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What is a move-in walk-through?

A move-in walk-through is a chance for a new tenant to inspect a rental property. Landlords may ask tenants to complete a walk-through checklist before the tenant moves in or shortly afterwards.

With a Renter's Inspection Worksheet, tenants may document problems the landlord might have missed. It also gives the landlord the tenant's acknowledgment of what was in good condition at move-in. This can protect both tenants and landlords at move-out or other times.

You may include the Renter's Inspection Worksheet in your Lease Agreement. Many leases state that if the tenant does not return the inspection document to the landlord after a certain time, it means that there is no damage. This encourages the tenant to complete the walk-through. It also saves the property manager from having to ask tenants for it, if they do not complete it on time.

What to check while inspecting a rental property?

A tenant's main concern when moving in is documenting problems that a landlord could claim the tenant caused. Tenants may check for maintenance issues that may affect their use and enjoyment of the rental unit.

Landlords rely on the move-in inspection to spot problems left by the previous tenant, to assess repairs, and to make sure the unit is up to code, the lease, and the tenant's standards.

Here are some things to look for:

  • Inspect all doors and windows.
  • Inspect the flooring, walls, and ceilings for holes, scratches, wear, and blemishes.
  • Check faucets for water pressure, and test the hot water.
  • Test all electrical outlets.
  • Make sure all switches work, including light fixtures, ceiling fans, garbage disposal, and electrical outlet switches.
  • Test carbon monoxide and smoke detectors.
  • Check inspection dates on fire extinguishers.
  • Run appliances like washers, dryers, stove burners, garbage disposals, and air conditioners.
  • Look for water damage, such as floor discoloration near sinks or appliances that use water.
  • Test blinds or curtains and check for missing or bent slats.
  • Document even minor problems as these may become larger over time or due to normal wear and tear.

When to sign off on a move-in checklist?

Both the tenant and landlord want the rental home in overall good condition. Both may want to photograph the unit at various times: the landlord before the tenant has access, and the tenant before moving their belongings in.

If you are the tenant, only sign off on the move-in checklist after a thorough walk-through. Your signature confirms the condition of the unit or home. You may be held liable for anything you do not document.

In addition to the inspection checklist, the landlord may have a written procedure, such as submitting a Tenant Repair Request, for how the tenant can report problems. In addition to making communication easier, a written request documents the landlord's notification.

When a landlord schedules a repair, they may make a Landlord's Notice to Enter. This informs the tenant when workers or the landlord will enter to make the repair. In addition to meeting your legal requirements, tenants may want to make arrangements to be present or for pets to be elsewhere.

What is normal wear versus damage?

Landlords can charge tenants for damage, but not for normal wear that results from aging naturally and normal use over time. Damage may be caused by the tenant's negligence, abuse, or carelessness.

For example, it is generally expected that many homes may require new flooring and new paint every few years or more depending on use and care. The landlord cannot charge the tenant to replace the carpet or to repaint just because it does not look as new as when the tenant moved in. If the tenant causes stains, holes, or other damage, the landlord may, however, charge for that.

Typically, both tenants and landlords may document normal wear, as well as damage, during the move-in inspection. It reduces the likelihood of future disputes over whether further wear is excessive and whether a landlord can charge for a brand new replacement.

Landlord-tenant laws may also address preexisting damage or normal wear, although they can vary from state to state. They may dictate documentation requirements or limit what landlords may charge for damage after items reach a certain age.

What happens if there is no walk-through?

If there is no walk-through, it can cause problems for both the landlord and the tenant. The landlord may retain authority to charge the tenant for damage, while the tenant is only liable for damage they caused. There are, however, disputes over details.

An unscrupulous tenant might claim a unit was like that when they moved in, while an unscrupulous landlord might say the rental property was in perfect condition at move-in when it was not. Even if nobody intentionally lies, there may be different recollections, especially after long-term tenancies.

Similar problems may arise upon moving out. A tenant might leave the property in perfect condition, but a contractor or maintenance worker may cause damage. The landlord might not even know that the person they hired is wrongly blaming damage on the tenant. In addition, tenants are more likely to dispute charges when they are surprised with a bill. Finally, if the issue is minor, tenants may appreciate an opportunity to correct the problem as opposed to being charged at a higher rate.

A Renter's Inspection Worksheet and a Move-out Inspection Checklist can help prevent these sorts of disputes. It is even better when these are completed during a joint walk-through with both the tenant and landlord present.

If you have more questions about rental unit inspections, or liability for damage after a move-out, reach out to a Rocket Lawyer network attorney for affordable legal advice.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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