Use This Essential Checklist Before Your Tenants Move In

by Lesly Gregory | Published: May 2, 2022

Creating a move-in checklist is one of the most important tasks for landlords. It helps protect both the tenant and the landlord by creating an inventory of the property's condition before anyone moves in. This makes it easier to hold tenants accountable for damages that occur while they're living on your property and prevents any potential disputes between landlords and tenants when the lease is up.

Think of this document as part of your final walk-through of your property before the move-in process begins. It's your last chance to check on your property and take note of the status of everything that's inside it.

While move-in checklists may vary depending on your state or locality, there are a few essential items that should get ignored.

What is a move-in checklist?

A move-in checklist is a document that outlines the condition of a property before a tenant moves in. It protects both the tenant and the landlord by ensuring that any damages already on the property aren't attributed to the tenant and vice versa.

For a tenant, the biggest reason why they'd want a move-in checklist is to protect their security deposit return. Without proof they didn't cause a specific issue within the home, they could end up having to pay for it.

For a landlord, the checklist ensures a new tenant can't claim an issue was already in the home before they moved in when it wasn't.

In order to ensure you and your tenant complete a walk-through to generate a moving checklist like this, make sure this process is part of your lease agreement. Require that you both conduct it within two weeks before the actual moving process begins.

You can prove damages with a checklist and photos

Benefits of using a move-in checklist

Aside from making sure you attribute any damages to the right source, a move-in checklist helps maintain the property. Damages aren't left unattended because you take an inventory before moving day. New tenants will also feel comfortable that you're the type of landlord who takes property maintenance seriously.

Catching issues in time to plan ahead

As you're doing your walk-through of your property and documenting issues for your checklist, you may notice there are repairs that should get done prior to someone new moving in. These needed repairs can now get done so your tenant won't have any reason to complain.

At this stage, you can easily catch and fix things like burnt-out light bulbs and expired smoke detectors. You can complete any spot-cleaning as necessary, and identify items, though small, that may still need your attention.

Conducting the walk-through two weeks out also gives you time to update your checklist before your tenant signs it.

Preventing damage

A move-in checklist can help to prevent damage to a rental property by ensuring the tenant knows you know what's really going on in the property. Make sure your checklist includes as many details as possible so tenants can't try to pass off damages they cause as having already been there.

Minimizing disputes

If a tenant and landlord have a dispute about the condition of the property at the time of the walk-through, having a move-in checklist can help to clarify any disagreements. You can even add a comments section to the actual checklist to document the disagreement. Just make sure to specify the tenant's comments versus yours.

This checklist is also especially helpful when it comes to creating a move-out checklist. Before letting an old tenant go and bringing in a new tenant, take another walk-through of your property and create a move-out checklist. Document damages the same way you did initially, and then, compare the state of property from the start of the lease agreement to its end. The evidence of the two documents will make it hard for the tenant to argue when you take enough money from their security deposit to cover repairs.

Ensuring proper use of the security deposit

If both the tenant and the landlord are aware of all the damage that existed within the property before moving in, it's much easier to assess what happened during occupancy. This makes it easier to know what repair costs should really come out of the security deposit. It gives tenants less wiggle room to dispute the use of their security deposit when being charged for damages beyond normal wear and tear.

Damages in this area can include actual damage to the property, but also leaving the home in a state of disrepair. For example, if the home was spotless when the tenant moved in, but you're now spending money on excess trash removal, the security deposit can cover that.

Be thorough when going through your checklist.

Creating your move-in checklist

When creating your move-in checklist, it's important to tailor it to your specific property. For example, if your property has a garage, make sure to include checking the functionality of your garage door openers on your checklist. If your rental has a sprinkler system in the yard, you'll need to test that, too.

Aside from the special features your rental home may have, this is how a general move-in checklist for a landlord should look.

  • Start with a blank document so you can customize it to your rental property. Make sure the actual address is at the top, along with the date you've conducted the walk-through.
  • Outline the condition of the property in general terms. Start with the exterior and move on inside the home. Take note of the general condition, including any wear and tear. Look closely at walls, driveways, the roof and the yard. You'll want to document any cracks or visible issues.
  • Get specific and list any damages next. Include both structural and cosmetic damage. You'll also want to test everything from each appliance to all the locks. You should even test all electrical outlets to make sure everything is working as it should. Switch on all lights and other essentials in the home, as well. You want your tenant to come into a fully functioning home.
  • At the bottom, leave a space to have both you and your tenants sign and date the document. These signatures prove you're both in agreement with the information on the checklist and have completed your walk-through of the property itself.

Make two copies of the move-in checklist, one for you and one for your tenants. You'll both want a copy should any issues arise. It may also even help your tenant do a few repairs themselves before moving out.

Take detailed photos

How do you record the condition of a rental property?

Since you want to hold tenants accountable for any damages that are their fault, you want to make sure to properly document pre-existing issues. Taking good notes is a solid start, but if you're not clear enough, a tenant could dispute a claim.

