With Los Angeles’ bitter cold winter giving way to the spring thaw, the warmer weather and longer days mark the beginning of rental shopping and moving season. Handling the departure of a tenant and preparing for the arrival of a new one requires a little more effort than cashing your rent checks. Grab a seat and let down your hair like Rachael Leigh Cook at the end of She’s All That, it’s time to understand why properly conducting a thorough property inspection for departing and arriving tenants will help avoid security deposit disputes.
Notifying the Tenant of the Right to An Initial Move-Out Inspection
Landlords are required to notify their tenants of their right to an inspection of the premises prior to their departure. The law requires that such a notice be sent to the tenant “within a reasonable time” after either party notified the other of the intention to terminate the tenancy. If the tenant does not respond to the notice, the landlord is free of any further obligation. However, if the tenant wishes to have one, the landlord must comply with the request.
Scheduling and Conducting the Move-Out Inspection
If a move-out inspection is requested, one must be held in the final two weeks of the tenancy. The parties should schedule the inspection at a mutually convenient time, but a landlord must still serve a 48 hour notice of intent to enter the premises. Furthermore, a tenant has the right to be present during the walkthrough. The purpose of the inspection is for the landlord to identify to the tenant what repairs or cleanings will result in security deposit deductions, thus providing the tenant with an opportunity to make those repairs on their own to avoid the deduction. The landlord must provide a written list of those requirements and leave a copy with the tenant.
The typical areas landlords should be mindful of include floors, walls, ceilings, doors, windows, screens, shades/blinds, closets, and various kitchen and light fixtures. Inspect all of these areas in every room, bathroom, and hallway on the premises. Also inspect the water heater, smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, thermostats, washer and dryers, heating and air conditioning units, parking areas, and decks and patios. It would be wise to take photos during this inspection. If the tenant is present, have them sign the checklist.
During a final inspection conducted after the tenant has vacated the premises, the landlord will have the opportunity to see what repairs and cleanings were made by the tenant. If the tenant made all the repairs, great! However, if the tenant failed to make the identified repairs, the costs of those repairs can be deducted. If damage was obstructed by the tenant’s furnishings or belonging during the initial inspection, the costs of those damages may also be deducted from the security. Remember to ask the tenant for a forwarding address to send them the accounting of your deductions, itemized with receipts, along with any remaining funds, within 21 days of the departure.
Conducting a Move-In Inspection Prior to Arrival of A New Tenant
Once you have screened and approved a new tenant, landlords should perform the same type of inspection notating the condition of the property. Conducting this inspection won’t be your raison d’être, but should always be performed prior to a new tenant’s arrival. Again, photos showing the condition of the entire unit would be great. Having this information is critical should a security deposit dispute arise following the termination of this tenancy.