By Cassandre Juste
Recently, a judge in Alberta, Canada ruled against three tenants who destroyed their rental home and then took the landlord to court over the cost of repairs. One of the tenants went as far as to bring his small dog into court with him to try to prove that such a small animal could have destroyed the carpet.
Despite the tenants’ attempt with the pint-sized pup, the judge ordered the tenants to pay over $19,000 for repairs and compensation for rent the landlord lost during the legal battle.
Despite winning in court, the landlord still has to pay for the repairs out of his own pocket, and then try to collect the judgment against the tenants. And even this resolution (fruitless as it often is for the landlord) remains better than many, as landlords often lose in court due to poor record-keeping. Good records, along with several other best-practices, can help landlords avoid having to take tenants to court for damages at all. If a legal battle does begin, landlords can breathe a little bit easier knowing that they have the proper documentation to support their claims.
Requiring a move-in inspection with the tenant is an easy and effective way to avoid having a tenant wreck the rental property. When the tenant knows the unit will be inspected at move-out, and they will be held accountable for any difference in condition, tenants are much more likely to take care of the property.
In some states and provinces, move-in and move-out inspections are mandatory and landlords who do not comply may not be able to deduct the cost of repairs from the tenants’ security deposit. Even when inspections are not legally mandated, it is still an excellent way to avoid disputes and misunderstandings with tenants. The best way to conduct inspections is in person alongside the tenants, so both parties agree and sign off on the condition of the property at the beginning of the tenancy and once again at the end. Both inspections should be performed when the property is vacant.
During inspections, documentation is key. Take pictures of the damage at move-in and move out for record keeping purposes. It is also essential to have a Move-In/Move-Out Checklist, that both parties sign. This will allow the landlord to document the condition of the rental at move-in and compare it to the condition of the property when it is time for the tenant to move-out. The documentation along with the pictures will serve as proof of any changes that have occurred during the tenant’s term.
The inspection report will not only note the condition of such things as walls, ceilings, windows, floors and carpets, appliances, and plumbing fixtures, but also serves to document their inclusion in the property and the landlord’s ownership. All pictures taken should be attached to each inspection report. Landlords may also want to make a note of the lack of odors, especially if the tenant is moving in with a pet or if the landlord is trying to enforce a non-smoking policy. Both inspections should cover all the same items within the unit and after each inspection, the tenant should receive a copy of the checklist/condition inspection report.
Usually, tenants are responsible for cleaning the rental property as well so landlords can give the tenant a Move-Out Cleaning Guide at the initial inspection, to let them know what will be expected of them upon move-out. This should also be given in the weeks leading up to move-out, and will avoid any miscommunication regarding the original state of the property compared to its condition at move-out. Inspection reports can also serve as a great defense if a tenant raises maintenance concerns if faced with eviction or attempts to collect unpaid rent.