Renting out a property can be stressful and even confusing for many landlords, no matter the experience.
Many landlords are afraid of leaving their property in the hands of problem tenants who don’t pay rent on time, damage the property, or have inappropriate and troubling behavior towards their neighbors.
In addition, many tenants complain that they can’t recover their security deposit unjustly held by landlords.
Therefore, the best way to save both parties from possible misunderstandings or even lawsuits caused by the deterioration of the rental unit’s condition is to use a landlord-tenant checklist at the beginning of any lease or rental agreement.
The Importance of a Landlord-Tenant Checklist
Keeping a record of any damages done to the property while the tenant resides there can protect the landlord from investing money in costly repairs and the tenant’s security deposit if they are not responsible for severe damages.
Although the lease should be the primary document that establishes the relationship between a landlord and tenant, covering expectations, rights, and responsibilities for both parties, there is still a possibility of something going wrong.
For instance, a checklist would help if a tenant moves out and claims the property was in poor condition from the beginning. It can even help a landlord gain legal leverage if they evict the tenant and then finds holes in the walls and damaged fixtures.
Every landlord should make a list before handing the keys to new tenants. It usually consists of a detailed inventory of the rental unit — the more items on this list, the lower the risk of unwarranted damage during a tenancy.
Both parties should draw up the checklist together to prevent future disputes or disagreements and report existing defects in the property before moving forth with the contract.
After both the landlord and the tenant have agreed on the contents of the rental checklist, they must sign it and keep a copy. At the end of the tenancy, a final inspection will be performed based on this checklist. Hence, it serves as a checklist for the condition of the unit before moving, but also at the end of the contract when the tenant releases the property.
Depending on the final inspection and the condition of the objects in the rental unit, tenants could be held liable for damages that their security deposit should cover if these are more than wear and tear.
The Initial and Final Inspections
The initial and final inspections are the basis for drawing up your rental checklist. The pre-inspection will help you track the condition of your property, so you will need to carefully document each item that is on the property.
To do this effectively, you should take photos or videos in every room in the house and outside the property if any outdoor space is available to future tenants.
While these will help you visually record the condition of the property before renting, the tenant-landlord checklist will serve as a written analysis – which is much more valuable considering that both parties must leave their signature on it.
Keep in mind that both inspections should be carried out in the presence of the tenant so that you can both agree from the outset on the condition of the property and the items that may be poorly functioning or close to deterioration.
What it Should Include
In essence, the landlord-tenant checklist details the condition of every room and common area in a rented property at the move-in time. It will serve as a record of damages sustained at any point during a tenancy.
The nature of the checklist will vary depending on the type of property you’re renting –– there will be specific “dos and don’ts” for every kind of rental unit. But no matter what you rent, there are some points that every rental checklist should cover.
Related fact: You can draft this checklist on your own and customize it according to the characteristics of your property, or you can use a standard online model
- Name and address of the tenant
- Name and address of the homeowner
- The date on which the tenant will move into the unit
- Date of start and end inspection
- The signatures of both sides
Elements that may vary depending on the case:
The condition of each room in the rental unit on move/departure:
- Living room: floors, windows, walls, and ceilings, light fixtures, windows, screens, doors, front door & locks, fireplace, others.
- Kitchen: floors and floor coverings, walls and ceilings, light fixtures, cabinets, counters, stove/oven, refrigerator, dishwasher, garbage disposal, sink & plumbing, windows, screens, doors, others.
- Bedrooms: floor, walls, ceiling, doors, windows, screens, shades/blinds, closets, light fixtures, lightbulbs, any extra furniture items.
- Bathrooms: floor, walls, ceiling, doors, windows, lighting fixtures, smoke & carbon monoxide detectors, outlet covers, shower & tub, toilet seat & bowl, plumbing, faucets, fan, mirror, others.
- Hallway: floor, carpet, walls, ceiling, doors, windows, closet, shades/blinds, light bulbs, others.
- The condition of outdoor spaces: the front and back porch, parking area, lawn/garden, patio/deck/terrace, mailbox, doorbell, garage, and any other outdoor items.
Is it Mandatory?
The rental checklist is not mandatory in the vast majority of the states in the US. It is used as an optional tool to help through the process of a rental venue.
For example, it is usually used by landlord’s associations and property management companies to inform tenants about items that are not up to the dwelling’s building code and general living conditions. Although the intention is not required by law in most states, the checklist could be an excellent resource for landlords, especially those who are new to this field.
However, there are some states where the law requires the landlord to provide tenants with a written report detailing the condition of the property at the start of the lease and existing defects.
A few states requiring a move-in inspection form if a security deposit is collected include Georgia, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Washington, and Wisconsin.
In some states, the inspection form is mandatory: Arizona, Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Utah, and Virginia.
