Move-in or check-in inspections are so important on so many levels for both sides of a rental property negotiation. There’s a lot that goes in to them and a lot you must know prior to signing a contract.
We know you’ve read about these terms or heard about them while talking to us or another manager, and you probably have a few questions. That’s what we’re here for!
As a tenant, you need to be sure that a check-in inspection is done, and done thoroughly before you move into a property, for your own protection. Though typically the property manager will prepare a check-in inspection, this isn’t always the case. If you aren’t given a copy of the check-in inspection, make sure to prepare one yourself. If you’re a landlord without a property manager, the same advice holds true—make sure to prepare, and share, a check-in inspection with the tenant.
So why is this so important for both the landlord and the tenant? It defines clearly the condition of the property at the beginning of the tenancy and reduces disputes about what damage was done during the tenancy that the tenant may or may not be held liable for remedying at the end of the lease.
The standard Northern Virginia lease requires that the inspection and report be done within five days of lease commencement. A landlord should, of course, perform the inspection prior to the tenant moving in. The tenant then has an opportunity to provide any additional comments to the landlord in writing within five days of receipt of the inspection or lease commencement date, whichever is later. If you’re a tenant and note additional damage that has not been put in the report, make sure to communicate it in writing to the landlord right away. All damage should be reported, even if it’s not something that needs to be fixed, like a burn on a countertop.
How detailed should the report be?
This is answered by how much you want to protect yourself. Yes, it’s tedious to go through the interior and exterior of the property room-by-room, typically taking up to two hours to complete a comprehensive check-in inspection. However, it’s definitely worth your time to do it.
What should be noted?
Everything that can be considered damage: stains on carpets, burns on the countertop, extensive nail holes, whether the property has been freshly painted, cuts or chips in tile, condition of the carpeting, damaged doors, scratches on hardwood floors, everything and anything else you see. Make sure to note the good condition as well as the problems.
Organize it in a logical manner. Always assume that it’s going to be a document that will need to be presented in court; you want it to look professional. It’s best to start with the property’s exterior—note the condition of the siding, brick, windows, trim, walkways, driveway, lawn, shrubs, doors, chimney, lights, deck(s), patio(s), gutters, shed, hose bibs, etc. If there is any damage, make a note of it; otherwise, mark it as clean and functioning. If you have any outdoor furniture, satellites, or other removable objects, make note of them so you do not erroneously attribute their presence to the tenants at lease-end. By the same token, it’s generally not recommended to leave personal items on the property you’re renting.
The interior inspection will focus on four major areas: Kitchen, Bathroom(s), Rooms (bedrooms, living, rec, etc.), and Utility. Ideally, the home will have just been cleaned, so make sure to note each item within each room as such. Generally, the condition of the floors/carpets, walls/trim, lights/outlets, doors/windows and window treatments will be addressed. Is the whole house painted white but one bedroom is blue? Put it in the report. Is there a stain on the carpet in the rec room? Find a reference point and note the stain in relation to the reference point. How about a broken slat on the blinds, nick in the wall, missing doorstop, scratch on the hardwood—note it.
The kitchen and bathrooms will require a greater amount of detail. In addition to the structure of the room, you will need to check that all drains are running clear, all appliances are properly functioning, cabinets are sturdy (and empty), and drawers open smoothly. If there is a hairline crack in the tile, make a note.
In your utility rooms, pay special attention to the washer/dryer, furnace/boiler, water heater, floor drains, and any items left behind on storage shelves. Is the furnace filter clean, and the size written clearly in a Sharpie on the exterior? Open the washer door and make sure the area around the rim is clean (this often gets missed by cleaners), and that the lint trap is clear. If you’ve left any boxes, cleaning supplies, extra filters, etc., make a note on the report—but the tenants should be able to assume it’s things that they can use. Be clear if that is not the case.
The best way to support all the hard work you put into your written report is by taking photos! We can’t stress this enough. There should be photos of each room and inside major appliances (i.e., the refrigerator and oven). You absolutely want to take photos of damages, but don’t forget to get a few general photos of each room so you have a reference point of what color the walls were, if there were stains on the carpet, what the window treatments looked like, etc.
Provide a Cohesive, Thorough Report
It’s best to integrate everything together: report, photos, videos (if you can), and signatures. The easiest way to do that is through an online platform. At Peake Management, Northern Virginia’s top property management firm, we use a sophisticated system designed for property managers and a massive portfolio, but if you are a landlord with just one rental, Pendo offers a fantastic free solution for up to one rental. While we do not have direct experience with it, they have outstanding reviews and offer a free trial (for paid users). If you prefer the tried and true paper inspection report, there are countless report templates available through a quick Google search.
Whatever medium you choose, be thorough in your reporting and you will thank yourself later!