Landlords have a limited amount of time to catch damage from an exiting tenant before the new tenant moves in. Those landlords lucky enough to collect security deposits have strict time limitations for discovering damage to the property. Tenants, unfortunately, tend to hide the damage, so the onus is on landlords to discover what isn’t obvious.
Landlords must conduct a move-in inspection and complete a written move-in condition report in order to prove any damage caused by that tenant. Without the report, it may be impossible to collect against the tenant. On the other hand, if the condition report is signed by the tenant, it will be difficult for the tenant to deny causing the damage.
Maintain good communication with tenants so they are not afraid to report damage when it happens. Tenants don’t report damage out of fear of eviction or of being gouged on the cost of repairs. Trust can fix that disconnect.
Prohibit tenant retrofits and repairs in the tenancy agreement. Tenants who attempt to hide damage by fixing it themselves may do a poor job with the repair, which can increase the landlord’s costs and place future tenants at risk.
Conduct periodic inspections so that damage it detected early on. A few mishaps are expected, but make sure the tenant isn’t making it a habit.
Only conduct a move-out inspection once all the tenant’s furniture and personal items have been removed.
Avoid making promises at the move-out inspection. Don’t return the deposit at the inspection. Allow time to check for hidden damage not obvious at the walk-through. (Tenancy laws provide the maximum time allowed to return the deposit or claim deductions.)
Tenants are only responsible for damage that exceeds normal wear and tear.
Hidden Damages: Follow Your Nose
While there is no way to detail every possible item of hidden damage, there are some common culprits. Many will be obvious if you follow your nose.
If the unit is doused in air fresheners, that’s a red flag. The tenant may have violated the lease with unauthorized pets, cigarette or marijuana smoke, or failed to report water damage, for instance. Unreported repairs like a clogged garbage disposal could be the source of the smell.
Are You Avoiding Me?
Tenants sometimes get in their own way when trying to hide damage. Does something seem off, like window blinds closed at 11:00 am? Does it appear the tenant is blocking access? Did they have the carpet cleaned an hour before the scheduled move-out? Is the tenant trying to rush?
The quickest way to discover any hidden damage is to simply ask tenants to come clean. They are more likely to do so if the landlord doesn’t pass judgement on the tenant. Treat it like it’s a business transaction, not a personal attack.
Something Seems Off
Tenants who cause serious damage may try to repair it themselves. Look for signs of fresh paint, patched holes, retrofits, or patched carpeting. The tenant may have innocently believed that was the best course of action, or there could be more they are hiding. Shoddy repairs might fail during the next tenancy, costing the landlord money. Find out if the tenant hired someone else to do the work, and whether that person was paid.
Check for items that tenants might bring to a new home. Didn’t you have carbon monoxide detectors in the unit? Light bulbs? A microwave?
Don’t Forget Utility Bills
Another hidden item of damage may be in the form of an outstanding utility bill. In some cases, the landlord will be liable for unpaid utility service provided to the rental property. Typically, if the landlord could be liable, the utility provider will allow the landlord to check for any outstanding balance.
What to Watch for When Tenants Move Out
Once the tenant vacates, at a minimum, check for:
Clogged drains. Check the garbage disposal and dishwasher;
Window damage – broken glass, broken locks, painted shut;
Loose deadbolts or handles on doors. Closet doors that don’t operate;
Trash or personal items left in cupboards and drawers;
Damaged or dirty appliances, typically the washing machine or dryer vent;
Broken or missing refrigerator shelves;
Recent repairs to the walls;
Blocked electrical components or retrofitted electrical or water systems;
Clogged furnace filters (unless not the tenants’ responsibility);
Patches on carpet; and,
Trash outside of dumpsters or large items abandoned outside.
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Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.