the window repair cost... would it be worth their time to take a chance on a Judge who would probably uphold WI laws (you having 21 days to return deposit, keep dollars for cleaning carpet, etc)?    Their reaction will give you a good idea how far they'll want to push it.  And compromise from there.

Send Certified Letter/Signature Card to tenant with letter outing interest paid and fees kept along with check.  

Hopefully the tenant will see that you followed the law to the "T" and realize they do not have a reason to sue. If they talk to a lawyer, and share everything with them, perhaps the lawyer will tell them it is not worth pursuing.

@Jojo Hulett has offered spot on advice and gone into much more detail about this than me... 

Thank you all for the great responses. 

@Jojo Hulett - They notified me they broke the window via text with a pic.  They took responsibility for it at first but as time goes on not so much.  I like your idea to split the difference I think I will go that route.

@James Wise -  Thanks for the link was a good read and very accurate!

Originally posted by @Kevin Forsythe :

Thank you all for the great responses. 

@Jojo Hulett - They notified me they broke the window via text with a pic.  They took responsibility for it at first but as time goes on not so much.  I like your idea to split the difference I think I will go that route.

@James Wise -  Thanks for the link was a good read and very accurate!


I think it is nice of you to split the cost of the window with these tenants but I really don't think you need to do that. They broke it, you have their deposit and should deduct the full amount of the window cost from it.

In my opinion your chances of ending up in court over this are very low.

Even lower is your chance of ending up in court and loosing.

As someone in charge of a portfolio of  250+ residential units I personally would deduct the cost of the window from the deposit.

This is just my opinion. NO LEGAL ADVICE

If the door and coat hanger were installed in such a way that one can easily break the other I would just eat the $100 cost on that and fix it before the next tenant comes in, no sense in getting into a bigger fight over $100. Do not let them intimidate you and as many have said bring a friend or at least another person. As for the carpet cleaning, if it is in your lease go for it. I have found that some do and some don't require it but if they agreed to it in writing then absolutely hold them to that.

To me it sounds like they are going to try and use the returned deposit for possibly the deposit on their next place, and that would explain why they need it back right away. Yet again don't let them intimidate you, and do what is right. Although it might sound like fun to hold it for the whole time legally allowed I would get it back to them in a timely manner that is consistant to how you would treat any other tenant.

I agree. Let's say, instead of them telling you the toddler slammed it, they told you the wind slammed it? Would they be negligent then? It doesn't seem reasonable to me to have something installed in such a way that something innocuous as the wind blowing the door open could cause serious damage. The door needed a door stop, that much is obvious, and if it were me I'd use it as a learning opportunity and do as was noted - go through your rentals and see in what ways poor installations, choice of materials or other features endemic to the house could end up costing you money, or, more ominously, a lawsuit (i.e., instead of toddler slamming the door, toddler is sliced to pieces by falling glass from the wind blowing the door into the coat hook). 

Outside of that, the request to be present during the inspection seems reasonable, but you can bring another party or even the police to mitigate the possibility of violence or a confrontation if you want to grant the request. I would ignore the "immediate" deposit request altogether and follow your state's law regarding deposit refund. 

I just got through a similar situation with a hostile tenant, though they never demaned the deposit during the walk through, and I would not have given it to them. They threatened to sue me multiple times for anything they could think of. 

I performed the walk through with them, pointed out a handful of problems and told them that I would have those things repaired within a week and mail them their check along with a copy of all of my invoices. I did exactly that, and ended up keeping most of their deposit. Never heard another word. Not sure if your tenant is bluffing about suing you, but if you are following the law and your lease, then you have nothing to worry about. 

Best of luck!

@Kevin Harrison & @JD Martin - Sound and logical advice thank you.  The door stop should have stopped it but clearly it didn't.  True about the child getting cut that would have made things worse.

@Corby Goade - If they did take it to court the fees they would have to pay would be more than what I would owe them.  Not sure if they are aware of the costs so part of me wants to call them out on it.  I keep going back to what my Grandfather would tell me when I was a kid - "only a moron gets into an argument with another moron".

Hey everyone! 

Just wanted to give you the results from today's move out inspection.  I arrived about 30 mins before the tenant and did a walk around.  I noted a few things on the inspection list and just as I finished tenant arrived.  I couldn't tell right away if they were looking to fight so I asked if there was anything wrong that they would like to point out or talk about.  They pointed out issues that they felt were not liable for I already noted in the report that I was not going to account for them (previous owner told me some of the carpet stains and wall cracks were not from them).  They did accept a few things that I did not bring up verbally  but they were on my list as well.  I presented my sheet and it was pretty much what they expected so the conversations went well.  I raised the issue of the broken window and they offered up just under what they were quoted so I took that.  I was prepared to take less so I consider that a win.  As far as I'm concerned this turned out to be a successful move out and we parted ways on good terms. 

Thank you all for the advice I for sure learned how to move forward for with future tenants.