There is nothing more important in the life of a landlord than move-in day – the day you legally transfer ownership of your investment for the duration of the lease to a stranger. However well vetted this stranger may be, someone else is now living in and maintaining your investment.
A good statement of condition report is essential. If you don’t have a signed and dated condition report, you can’t withhold any of the security deposit for damages and you can be sued for two times any funds you withhold.
In addition to completing a statement of condition report, I actually give my smart phone to my new tenants and ask them to walk through the housing using the video function making comments about anything they see while I am completing the address information on the Condition Report, Smoke Detector Form and addendums. The more thorough they are at the move-in time with my smart phone, the better. If they make a comment that there is one scratch on the floor in the living room when they move in, they have no excuse at move-out when there are two.
Furthermore, videos and photos tell much more of a story than a check box that states “walls-good”. The tenant’s walk-through with my phone usually takes only five minutes. After it is finished, we then walk through each room with the condition report form and take additional notes like, “two pin holes in the north living room wall.” I also use my phone at that time to take pictures including those of the water, gas and electric meters as well as a photo of the hot-water heater tank temperature setting, if possible.
I scan and email the condition report to my new tenant and then I post the video of the condition walk-through on my free YouTube channel and share a link to that video with the tenant.
Once the condition report is completed and signed by both the tenant and myself, I collect the security deposit and surrender the keys. I also take the time to add my tenant’s phone number and email into my phone’s contact list and send them a test text. While not a legal form of service notice to a tenant, texting can be a more personal way to contact a tenant with whom you have a good relationship and it will get replied to faster. I use Google Voice so that all of my texts come through to me as emails for permanent record. [UPDATE note: While text messaging/emailing can get a quick response, neither form of communication is legally recognized as proper service of notice to a tenant and should not be relied upon as a formal notification to a tenant.]
A Word of Caution
My smart phone is not a professional camera. I still rely on a wide-angle lens camera mounted to a tripod to take photos for marketing the properties I manage – or better still, I hire a professional photographer to do this job for me. Good marketing photos can generate much more interest in my properties and help my prospective tenant fall in love with their new house or condo before they even put one foot in the door. A couple of bad photos on Craig’s List taken with a smart phone will fetch half the interest and lower rent.
Despite the carefully crafted move-in routine as described above, one may be bound to miss something. I try to give my tenant a call after about two weeks to ask how they are doing and if we might have missed something on move-in day. Then I’ll shoot them an email saying “Glad to hear that everything is going okay at your new house and that you haven’t found any skeletons – at least none that weren’t previously noted on the condition report.”
Gary Vassuer owns rental property and works as a property manager for Windermere Property Management. Reprinted with permission of the Rental Housing Association.