Moving Tenants In.

Moving Tenants In

A good beginning for a new tenancy starts with clear understanding of the legal rights and obligations of both parties. Utilizing adequate move-in procedures can reduce problems both at the beginning of a new tenancy, throughout its term, and when the tenant leaves.

Provide a Copy of Lease Agreement

The lease agreement is a very important document that can govern the entire landlord-tenant relationship and a clearly written, detailed lease agreement will help protect both the landlord and tenant in the event of disagreements or disputes.

When an applicant has been selected he should immediately, certainly before the lease signing meeting, be provided with a blank or filled in unexecuted version of the lease agreement, with instructions that everyone who will execute the lease should read it over carefully before attending the signing meeting, make notes regarding any questions they might have, and phone with any questions that might be material to whether or not they will sign the documents. This will reduce the chance that issues regarding lease clauses might derail the process and require starting over in the vacancy-filling process, can save time at the meeting, and helps to make sure that the tenants fully understand the terms of the lease that they sign.

Provide HOA Documents

For the same reasons as stated above for the lease agreement, provide copies of all relevant HOA documents (CC&Rs, Bylaws, and Rules & Regulations) to the selected applicant with instructions that everyone who will execute the lease should read them over carefully before attending the lease signing meeting. Be sure that tenant acknowledgement of having read and approval of the documents is included in the lease agreement or in a separate document.

Lease Signing Meeting

Because of the importance of the lease agreement, it is best to require that all prospective occupants who will sign the lease attend a meeting where the lease will be signed. Landlords should be flexible enough in scheduling of the meeting to
reasonably accommodate applicant schedules.
At the signing meeting any special lease clauses should be pointed out prior to signing. As examples, “note that you will be paying all utilities except for trash collection” or “note that smoking is not allowed in the subject unit and the tenant will be liable for any damages resulting from smoking and subject to eviction or other remedies for default.”

Giving Possession

The issue of when possession of a unit should be given to the selected applicant is an important one that has potentially significant legal and financial implications. It should always be remembered that it can require an eviction to remove tenants once they are in possession.

Possession of a unit should not be given to new tenants until (1) all documents, including lead paint disclosure if applicable, have been executed by all parties on the lease agreement, (2) all moneys (cash, money order, or bank check – no personal checks) have been received by the landlord, and (3) if utilities are still in the landlord’s name, arrangements have been made for certain transfer to the tenant. Regarding item 3, allowing possession with utilities in the landlord’s name can result in problems because, in most jurisdictions, if the tenant fails transfer them to his/her own name, the landlord does not have the right to turn them off.

Never let a prospective tenant stay temporarily or even move a single item of his personal property into your vacant unit until all pre-possession tasks, including payment of all funds, are completed and there is no chance that you’ll change your mind about the person’s selection. If you give out the key or indicate transfer of possession in some other way, you may have effectively given him a legally protected status of tenant even though no lease agreement was signed or rent money paid.  It will now require an eviction if he can’t or won’t complete the terms of move-in and refuses to voluntarily leave, potentially resulting in substantial financial loss.

Move-In Orientation

Possession is often transferred by the landlord simply turning over the keys to the new tenants at the landlord’s home or office, perhaps with the tenants being handed a move-in checklist. However, a more formal way of transferring possession, though requiring more time for both landlord and tenant, has significant advantages in reducing risks for the landlord. A good procedure is to:

  • Meet the tenants, preferably all those who executed the lease agreement, at the property for a move-in orientation and walk-thru inspection.
  • Complete the move-in checklist & inventory
  • Provide a few blank maintenance request forms.
  • Give the keys to the tenants.

You should be sure that your unit is absolutely rent-ready before you schedule your tenant move-in appointment. Everything should be clean, and in good working order when you and the tenant inspect the unit so as to avoid the embarrassment of an obvious problem being spotted by the tenant. There should be no pests or mold/mildew issues.

Move-In/Out Checklists

Many state laws require a move-in checklist to be completed when possession is given to the new tenant. The checklist is a written statement of condition of the rental unit at the time of move-in signed by the landlord and the tenant(s). The move-in inspection should be done before the tenant moves in any of his boxes or furnishings.

The original signed checklist should be retained by the landlord in the tenant’s file and a copy given to the tenant for his file. The same checklist, or a copy thereof, will be used to document the condition of the rental unit upon the tenant’s move-out and helps serve as evidence why deductions were taken from the security deposit.
If the landlord prepares such a move-in checklist without the assistance of the new tenant, the tenant in those states where the checklist is mandated, has the right to inspect the premises himself to verify the landlord’s accuracy and detail in
completing the checklist. If there is no law on this subject, the lease agreement should contain a clause requiring that the tenant report any discrepancies within a specified few days of possession.

Free-standing appliances and any other property not physically attached to the real estate are listed on the checklist or on a separate inventory list. Any other furnishings provided by the landlord (e.g. shower curtain, welcome mat, window
coverings) should be inspected and their existence and condition noted.

The tenant should sign the last page of the inspection checklist and initial each other page of a multiple page checklist.

Failure to follow good procedures can have important implications regarding the landlord’s right to withhold any part of the security deposit when the tenant moves out.  Landlords should be sure that good checklists are utilized whether or not required by law in their state. It is better to have more detail than needed rather than not enough. Other than the fact that the more information included, the longer it takes to complete the sheet, one cannot really include too much
information on the sheet.

There is no set format for checklists except for issues that might be required by the laws of a few states. Formats vary from a single page to multi-page documents having a separate page that covers each room or other area in detail. Whichever format you decide to use, it is recommended that the list include the following:

  • Appliances – cleanliness, with notes of any damage
  • Cabinets – cleanliness, with notes of any damage
  • Paint – cleanliness, with notes of any damage
  • Carpets & other floor coverings – condition, with detailed description of any stains, tears, excessive wear, or other damage
  • Closets – cleanliness, with notes of any damage
  • Windows – cleanliness and no cracks
  • Window coverings – cleanliness, with notes of any damage
  • Window screens – cleanliness, with notes of any damage
  • Doors – cleanliness and operation, with notes of any damage
  • Sinks, showers, tubs, toilets – cleanliness, leaks, operation
  • Light fixtures – cleanliness, with notes of any damage
  • Landscaping, if applicable – condition, with notes of any damage
  • Parking areas – clean and oil free

You should familiarize the tenant with operating instructions for electrical, heating/cooling, and plumbing systems as well as furnished appliances. The tenant should be shown the locations of the furnace, air conditioner, water heater, breaker/fuse box, gas valve, and water valve. Supply valves for sinks, toilets, and other fixtures should be pointed out. If it is the tenant’s responsibility to change heating/cooling system filters or keep water softener units filled with salt, the tenant should be instructed in the correct procedures to maintain the systems. The location of each smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector should be noted and the tenant should test each device to verify it is working properly, with the fact that they are working being included in the checklist.
It is recommended that the condition at move-in also be well documented with photos and the tenant should be advised of the documentation. It can be helpful to take some photos during the walk-thru and to include the new tenant in some of the photos to avoid future claims that he was not aware of the condition of the unit at move-in. The tenant should know that there will be equally extensive documentation of the condition of the property following move-out of the tenant including plenty of photos.


Utilizing good procedures when moving a tenant in provides for a better beginning, can result in a better tenancy, and can minimize move-out problems at the end of the lease.

Comments are closed.