For that reason, it's best to record the condition of your property in at least two different ways including:

  • Taking photos
  • Recording a video you talk over
  • Taking additional notes with pen and paper

Combining these methods can not only help you stay organized as you go through your walk-through, but also provide solid proof of the damages you're documenting.

Photos easily back up a written description of damages, while video lets you get a visual as you talk over the recording. Either way, adding visuals to your checklist can make a big difference for both landlords and tenants.

Check everything so you know the status.

Where to look during your move-in inspection

To prep ahead of time and get a move-in checklist complete, you'll have to schedule a move-in inspection. It's best to do this around two weeks before the move-in date in case you need to request time to make some small repairs.

The walk-through should occur with both you and your tenant together, although you are the one generating the checklist. Once complete, let your tenant know what work you'll conduct before moving day, and offer to do a final walk with them prior to them actually moving into the property.

Slowly and carefully go through each room of the home, checking as much as possible. Take strong notes, grab visuals and don't forget to check these specific things throughout the home.

Appliances and utilities

Especially in the kitchen, spend a little time checking all appliances and utilities. Turn on the stove and oven to make sure everything works. If there's a washer and dryer, check those too. Make sure the refrigerator is working properly, along with the dishwasher if there is one.

Beyond the appliances, you also want to check things like the air conditioner, furnace, hot water heater and exhaust fan to ensure they're all in working order. You may also want to snap a picture of the fuse box, just in case.


Aside from turning on and off all hot and cold water faucets to check water flow, you should also take a look around for possible water damage. Especially under the sinks in the kitchen and bathrooms and around the base of toilets. Water damage isn't often an issue a tenant must pay for, but it's something you want to address as quickly as possible to avoid costly repairs.

Leave each faucet on for at least 30 seconds so you can check for clogs in the drains. Water should go down smoothly without puddling in the sink. This is especially true in bathtubs and showers, where there's an increased chance for hair to have clogged things up.

While you're checking faucets, don't forget to flush all the toilets, too. Check for toilet paper clogs or any other issues.

Cracks, holes and chips

Your rental property will show more signs of wear and tear the more it's rented, which is why documenting all the cracks, holes and chips throughout is important. This means looking closely at all counters, walls, floors and ceilings. Note significant marks, rather than every little blemish, to easily distinguish between what's new and what's not once the tenant moves out.

Cabinets and drawers could also suffer from this kind of wear and tear so check their appearance, as well. And, as you open each one, make sure they don't stick or seem crooked. You may only need a screwdriver to tighten things up, but don't want to leave them hanging just in case they warp over time.

These kinds of issues affect every room of your rental, so keep a close eye out.

Doors and windows

Checking doors and windows is a two-fold process. You need to make sure everything locks properly, but should also check for any drafts. Feeling air come in through closed doors or windows means they're not fitting in the frame correctly. You may have to make repairs.

Outlets and light fixtures

In order to easily check all electrical outlets, invest in a voltmeter. This handy device tests the output of each outlet without having to bring along an electronic to plug in and use as the tester each time. An outlet that's working properly will give a reading between 110 and 120 volts. If there's no reading, you may have to get the wiring checked by an electrician.

For light fixtures, switching each one on and off is the best way to test them. It also lets you check for any burnt-out bulbs you may need to pick up a replacement for.

While looking at all the electrical stuff in your rental, make sure to inspect the areas for cracks or burns. This can indicate a malfunction of the outlet or switch that you should address before moving day.

Professional movers

Talking to your tenant about hiring professional movers

As your walking through with your tenant, noting all existing damage, it's a great time to talk to them about preventing additional issues. They may want to cut moving expenses and manage a DIY move themselves, but this can increase the risk of damage. Carrying in their own moving boxes and maneuvering through a new location they're not familiar with yet, can lead to wall dings and floor scratches.

Looking into moving companies that have their own moving truck and essential supplies can not only make the move easier for your new tenant but can also preserve the state of the property after the checklist is complete.

The last thing a tenant should want is to damage their new home on the day they move in, so suggest they hire a moving company, at least for the big things.

The same thing goes if they're out at furniture stores looking for new pieces. Make sure your tenants take extra care when deliveing those large items.

Preparing the property for a new tenant

Introducing a tenant to a new neighborhood via your rental property is a daunting task. Not only are tenants distracted with getting to their move date, but they're also distracted by the needs related to packing. While they're thinking about where to find free boxes and cheap packing supplies, you need to concentrate on the property itself.

Getting it clean, bringing it up to code and assessing all the existing damage are your responsibilities. Even if your tenant walks through the home with you, they're really only thinking about what's necessary to finish packing. That's why it's up to you to create a detailed move-in checklist.

Beyond areas that require spot cleaning and needed repairs, your checklist is one of the many important documents that come with being a landlord. It will help you outline the condition of the property before the tenant moves in, and identify any preexisting damages. It ensures you know what repairs you're responsible for and prevents your tenant from claiming the damage wasn't their fault when it actually was.

Categories: Landlords

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