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by Bill Gray

Often after a tenant signs the lease, the landlord immediately hands over the keys. At this point, many landlords miss a critical opportunity to gain profit and minimize the risk that the tenant will eventually leave owing money.

In 30-40% of the tenant debt files I review, either the move-in inspection was done poorly, or not done at all. This makes it difficult to accurately document any damages the tenant may cause while he or she lives in your rental. In turn, this makes recovering the repair costs all the more difficult.

Often a landlord will simply hand the tenant a move-in checklist and say, Let me know if you find anything wrong. After the lease is signed, the landlord and all tenants who signed the lease must inspect the rental unit together.

With everyone present, it is very important to meticulously inspect and document the entire unit inside and out. Perform the inspection with your new tenant by your side. Do not just let everyone wander around the rental doing their own inspection. Some landlords go as far as using a urine stick to show there are no pet urine stains in the carpet. I encourage you to check for pet urine before move-in, and I highly recommend it upon move-out.

Make sure your move-in/move-out inspection sheet has room to document the condition of every area of your rental. It also must have spaces where you and your tenant sign the checklist both during move-in and move-out.

Take pictures of the general condition of the rental, especially of any area that may be disputed when the tenant moves out.

By inspecting the rental together and both signing the inspection sheet, you are sending a very clear message to your tenant without speaking the words: I expect you to take care of my rental unit; if you don’t, you will be held accountable.

Before you hand over the keys, perform a detailed move-in inspection with your tenant. You will increase your profit by minimizing the risk of debt when the tenant moves out.

Bill Gray is a tenant debt collection specialist. He offers discounts to AAOA members. For help, see Tenant Debt, or email your questions to

American Apartment Owners Association offers discounts on products and services for landlords related to your real estate investment including REAL ESTATE FORMS, tenant debt collection, tenant background checks, insurance and financing. Find out more at joinaaoa.

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  • I love the article! In fact we do exactly what is stated in this article with exception of the ‘urine stick’ which I think is an excellent idea! Our inspection sheet is 6 pages long, lists room by room, and everything in it. I do have one question though. What if the tenant moving out refuses to sign the move out inspection? Will it still hold up in court? We have had situations where we have had to write, “Tenant refused to sign” on the sheet.
    Thanks so much for your WONDERFUL articles!

  • Hi Heather, I am glad you find the articles useful. Tenants do sometimes refuse to sign and often are not present at all for the inspection. You never know what will hold up in court, but I recommend you do exactly what you are doing now by writing “Tenant Refused to Sign”. The photos you take of the unit are even more valuable in these situations. It is also a good idea to have a colleague inspect with you as a witness, and also for safety purposes, when you suspect a difficult inspection. Thanks for the question.

  • I always do my move in inspections alone first. I know what i would be looking for damage-wise when they move out , write the list, and then go over it with the tenant. I always have them add the little things they think are important as well. Always note condition of the tub as this is an item no one makes notes on and they often get scratched.

    And i ALWAYS suggest pictures of damaged areas.

  • Mary, it sounds like you are a pro at this. I bet you have few disputes after move out. I had a judge in Ohio tell me that the move in/out inspection AND photographs are the most compelling evidence he can be presented in a landlord-tenant suit.

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