It’s no secret that some tenants will damage the property they’re renting. So, why is it that so many landlords fail to protect themselves ahead of time? Let’s walk through steps you can take as a property manager to give yourself added protection from tenant damage down the road. (Please note: damage does not include normal wear and tear, but rather any excessive degradation of the property due to negligence or intentional acts.) Though laws are pretty clear about what rights the landlord and tenant have in these situations, covering all your bases ahead of time will make your life easier and could guarantee better options for you later on.
Walkthrough Prior to Move-In
Before giving keys to your new tenant, you should do a thorough walkthrough of the space with them. Document the current state of the unit by taking pictures (with timestamps preferably) of each room. You should also write down detailed notes of any existing damage/imperfections. Once you are done with the inspection, you should both sign and date the form to show you are in agreement with the condition of the unit.
During this time, it’s helpful to go through the section of their lease that clarifies the difference between normal wear and tear and damage. (If your lease does not include this section, it’s recommended that you consider adding it to avoid any confusion.) Explain to the tenant that you won’t hold them financially responsible for any reasonable wear and tear (such as scuff marks, minor scratches on floors or cabinets, etc.), but that you will hold them liable for any damage they cause (whether it was intentional or not).
This walkthrough should only take 10 minutes. It’s worth having that signed form and pictures later to prevent your tenant from claiming damage they caused to be pre-existing. It holds them liable in the event they do break something so you’re not the one footing the whole bill. And further explaining what they already signed in the lease often just helps your tenant to take things a little more seriously, which could prevent damage from happening in the first place.
Collect a Security Deposit
The exact amount you collect is up to you; however, collecting a security deposit from your tenant prior to move-in helps gives them some “skin in the game” so to speak. If they know they have something to lose, they’ll likely take better care of their rented space. We’ve seen property managers take security deposits as low as $100 and as high as two month’s rent (the legal maximum in most states).
A high security deposit may drive away renters; however, we don’t suggest anything less than half, or a full, month’s rent. Anything less than that doesn’t provide as much incentive to your tenant to preserve the property. In the event the tenant does damage your property, a security deposit will also give you extra financial protection. The security deposit does two things; it encourages the tenant to prevent damage and protects you in the event that it happens anyways.
Communicate in Writing
This last piece of advice should not be new to you if you’ve read any of our other articles. You’ll quickly see this is a common theme in our advice to landlords because it bears repeating. Just like we mentioned in the initial walkthrough, creating a paper trail of communication is another way to protect yourself should legal action be necessary. So, communicate in writing about any damages, notice of your intent to enter the property, inspections, repair costs, etc. Doing so via certified letter is the best way to prove your resident received the message.
At the end of the day, you can almost never be too careful. Cover your bases now so you can avoid more headaches down the road. Please know that we are not providing any legal advice for a given situation through this content. This article is based on opinion and is written for informational purposes.