This week, I will be focusing on issues related to “moving” in the rental world. Here’s the first in a series of posts helping landlords deal with move-in and move-out. As my readers may be aware, I am of the belief that by the time most landlord-tenant matters reach me or any real estate attorney, most of the damage is already done. Landlords can improve their odds for success in their rental business by instituting policies and procedures that keep landlord-tenant problems out of their lawyers’ hands. One area where landlords can cut off a problem at the pass in in the area of move-in and move-out. Here are a few simple tips that can ease the way.
1. Use forms. Whenever a tenant moves in or moves out, document the move. Landlords should develop a property condition form that can serve as a checklist to detail the condition of the rental property. When a tenant moves in, the landlord and tenant should walk through the rental together. Then, either has the opportunity to raise condition issues and document them on paper. This saves a tenant from being blamed for preexisting damage and helps a landlord prove that a tenant damaged the property. Landlords can use the previous tenant’s move-out paperwork, adjusted for any repairs made, as a starting point for the next tenant to take over a property.
2. Take pictures and/or video. We live in a digital world. Most people have a camera on their phone that can take pictures and even video. Landlords can leverage technology to document the condition of a property. During that move-in or move-out inspection, take photos and video of the condition (good and bad) of the rental apartment. This is especially helpful when a landlord and tenant cannot meet up to do a walk-through together. Combined with a written record, landlords and tenants can get a good grip on who is responsible for most damage.
3. Only turn over keys when appropriate. Tenants getting the keys prematurely is a recipe for disaster. Wait until the move-in inspection is complete. Wait until the lease is signed. Wait until the security deposit and first month’s rent is paid in full. Once possession is given to a tenant, the power in the landlord-tenant relationship shifts to the tenant. It is much harder to get a bad tenant out once they are in. If there are going to be early problems related to move-in or lease formation, make sure they take place before the tenant gets keys.
4. Do homework in advance. Be prepared! Landlords need to think ahead. If the rental unit is in a condominium building, are there rules and regulations about move-in? Do tenants need to reserve an elevator? Are there move-in fees or deposits that need to be paid? A good lease should detail these policies and procedures and apportion responsibility for them. Tenants should be made aware well in advance of what will be required of them. This probably means making a few phonecalls or a visit to the management office in advance to find out. Remember, many associations also have move-out procedures.
5. Document everything in writing. Sometimes a condition needing repair will be discovered during a move-in inspection. If that happens, the landlord should detail the defective condition needing repair and specify what repair will be performed, who will perform it, who will pay for it, and by when it will be repaired. People have short memories. It is much easier to get a signed writing spelling out who does what in the beginning of the landlord-tenant relationship when the parties are not at odds with one another.
6. Landlords should go to the move-in and move-out inspection. Landlords who use real estate agents should still go to the move-in and move-out inspection. Why? Lots of reasons. The landlord gets to meet the tenant in person. The landlord also gets to drop off or pick up keys. It is also easier for landlords and tenants to discuss the condition of a rental property or damage when they are both present to look at it at the same time. Landlords get a great opportunity to personalize their relationship with the tenant. Tenants are more likely to respect a landlord who they know. It is a lot easier for a tenant to do damage or to hold back rent without explanation when the tenant has no relationship with the landlord. At a walk-through, a landlord gets a rare opportunity to demonstrate a desire to provide a safe and fairly priced rental to a tenant which can earn a tenant’s respect. Landlords don’t need to have their tenants over for dinner, but it never hurts to have good relations with the tenant.
7. Follow the move-out laws. In municipalities like Chicago and Evanston and in larger properties, landlords need to properly make their way through the maze of rules related to security deposit interest and the return of a security deposit. Landlords who know in advance what they are supposed to do in these areas are much better prepared to do them and can get them done quicker. It is much better to know you have a thirty day or forty five day clock on day one than on day forty five!
These simple tips can help a landlord and tenant start off their relationship on the right foot and end without conflict. Stay tuned this week for more thoughts on tenant move-in and move-out.