One of the hardest tasks for any landlord is dealing with the end of the lease. It is not enough that you are trying to make a smooth transition, but you are also juggling a new tenant. If you are not focused, and organized, in handling both you can make a mistake that has a lasting impact. A prolonged disagreement with an old tenant can be a burden that weighs on the rest of your business. The better you communicate with your tenant and the more detailed you are in exactly what you want done, the better chance it will happen. The end of any lease shouldn’t be a battle over the security deposit. It should be a transition from one tenant to the next. Here are five tips to help you ensure a smooth end of lease transition.
- Send Expectations: As obvious as it may seem to you, most tenants aren’t sure how the end of a lease works. Sure, they know enough that the unit should be returned how it was received, but that is all. The best thing you can do to get everyone on the same page is send expectations. You should give your tenant an email detailing exactly what you want done and when it needs to be done by. Highlight areas of specific importance and even offer suggestions of how to do it. You should also give your tenants at least 45, even 60, days to accomplish it. Make sure that you send an email, so you have something in writing in the event of a dispute. If not, you run into a word of mouth situation that can be difficult to deal with. Something as quick and easy as sending an email can simplify the rest of the end of the lease.
- Take Before Photos/ Videos: The end of the lease actually starts before a tenant moves in. On move in day and before the keys are exchanged it is important to document the condition. As you walk through the rental you should either take photos or a video of the property. The more documentation you have, the easier it is to verify at the end of the lease. Without visual proof you are again in a word of mouth scenario that can leave you in a bind. In addition to taking photos, you should make sure they are descriptive and leave nothing to the imagination. Label the room and highlight any problem areas. Also, make sure you send them to your tenant and ask that they review, confirm and get back to you. A good portion of your work for the end of the lease is done before the start of a new one. By documenting everything, there is no grey area on the condition.
- Set Walkthrough Date: It is important that you and your tenant are on the same page regarding the walk through. The final walk through should be on the last day of the lease, or as close to move out day as possible. You don’t want to go back and forth to the house multiple times. Your tenant needs to know that the final walk through is the only time you will inspect the property. Having it a week prior to lease end gives you little recourse if something happens during their last week in the house. During the walk through make sure you and your tenant view the house together, so there is no misunderstanding. Your goal should never be to keep a dollar of the security deposit. You just want the property in the same condition it was received. You should accept that there will be some normal wear and tear during the lease. What you are looking for are large items, caused by negligence and oversight. You should make it clear to your tenant that they will not be receiving their security at the walk in. You need some time to review the before and after pictures before dispersing funds.
- Itemized Breakdown: In most cases, there won’t be any significant damage and you can cut a check for the security in a few days. However, there are times when there are problems that need to be addressed. If this is the case, you should send your tenant an itemized breakdown as soon as possible. The email should include before & after photos as well as an estimated cost of repairs. If you want to send multiple quotes that is fine, but make sure the company is licensed and insured. Let it be known that you have a new tenant coming in and time is of the essence and the quotes are not to be negotiated. By giving your tenant plenty of warning and expectation you leave little to chance.
- Cut Check: You have an obligation to cut a check for the security deposit within 30 days of lease end. Even though you are given almost a month you should do it as soon as possible. Once you can evaluate the property and understand the condition you should send a check asap. You don’t want to make your tenant wait for money that is lawfully theirs. Depending on the state the tenant may also be entitled to interest on the security. All security deposit money must be placed in a separate bank account. Never comingle funds and be ready to send immediately after inspection.
The end of the lease doesn’t have to be a chaotic and confrontational experience. If you set expectations and give your tenant plenty of warning you should have a smooth transition.