“It was like that when I moved in!” How many times have you heard these words from the mouths of residents? If you’re like most property managers, the answer is: more times than you care to remember. While disagreements between you and your resident regarding responsibility for damages and security deposits do occur, there a few things you can do to safeguard your interests as a property manager. Here’s what you need to know:
Get on the Same Page
When a resident signs a lease agreement, he’s not just agreeing to pay you rent to live there. He’s also agreeing to leave the property in the same condition — aside from normal wear and tear — as when he first moved in. Unfortunately, disputes invariably occur when it comes to joint understanding of terms like “same condition” and “normal wear and tear.”
So how can you get on the same page? The answer is simple: prior to move-in day, take time to fully document the condition of the residence in both writing and with photographs. This means looking for things both big and small. While certain items are easy to spot, others are less obvious without the documentation to back it up. A comprehensive inspection can also help you gauge whether any unauthorized alterations were made to the unit, along with protecting you from later allegations of health and safety issues. For example: if a resident later complains about mold when they moved in, you have written and photographic evidence showing a mold-free unit, this can help disprove this claim.
Best Practice for Move-In Inspections
Adequately documenting a rental unit is anything but “going through the motions.” Rather, the process involves conducting a thorough, top-down assessment of the condition of all interior and exterior spaces related to the apartment. This means looking at everything from the ceiling to the floor along with everything in between, noting all holes, dents and scratches to walls, lights, mirrors, fixtures and appliances. Use a checklist to ensure that you cover all areas, and bring your camera to back up your findings.
Conduct this walk-through before your resident takes residence in order to catch any damages which occur on move-in day. Also, give residents equal opportunity to conduct an inspection of their own. This is not only a show of good faith, but also further ensure that you’re in agreement regarding the state of the unit. Remember: the more thorough your documentation is at this time, the more protected you are against opportunistic client claims in the future.
A Critical Final Step
One final step when conducting your property evaluation? Make sure that every resident reads, signs and dates the checklist prior to moving in. Also, make sure he has a copy of the documentation. (Don’t just settle for a paper copy; email a copy of the signed document to provide a paper trail.) If a security deposit dispute does occur, the documentation can help settle the issue.
While resident complaints are a fact of life for property managers, there are ways to mitigate these conflicts and maintain positive resident-property manager relations. At the heart of the best solutions, in many cases? Clear and consistent communications. Implementing a pre-move-in documentation process is an effective way to head off disputes about unit condition and protect yourself and your property if damage does occur.