When a tenant moves into an apartment unit, they are required to pay a security deposit to the landlord. This is cash that the landlord may use to fix up the apartment if the tenant has caused any damage beyond normal wear and tear.
The only way to know if there has been damage is to compare the apartment’s condition at the time the tenant took it over to the apartment’s condition at the end of the lease. For this reason, landlords and tenants schedule an inspection of the property at, or just before, the tenant moves in (a move-in inspection).
By completing a move-in inspection, landlords and tenants can agree on the apartment’s condition when the tenant first moves in. Then, they will schedule a second inspection when the tenant is moving out (a move-out inspection). This information is compared to the details provided in the move-in inspection, and the landlord determines how much damage, if any, the tenant caused. This comparison is often the grounds for security deposit deductions.
Who Should be Present During the Inspections?
If feasible, the landlord and tenant should walk the unit together through the move-in and move-out inspections. During each review, both parties should document everything in the unit, from appliances to walls to carpet condition. The landlord and tenant should both sign and keep copies of the checklist to prevent later disagreements regarding the return of the security deposit.
The landlord and tenant should take photographs or videos of the unit when moving in and out to prove it’s either a clean, damage-free space or one with problems.
Goal of the Move-Out Inspection
The immediate goal of a move-out inspection is so that a landlord can verify the state of the property before the tenant moves out. It allows the landlord to determine if damage has been done to the unit while the renter lives there. If there is damage, the landlord will deduct the cost to make repairs from the security deposit. If the cost to fix the damage is above the value of the deposit, the tenant will need to make up that sum before they move out.
What’s Normal Wear and Tear?
Undoubtedly, some negative changes to the apartment will be seen during the move-out inspection. The tenant is responsible for the repair cost if this is truly damaged. However, the tenant is not responsible for “normal wear and tear.” The security deposit must be fully refunded if there is no property damage beyond normal wear and tear.
Normal wear and tear can be hard to define, and the law varies by state. Normal wear and tear include the type of wear that would occur no matter who lived in the space. Normal wear and tear is light damage that occurs gradually over time and doesn’t affect the use of the apartment or the appliances – it’s just unpleasant to look at. This includes spots on the carpet (but not stains), a dull shower or tub, and minor scratches on floors.
Carpet is a frequent subject of dispute between landlord and tenant. Experts estimate that carpet will typically last around three to five years in a household of two to four people. So if the tenant rents a newly carpeted place for five years and the carpet needs to be replaced when they move out, this is considered normal wear and tear. Landlords cannot fix up their rental property at the tenant’s expense.
Examples of What Tenants Must Fix or Pay For
Examples may include:
- Broken windows or torn screens
- Broken or non-working appliances, such as in the kitchen, the bathroom, or light fixtures
- Excessively scratched or gouged wood, tile, or vinyl floors
- Carpet with stains or burn marks
- Pet stains and odors
- Custom wall coverings such as paint or wallpaper
- Holes in the walls greater in size than what would be needed to hang a picture
- Unapproved renovations
- Excessive filth
Timing and Scheduling a Move-Out Inspection
Although sometimes the move-out inspection is conducted after the tenant leaves, and any damage is compensated for from the security deposit, for the tenant’s sake, it is preferable to make the move-out assessment before the tenant’s departure.
That way, the landlord can present the tenant with a list of the repairs that need to be made and the deductions that will be taken from their security deposit if reparations are not made before the renter leaves. This allows the tenant to make repairs themself before moving out, perhaps at less cost than the landlord wants to charge. This also allows the tenant to dispute the charges.
The precise time when this inspection can take place will differ depending on state regulations. In some locations, the inspection must occur on the date of the tenant’s departure or within two to three days. One advantage to the landlord of having the inspection occur after the tenant has left is that all of the tenant’s belongings will be gone, and no damage can be hidden. The landlord will easily spot any problems.
In other states, a move-out inspection can be accomplished anywhere from three days to two weeks before the tenant moves out. This is done to allow the tenant to make any reparations to the unit before they leave so that they can get their full security deposit back.
Not all states require a move-out inspection. You should review your state’s security deposit regulations to determine if one is needed. For instance, landlords in Alabama and Colorado are not required to perform a move-out inspection.
In states where a move-out inspection is required by law, the landlord cannot complete a surprise inspection. The landlord must inform the tenant when the review will happen. The landlord must serve the tenant with written notice of this inspection, informing the tenant of their right to be present and the date and time the inspection will occur.
Benefits to the Landlord of Move-Out Inspections
- Determine repair costs: The move-out inspection permits a landlord to determine the repairs needed and estimate the expense
- Avoid disputes: Making the tenant aware of the potential deductions that will be taken from their security deposit can help stop disputes. The tenant will understand what to expect and not be surprised by the deductions
- Tenant fixes damages: Inspecting before a tenant moves out may mean that the tenant will make the repairs, removing that item from the landlord’s chores
- Properly deal with security deposits: knowing how much to return and how much to retain
Benefits to the Tenant of Move-Out Inspections
- The opportunity to fix the damage: A move-out inspection allows a tenant to repair damages they might not have recognized existed and to pay for the repairs himself to control the expense (for example, by doing the work on their own)
- Get full security deposit returned: If the tenant repairs the damages the landlord has noted before moving out, the tenant will likely have their full security deposit returned
- Avoid disputes: The move-out inspection notifies the tenant of the deductions that will be taken from the tenant’s security deposit so that the tenant is not shocked when they do not receive the full security deposit back the opportunity to part ways with the landlord on good terms in case the tenant needs a positive reference when seeking another property to rent
Do I Need a Lawyer?
Because landlord-tenant laws differ by state, and in some cases, even by county, a local landlord-tenant lawyer is in the best position to advise you of applicable housing regulations and notify you of more specific move-in move-out procedures.