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Should You Allow Early Move-Out Inspections?

August 9, 2023

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Early Move-Out Inspections

Most landlords conduct move-out inspections immediately or shortly after a tenant has fully moved out of a rental property. Doing so ensures you can make the appropriate deductions from the security deposit to cover damages. 

However, tenants will occasionally request an early move-out inspection. They may want to be present during the inspection to make sure funds are not deducted from their deposit unfairly. 

Should you allow them an early move out inspection? You should always be transparent with your tenants, but there are a few good reasons to say no. In this article, we discuss everything you need to know about early move-out inspections and our recommendation for conducting them.  

What is a Move Out Inspection? 

A move out inspection is a walk-through you conduct to assess the condition of the property after a tenant has moved out. Its purpose is twofold: Firstly, it gives you a chance to assess the property and plan the necessary repairs before the next tenant moves in; secondly, it allows you to document damages from the previous tenant, itemize them, and make deductions from their security deposit accordingly. 

What Should You Look for During a Move Out Inspection? 

Landlords conduct a thorough inspection of any unit to be sure they’ve noticed any damages and repaired them for the next tenant. Your primary objective is to identify damage that is beyond what would be expected from normal wear and tear.  

For example, normal wear and tear on your property might include: 

  • Nail holes 
  • Small areas of chipped, fading, or peeling paint 
  • Low batteries in smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors 
  • Loose grouting in bathrooms 
  • Slight discoloration of flooring or carpet 
  • General wear of kitchen appliances  

On the other hand, real damage decreases the property’s value substantially, inhibits it from being used as intended, and results from neglect or deliberate abuse. This kind of damage warrants deductions from the security deposit and includes: 

  • Large or noticeable stains or burns on the carpet  
  • Chipped or dented flooring 
  • Appliances dented or damaged beyond usable 
  • Doors or windows broken  
  • Clogged toilets and sinks due to improper use 
  • Large holes in the wall 
  • Excessive dirtiness or stubborn odors 

How Long Do Property Inspections Take? 

A thorough move-out inspection should take several hours of diligent work. It’s important to identify and document damages carefully, in case a tenant should sue you over their deposit. You should have no problem proving to a judge that your deductions were justified if your inspection was thorough. 

My Tenant Asked Me to Complete Their Move Out Inspection Early. Should I Do It? 

Now that you know more about move-out inspections, let’s return to the question at hand. Should you offer early move-out inspections to tenants who ask for them? 

We recommend avoiding early inspections. Why? If you conduct a move-out inspection while a tenant is still living in the unit, it’s likely that their belongings, moving boxes, or presence will interfere with the thoroughness of your inspection. It’s easy for boxes or belongings to obscure areas of damage, and it’s even easier for an anxious tenant to distract you from the task at hand. That’s why it’s best to politely, but decisively, refuse when a tenant asks for an early inspection. 

It’s even more crucial that you never refund a tenant’s security deposit until you’ve conducted the full move-out inspection—after they’ve left. You don’t want to discover new damage after you conducted the early inspection. Instead, wait until after the tenant has completely moved out to conduct the inspection, and refund the deposit after you’ve written up a thorough, itemized list of damages. Be sure to check your state’s laws to find out the number of days you’re allotted to do so (usually around 20 to 30 after the lease’s termination). 

What Should You Do Instead? 

Your tenant may have a valid reason to want to be present during the move-out inspection. Maybe there was existing damage to the property when they moved in, and they want to be sure that they aren’t charged unfairly for this damage. What can you do for them? 

Consider offering to conduct a “preliminary move-out” walk through. This would involve walking through the various parts/rooms of the property, discussing prior damages, and consulting any move-in checklist your tenant filled in. This way, they have some idea of what they’ll be charged for and can feel more confident that you will fairly assess the property’s condition. You can also provide tenants with a list of small repairs or cleaning tasks they can complete before moving out to ensure they receive the maximum deposit amount back (e.g., filling in nail holes, repainting areas, etc.). 

Here’s a sample notice you might send to a tenant who requests a preliminary move-out walkthrough: 

Dear [Tenant’s name], 

In preparation for your move-out on [Date], we are happy to set up a preliminary move-out walk through with you. While this will not be an official or final inspection to assess damages, we understand you wish to complete a move-out checklist while [Landlord, Agent, or Employee’s name] walks through the property and conducts a preliminary evaluation of its condition and any damages. 

Your preliminary move-out inspection date is scheduled for [Date] at [Time] and is estimated to take approximately [Duration]. 

Please note that a final move-out inspection will also take place after all your belongings have been removed from the premises. Once this inspection is finished, you will receive an itemized list of deductions from your security deposit along with any remaining funds by [Date], mailed to your forwarding address at [Address]. 

Warm Regards, 

[Landlord or Property Management Company’s Name] 

For Tenants: Do You Have to Be Present for An Apartment Inspection? 

If you’re a tenant, you might be wondering: Do you have to be present for an apartment inspection? Unfortunately, you usually cannot be present at a final move-out inspection that your landlord uses to determine deductions from your security deposit. It’s difficult for your landlord to fairly assess damages to the property if you aren’t fully moved out. 

However, if you want to talk to your landlord about your unit’s condition or remind them of existing damages, you may ask to schedule a preliminary move-out inspection. It’s a good idea to be present for this inspection, as you and your landlord will walk through the property together and discuss what, if anything, will likely be deducted from your deposit. You can also use this time to provide your landlord with your forwarding address and find out within how many days you can expect to receive your refund. 

If you think that funds were wrongly deducted from your deposit, you can take legal action. You should: 

  • First, send your landlord a letter demanding an itemized list of damages and costs, if they haven’t provided you one already. 
  • If you believe funds were deducted unfairly based on the itemized list, send your landlord another letter explaining why you believe so. Be sure to cite the lease (if applicable) and reference your state’s security deposit law to explain why you should have been refunded more. 
  • If your landlord does not refund you, you can sue them in small claims court for the owed funds. You won’t need a lawyer, and it doesn’t cost much to file a claim. These cases are usually simple and quick as long as you have documented evidence and sufficient proof that the funds you claim are rightfully yours (e.g., dated pictures/videos of the property, a copy of the lease, the relevant statutes, etc.). 

Conclusion 

Hopefully, this article has explained why forgoing a final move-out inspection in favor of an early one is a bad idea. It’s in your best interests as a landlord to be transparent with your tenants but to maintain a fair inspection policy while doing so. 

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