Liability for Damages
Some landlords have seemingly endless disputes with their tenants, trying to determine who is responsible for damages and repairs at the end of a tenancy.
The best way to defend yourself from unexpected costs is to have a detailed rental checklist and to understand your rights, especially when it comes to the responsibility of paying for damages.
Usually, when damages or other concerns affect a rental unit’s liveability, the landlord is fully responsible for fixing these damages without the tenant being financially involved — anything related to plumbing, pests, heating, and electrical systems.
However, sometimes a tenant may cause damage to the property through careless or intentional acts, whether it’s tearing down walls, crashes caused by pets, buckled wood flooring from water exposure, and others.
If the damage looks deliberate, and you can prove the tenant caused it, you may be able to hold them liable for the total replacement cost of the damaged goods and get full reimbursement from their security deposit.
But if the damage discovered is nothing more than deterioration caused by the time and regular usage, you can not do much about it. For this reason, it is essential to distinguish between intentionally caused damage and inevitable deterioration in the rental unit’s condition.
Normal Wear and Tear vs. Damage
It is unrealistic to believe that your property will remain in its good initial condition after the tenant leaves. Wear and tear damage happens, even in short-term rentals.
Some of the most common types of wear and tear at rental properties include:
- Sun-faded or heat burned blinds
- Warping of doors and windows
- Worn or scratched enamel in bathroom items
- Loose grouting in bathroom tiles
- Scuffed wood floors from regular use
- Mold due to lack of proper ventilation
- Carpet faded with wear patterns
- Faded paint
- Small nail holes in the walls
- Dirty grout around tiles
- Cracks ceiling from settling
- Warped cabinet doors
- Worn appliances due to use over time
Most items in a home will degrade sooner or later and will need to be replaced. However, when this happens while other people live on their property, many homeowners tend to blame them and expect payment of repairs or replacements.
What many landlords do not know, however, is that ordinary wear and tear does not allow them to use the tenant security deposit.
Therefore, landlords are the ones who have to deal with repairs and improvements for damages caused by regular use of the property like the ones listed above. Thus, there are cases where the damage created by the tenants is more than wear and tear.
The following examples are considered serious damages and should be charged accordingly:
- Visible holes in the walls
- Burns and stains on the carpet
- Water stains on wood floors
- Missing items from the rental checklist
- Pet urine spots on walls, carpet, sofa, or other places
- Unapproved paintings on walls or furniture
- Cracked or gouged wood floors
- Scratched up hardwoods
- Cigarette burns to carpet and upholstery
- Missing or cracked bathroom tiles
- Holes or tears in linoleum
- Broken toilet seat, sink, or bathtub
- Any damaged items due to abuse or neglect
If the damage created by the tenants is similar to one of the above examples or comes from something that would typically not wear out, the landlord can request payment of repairs from the tenants.
However, there are cases where damage occurs through no fault of tenants or landlords, such as natural disasters, theft, vandalism, riot & civil commotion, and others. To protect yourself and your property, you should consider landlord insurance. This policy offers you more benefits than homeowners insurance, and it will give you peace of mind that you are covered in case of an unpleasant event.
When Can a Security Deposit be Used?
The purpose of the security deposit is to incentivize tenants to honor their lease commitments by holding a money advance until the total rent is paid or until the end of the lease term, whichever comes first.
Landlords usually require a safety deposit before renting a property to a tenant. Some states impose limits on this security deposit, such as two months’ rent in Virginia or Pennsylvania, one and one-half month’s rent in New Jersey, or just one month in advance in North Dakota.
The US law on security deposits gives landlords the option to use it for at least four purposes:
- Rehabilitating a rental property.
- Paying back rent and bills.
- Replacing stolen or missing belongings
- Lack of maintenance of key facilities, and more.
At the same time, some states limit their ability to be used for various purposes, so it’s essential to know your state’s laws before bringing a security deposit claim.
In the long run, the security deposit is different from a downpayment and gives protection against loss or damage to the property. It is critical to have one to prevent major financial problems if a renter’s check and credit card fail.
Before leasing a rental property, the landlord and tenant should use a rental checklist to cover essential items and ensure they have the complete picture. Understanding the condition of a rental property before signing a lease will strengthen your legal case later on if these issues should arise.
While not all states and federal laws require the preparation and use of a landlord-tenant checklist, it is strongly advised to do so. Not only will the checklist ensure that the landlord can replenish any damaged property before turning over the security deposit, but it will prevent lengthy contacts with tenants who dispute damage claims, allowing for a more straightforward return of their deposits.
If you need more tips on becoming a landlord see our Ultimate Guide. Also, if you are confused about landlord insurance, see our extensive article about landlord insurance and what it entails.