This article was posted on Thursday, Aug 01, 2013

There are thousands of security deposit disputes each year.  In many of these cases, the dispute comes down to a disagreement between the landlord and tenant over damages and cleaning.  This problem is best solved with a thorough and detailed inspection process.

Inspections are your opportunity to assess the overall condition of the property.  Don’t take this task lightly!  Whether performing move-in/move-out inspections, quarterly inspections or inspections for cleaners, spending some time and a few dollars now can save you a lot of time and money in the future.  Use your inspections to avoid maintenance and legal costs down the line.

Great inspections follow a few basic rules:

  1. Create      a system for your inspections.  Go      room by room to make the inspections organized and consistent.
  2. Provide      detailed descriptions for anything worth mentioning.  Damaged, non-working items and levels of      cleanliness need to be clear and easy to explain.  For example, “Stove is dirty” is not as      good as “Grease running down both sides of stove.”  This will help tenants and landlords in      the process of negotiating cleaning/repairs.
  3. Test      everything.  Flush toilets, turn on      burners, turn on faucets (make sure both hot and cold water works), open      all doors, test blinds, test light switches, test garbage disposals and      dishwashers.  If there is a moving      part, test it out.   This will save      you major repair costs down the line.
  4. Details      are key! Be very attentive and look everywhere.  If you don’t you may overlook something      that could cost you in the future.       Don’t forget to check under wall hangings, etc., that may be hiding      something.
  5. Pictures      are worth a thousand words.  Take      good pictures and lots of them!       Taking pictures and providing accompanying descriptions is one of      the best things you can do to document the rental property’s state.  Don’t be afraid to take a lot of      pictures – especially with digital cameras.  You can always delete them later.  For example, if all the blinds in an      apartment are dirty, take a picture of each set.  Stay away from assuming that simply      making a note on one photo will be enough.       Take overall pictures of the whole room to see any major existing      flaws or issues, and then take close-ups of damages.  Remember though, close-up pictures are      only good if you have some context for them.  Don’t zoom in so close that you can’t      recognize the item anymore!

Although this sounds exhausting and time-consuming, remember that it is a small price to pay for avoiding the larger maintenance and court costs that can come down the road when maintenance issues are not attended to and documented.  Save yourself the trouble and take care of doing a good inspection upfront to protect you and your tenant.

Editor’s Note:  AOA members can download the Enter/Exit Checklist (AOA Form 131) FREE at

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Nate White is with, a web-based application that allows the landlord or property manager to document the condition of the property with detailed comments and images.  Reports can be shared via email, stored online and completed on any digital device.  Visit for more information.

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