Move-In Process

The move-in process begins the landlord-tenant relationship. It’s important for a landlord and tenant to establish a professional, mutually respectful relationship during move-in to encourage a satisfactory working relationship during tenancy.


The lease agreement is the legal contract governing the landlord-tenant relationship. A clearly written, detailed lease agreement sets out the terms and conditions for tenancy. If the rental property is governed by a home owner association, it is important that the lease agreement include appropriate language for the tenant to (1) acknowledge receipt of copies of all relevant documents (usually CC&Rs, Bylaws, and Rules & Regulations); (2) understand and accept the restrictions of the particular association involved; (3) understand that the association can modify rules and regulations for the purpose of promoting the convenience, safety, or welfare of residents; and (4) agree that he/she will reimburse the landlord for all fines, legal costs, and other penalties resulting from tenant’s violation of association rules and regulations.

The landlord has responsibility to utilize a lease agreement that is compliant with specific federal, state, and local legal requirements. While an offer of tenancy has been made and accepted, there is no legal contract until both landlord and tenant have signed the lease. A landlord should have a best business practice to review the lease agreement with the incoming tenant to make sure the tenant understands his legal obligations by contract and statute before signing the lease.


Tenant orientation provides the opportunity for the landlord to review with the incoming tenant the lease terms and conditions, lease addenda, rental policies and practices, required landlord disclosures, the landlord’s rules and regulations, the move-in/move-out inspection checklist, and the tenant handbook. A welcome letter may be included in the tenant’s move-in packet to serve as a guide and reminder of important rental policies and practices discussed during orientation.

A new tenant orientation meeting can introduce the tenants to the rental community in a shorter time with potentially fewer problems during residency. The landlord should review the lease terms and conditions section by section with the new tenant and emphasize the important lease terms such as rents, security deposit accounting, fees, rental policies and practices, move-in and move-out procedures, lease defaults, notifications and remedies of lease defaults, and lease conditions such as a requirement for renters insurance. The landlord should be thorough in his review of terms and conditions providing adequate detail and allowing sufficient time during orientation for tenant understanding and agreement of terms and conditions. The landlord’s house rules and regulations for community living should be reviewed and discussed to make sure the tenant understands his duties and obligations for matters such as housekeeping and good neighbor relations.

A tenant handbook is a resource tool for customer services and community resources. The handbook should include general information such as the address of the landlord or the property management company, business office staffing information including hours of operation, emergency/non-emergency/after-hours contact names and phone numbers, website address, tenant portal information, business email addresses, and cell numbers used in property management. It is helpful to include community resource information and contact numbers for law enforcement, fire and safety, utility companies, and other business services that may be needed during tenancy. The handbook can include other useful information such as maintenance tips, safety tips, severe weather preparedness information, maintenance and repair reporting procedures, and instructions for the use of community facilities such as the pool, fitness center, sports courts, etc.

A new tenant welcome letter serves as a quick reference for business office hours and contact information, emergency/after-hours information, and rental rules and procedures. The letter can provide a brief review of rental policies for rents, property health and safety inspections, landlord access notifications, maintenance and repair requests and lease termination/move-out procedures.

Lease Signing

Traditionally lease signing is done by the landlord and tenant meeting in person and signing a printed lease document. However lease signing can be completed using other means such as digital signing services, the landlord’s tenant portal, email, or overnight delivery of printed documents.

All occupants of legal adult age should be required to sign the lease agreement, making them jointly and severally liable for lease terms and conditions. A best business practice is to have the new tenant sign the lease first. This is particularly important if the landlord and tenant do not meet in person for the signing. If a landlord signs the lease and sends it to a tenant using alternative means of delivery, a tenant could, although not likely, change lease terms and claim the landlord had knowledge and agreement to those changes. A landlord should always verify that the signed lease returned by the tenant is the correct version of the lease with no alterations. The name and signature of the tenant on the returned document should be the full legal name and signature of the tenant selected for tenancy. Once the lease is signed by the landlord, the lease agreement is finalized.

Fees and Deposits

Lease terms and conditions usually require full payment of fees and deposits at or before lease signing unless state statute or local ordinance allow otherwise. In a few localities, tenants may be able by law to spread the security deposit in installments over a designated period of time. Fees and deposits may include a security deposit, other types of deposits, move-in fees, and first month rent. As applicable by statute a landlord may be able to collect a last month rent at time of move-in.

Fees, deposits, and first month rent should be collected and verified as good funds before the tenant is allowed to move into the rental unit. Transferring possession of the unit before funds are converted to the landlord’s use may make it difficult to remove the tenant from the unit for lease default. Legally, if possession of the premises has been given to the new tenant, such as delivery of the keys to the unit, the tenant has possession of the unit and the landlord must follow legal procedures to evict the tenant and regain possession of the premises.

Unit Inspection and Move-In Checklist

Many states 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. It documents any existing damage to the unit and/or furnishings and requires acknowledgement of the unit’s condition by the signature of the tenant. The move-in inspection should be done before the tenant receives keys, moves in any personal belongings, or has otherwise been given possession of the unit.

The checklist can help minimize discussions or disagreements between landlord and tenant at a future time regarding the unit’s initial general appearance and physical condition.

It is recommended that a move-in checklist include the condition and cleanliness of landlord supplied appliances; cabinets; painted surfaces; floor coverings; windows, screens, and window coverings; doors, plumbing fixtures, light fixtures and ceiling fans; carport, garage, and parking areas; and landscaping. The original signed checklist should be retained by the landlord in the tenant’s file and a copy of the signed checklist given to the tenant for his records. The tenant should be advised that the same checklist will be used to document the condition of the rental unit at the time of tenant move-out. By using the same checklist for move-in and move-out conditions, the landlord has good documentation if deductions need to be taken from the tenant’s security deposit following move-out.

The walk-through inspection of the unit is a good time to familiarize the tenant with operating instructions for electrical, heating/cooling, and plumbing systems as well as furnished appliances. The tenant should know the locations of the furnace, air conditioner, water heater, breaker/fuse box, gas valve, water valve, supply valves for sinks and toilets, smoke alarms, and carbon monoxide detectors.

Failure of the landlord to follow good inspection move-in procedures can have important implications regarding the landlord’s right to withhold any part of the security deposit when the tenant moves out.

Transferring 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 once a tenant is in possession of the rental property, it will require legal action by the landlord to remove the tenants from the property and restore possession of the rental property to the landlord.

Possession of a unit should not be given to new tenants until all documents, including all required legal disclosures, have been executed by all parties on the lease agreement, all fees and deposits have been collected by the landlord, and the tenant can document that utilities are scheduled for transfer to the tenant. Allowing a tenant to take possession of the unit while the utilities are still in the landlord’s name can result in problems. In some jurisdictions, if the tenant in possession fails to transfer utilities to his own name, the landlord may not have the right to turn the utilities off.

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