Perhaps the most important precursor to signing a lease agreement is the proper completion of a property condition checklist PRIOR to your tenant’s move-in.  The checklist is required to document the property’s condition, without which a rental owner [may have a difficult time] legally collecting or withholding any deposit money from the tenant. 

Waiting to complete a property condition checklist until after you’ve signed a lease, could make it difficult to compel the tenant to complete the move-in checklist without having to take legal steps.  Even in a situation where a tenant is forced to sign off on the checklist, you are now dealing with a situation where items are already moved in and defects may have already been created or covered up which can no longer be attributed to the new tenant.

What does all this mean?  The property condition, move-in checklist is vital to your financial security as a landlord.  Without having a completed and signed property condition checklist upon move-in, not only can a rental owner not collect or withhold a deposit from a tenant, they also cannot attribute any damages done to the unit – even those you know were caused by the tenant – to them.

Filling out the checklist prior to move-in must be done with the tenant present.  Any defects visible at the time of the move-in inspection should be noted so that pre-existing damages or defects are not wrongly attributed to the new tenant.  Pictures and/or video are also very handy when you find yourself in a situation down the line where you need to prove the condition of your property.

You can simply check a box as to the general condition of all features at the property but special attention should also be paid to writing in an actual description of the room/feature within the blank boxes provided.  Because this report is the basis for determining “wear and tear” versus damages, if something is in a new condition, (such as fresh paint) or free of defects, a landlord should note the condition as “new paint” or “no defects found” on the checklist.

Another consideration for landlords is to list the serial number of each appliance on the checklist.  This assures you that tenant won’t move out with your good washing machine and leave you with something 20 years old – (true story).

Upon the tenant moving out, the landlord or property manager is expected to do a walk-through of the premises and determine which, if any, damages are beyond normal wear and tear.  Again, photos will come in handy as a good way of showing the “before and after” of the property. 

If any damages are found to be a result of the tenant’s occupancy, you may charge the amount required for repair to their security deposit.  Any damages which exceed the deposit amount should be pursued through either small claims court or a collection agency.

Remember to follow up on completing the property condition checklist by mailing a deposit refund statement postmarked within [21] days from the date of the move-out to the most recent address provided by the tenant or if none, to the address of your rental.

[Editor’s Note:   AOA recommends you mail your security deposit refund letter with a USPS “certificate of mailing” as proof that you mailed it within the 21 days.

Also, please note that PRIOR to the final move-out inspection, you are required by AB2230 to perform a “pre-move-out” inspection no sooner than two weeks from the actual move-out date.  The purpose of the “pre-move-out” inspection is to give the tenant a written list of repairs that they must make and an opportunity to do so before moving to avoid charges from their security deposit.

  • Use AOA’s form #131 – the Move-In, Move-Out Inspection Checklist.  This checklist conveniently shows the move-in condition, the pre-move-out condition, and the final move-out condition of the premises.
  • Form #135, the AB2330 Walk-Through Process gives complete instructions on how to perform the “pre-move-out” inspection.
  • And finally, use AOA’s form #133, the Security Deposit Refund Letter to finalize the move-out process.

AOA members may download these forms free of charge from www.aoausa.com.] 

Disclaimer:  The material above does not constitute legal advice, but rather information for your general guidance and help.  There may be other facts which would result in a different interpretation and different results.  If you need legal advice, consult an attorney.

Sean Martin is the Rental Housing Association’s External Affairs Director.  Reprinted with permission of UPDATE.