10 Items Landlords Must Check Off Before a Tenant Moves In

Young couple receiving house key from real estate agent
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Now that you have found and screened a tenant to fill the vacancy at your rental, the next step is to actually have the tenant move into your property. There are certain steps every landlord should take to help make this transition as smooth as possible. If you get into the habit of checking off these ten items every time a new tenant moves in, the process will be easier for both you and the tenant, and misunderstandings and complaints will be minimized.

1. Repair Any Damage or Health and Safety Issues

Before a tenant moves in, you will want to repair any existing damage at the property. Damage could include a hole in the wall or a broken window lock.

You will also want to make sure there are no health or safety issues. Safety issues include verifying that there are two forms of exit from the unit and that all carbon monoxide and smoke detectors are in working order. Health issues include checking for signs of mold and, for buildings constructed before 1978, that there are no lead-based paint hazards. This maintenance is necessary for the health and safety of the tenant. It also helps to ensure that you pass any property inspections required before the tenant moves in.

2. Clean the Property

This is especially necessary if you are doing an apartment turnover, which means there was a previous tenant living in the unit. You will want to make sure the unit is thoroughly cleaned, especially areas such as the tub, toilet, stove, and refrigerator.

Even if this is the first time you are renting out the unit and everything is brand new, you should still vacuum or sweep to remove any debris.

You should also have the property exterminated before tenant move-in even if there is no noticeable problem.

3. Make Sure Heat, Plumbing and Electric Are Working

Before a tenant moves in, you must make sure all utilities are working. You will need to do this whether you are responsible for paying for the utilities or whether the tenant is responsible for paying for them.

You will want to make sure the heat works in all rooms, that there are no clogs or leaks in the plumbing and that the outlets and overhead lights in every room are operational. These are necessities that a tenant needs to maintain their quality of life.

4. Go Over the Lease and Have the Tenant Sign the Lease

You should go over the lease agreement with the tenant section by section so that they completely understand what they are agreeing to. Once you have gone over the entire agreement with the tenant and answered any questions, you and the tenant should sign and date the lease agreement.

5. Collect First Month’s Rent and Security Deposit

You should always collect the first month’s rent and the entire security deposit before the tenant moves into the unit. If the tenant does not pay on time the first month, it increases the likelihood that they will be late with their rental payments the following months.

The exception to collecting the first month's rent prior to the tenant's move in would be if the tenant is receiving government assistance, such as Section 8. Section 8 will send you the check once the tenant has moved into the unit.

Section 8 tenants are still responsible for paying their own security deposit. You should still collect this deposit prior to the tenant's move-in.

6. Have Property Inspected if Required

Depending on your town’s laws, you may have to have the unit inspected before a tenant can move into the unit. This inspection is done so the town can issue you a Certificate of Habitability. Some towns only require this inspection the first time the unit is rented, some towns require it every five years and some require it every time a new tenant moves into the unit. Make sure you know your town’s rules.

If you are renting to a Section 8 tenant, the apartment will have to be inspected by a Section 8 inspector to make sure it meets their health and safety standards. Section 8 requires the unit to be inspected every year that the Section 8 tenant lives there.

7. Change Locks

Before a new tenant moves in, you should always change the locks on the doors. This is done for the safety of the tenant and to protect you from liability.

You do not want an old tenant to have the keys to the new tenant’s apartment. Spend the $20 on a new lock to avoid any issues.

8. Go Through the Move-In Checklist

On the tenant’s actual move-in day, you should go over the move-in checklist with the tenant. The checklist describes the condition of the property as a whole and of each room in detail. You should have the tenant sign and date this checklist. The move-in checklist is important as it allows you to compare the condition of the property when the tenant moves in, to the condition of the property when the tenant moves out.

9. Provide Tenant With Your Contact Information

You should provide the tenant with your contact information. This will be the method of communication which allows them to reach you if they have a question or complaint. It can be a phone number or an email address, but make sure they know to only contact you during normal business hours, 9 A.M. to 5 P.M. unless it is an absolute emergency.

10. Go Through Any Specific Tenant Requests or Conditions

There are situations where a tenant may have a specific request or special requirements that are not typical. Some examples could be:

  • Having the apartment painted a certain color
  • Installing a washer/dryer prior to move in
  • Receiving a government assistance housing voucher
  • A disability which requires a service animal

In situations such as government assistance and service dogs, you are legally responsible to take the appropriate steps to accommodate the tenant.

In the situations that are more desirable than necessity, it is up to you to decide if you would like to honor the request. You should make sure to add any special requests as a clause in your lease agreement.

For example, if you are going to charge the tenant $500 to paint the apartment, you need to include this in your lease so that you have written the proof that the tenant has agreed to these terms.