Guide: Move-Out Inspection

When a tenant moves out, it’s important to assess the condition of the property to ensure your residential real estate is ready for a new tenant. That’s why a move-out inspection is so important. The previous tenant should be held responsible for certain damages to the rental property. Without such an inspection, you could be left with the repair costs—or your new tenants may not be happy with the property when they move in. 

What Is a Move-Out Inspection?

During a move-out inspection, the landlord or property manager examines the rental property for any damage or unauthorized alterations (like a new fence or paint job). The damages you should look for are those caused by abuse or neglect, not the normal wear and tear you can expect from a long- or even short-term tenant. Neglectful damages may include:

  • Cigarette burns
  • Damage to the window coverings
  • Broken light fixtures
  • Stains or chips on the floor covering
  • Broken windows or doors

Normal wear in a rental property includes things like chipped paint, worn carpet, faded tiles, loose grout, or damage to windows or walls as a result of a problem with the foundation. The landlord is responsible for the cost of repairing normal wear and tear; however, the cost of the damages resulting from abuse or neglect can be taken out of the renter’s security deposit. 

You should go into the rental unit with an inspection checklist that reminds you to examine every room and detail in the property. Otherwise, it might be easy to forget to check the insides of the cabinets, the dishwasher, or the air conditioning, particularly if the tenant is with you for the inspection.

This inspection is performed just before or after the tenant moves out. You should have also performed an initial inspection before the tenant’s move-in day to identify existing damages. You can compare the condition of the property then and now with the information from both of these inspections. If you find damages, you’ll provide the tenant with an itemized list of repair costs that will be taken out of the deposit. 

Why Should You Do a Final Inspection?

There are two primary reasons: 

  1. If there is damage to the rental property, you can require the renter to pay for it. 
  2. It’s an opportunity to assess the condition of the property before a new tenant moves in. You may need to make some improvements, including those related to normal wear and tear, between tenants. 

In most cases, you’ll probably want to repair the damage yourself to ensure it’s done professionally. In other cases, if you perform the inspection before the renter leaves, you might offer them the opportunity to do it. 

For example, if they painted the living room yellow, you can request it be painted back to white, otherwise you’ll withhold the cost of painting from the tenant’s security deposit. They may also appreciate the opportunity to remove carpet stains they perhaps weren’t aware of before the inspection. 

When Should You Schedule a Move-Out Inspection?

This depends upon where you live. Some states require move-out inspections while others don’t, and they have varying time frames for when it’s allowed. In Washington D.C., for example, “The owner may inspect the dwelling unit within three (3) days, excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays, before or after the termination of the tenancy”, and “The owner shall notify the tenant in writing, at least 10 days before the inspection, of the time and date of the inspection.”

In Virginia, the landlord/property manager has to notify the tenant about the move-out inspection within five days of the move-out notice; the inspection should occur no more than three days before the move-out date. In Maryland, inspections are required and must occur within five days before or after the tenant moves out. 

Potential Inspection Mistakes to Watch Out For

Failing to perform a pre-move out inspection is definitely a mistake. If you return the tenant’s security deposit before checking for damage, you may be stuck with hundreds or thousands of dollars in repair costs that should have been the renter’s responsibility.

However, there are a couple of pitfalls to watch out for during an inspection, too:

Woman in an empty apartment conducting move-out inspection
The mid adult woman stands and looks around the living room of her new house as she makes plans.

Promising the Tenant You’ll Return the Full Security Deposit

Even great tenants who communicate with you about issues and pay rent on time may still inflict damage on a rental property. Don’t assume that your good relationship means there will be no damage when the lease ends. Making a promise like that, even a verbal one, can create problems later on if you need to withhold some of the security deposit. 

Inviting the Tenant to Do the Final Walkthrough With You

Many state laws require the tenants to be notified of the inspection, and they may be allowed to accompany you. While it’s not necessarily a bad thing, you might not want to encourage it. The tenant’s presence can add extra pressure to the process, or they may make an effort to conceal some damage. You may end up conducting a hasty inspection that doesn’t reveal everything you need to know. 

Failing to Communicate With the Renter

State laws dictate how much notice you’re required to give the tenant about the final inspection, the time frame in which you’re permitted to do the inspection, and how much time you have to return the security deposit. Written notice is typically required for many steps along the way. Make sure you understand all landlord-tenant laws and security deposit laws in your state.

Conclusion

Move-out inspections aren’t necessarily as straight-forward as they may seem. They require awareness of state laws and careful organization and attention to detail. It’s one reason many landlords rely on a property management service to help them with their investment real estate. 

For years, Nomadic Real Estate has been helping Washington D.C. area landlords improve their ROI by taking care of marketing, contracts, rent collection, move-out inspections, and so much more. If you have questions about move-out inspections and other property management concerns, contact us.

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