photo inside of clean oven

It’s an exciting day! Finally—after spending hours updating and prepping your investment property; placing, monitoring and answering your ads; and slogging through and pre-screening dozens of applications—you’ve selected one and are handing over the keys to your rental unit.

What’s the one thing you and your tenant should be doing together now to prevent that awkward (and often litigious) moment later when you discuss the return of the damage deposit?

 

Pre-possession photos

If you manage your own investment/rental property, you can use pre-possession (also called pre-lease) photos to document the condition your unit was in at the time you handed the keys over to the tenant. The good news is that you don’t have to run out and buy an expensive digital camera; the resolution of most smartphones is perfectly fine for this purpose.

Together with your tenant, walk through each room, taking notes and photographs to document the unit’s condition. Photograph each wall/ceiling to show that the paint and drywall are in good condition and free of damage. Include the flooring, as it usually takes the most wear and tear because of the amount of furniture being moved in and out of a rental unit. The easiest way is to stand in the middle and take four photos, one toward each corner of the room.

Take extra time to get a photo of any wall dents, floor scratches, cracked tiles or carpet stains. (Although there will always be small items that are missed when prepping a rental, we’ll assume that any large issues, like a broken window, will have been fixed prior to placing a tenant.) Also, while moving furniture it’s really easy to bump into things, so examine and photograph the doors and trim, because you don’t want to blame your new tenant for damage caused by a previous one.

Photograph each window in the unit, showing that they’re unbroken and noting any installed hardware or window treatments. If you have shades or blinds, drop them down and take a photo to show their condition (which should be unbroken and properly working).

Take pictures of all the appliances you’re providing for your tenants. Open the oven door and shoot the (clean) inside; and do the same for the fridge and microwave. (On move-out day, when you do your move-out inspection and you note the inside of the oven has two years of baked-on dirt, you’ll be happy you have the photos showing the clean oven you provided to the tenant. This way you can justify the money you’ll have to deduct from their damage deposit for cleaning it.)

Also go down in the basement and document that it’s clean and dry. If it’s a single-family home or duplex, don’t forget the outside of the building and landscaped lot, especially if the tenant has agreed (in writing) to be responsible for lawn care, plant care or yard work. If your bushes or specimen trees die under the tenant’s care, you’ll want the documentation that photos will provide.

AFTER YOU FINISH YOUR WALK THROUGH

If there are any notes, review them with the tenant. Provide them with a copy (either in print or via email) and have them sign and return a copy (this way they’re acknowledging any issues at the start of the lease), and keep it on file. Also email them a copy or provide them with an electronic set of the photos you took so you both have a complete set.

If you’re an investment property owner but have a property management company in place, make sure they’re performing this pre-possession walk through and taking notes and photographs as well, then get a copy of both for your files.

Doing a proper walk through and taking detailed pre-possession photographs do more than just prevent and protect you against arguments about the pre-lease condition of your rental: it helps establish a level of communication and trust, and sets the tone for a positive landlord/tenant relationship.