How to Keep the Move-Out Process Smooth and Easy

It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday’s Tenant

Some overstuffed moving boxes.When a tenant decides to leave, it’s never an easy time to be a property owner. There’s a lot to do after the tenant is gone — but there’s also a lot to do as the tenant is leaving, as well. At Royal Rose Properties, we have a well-established process for getting a tenant from Move-Out Notice’ to ‘former tenant’ as smoothly as possible.

In Your Lease
Long before your tenant is turning in their move-out notice, you should have their signature on a lease. That lease should say, somewhere within it, something to the effect of “Company Name has the right to advertise and show the property during the last 30 days of your lease.”

Now tenants can make it difficult to arrange showings and even deter prospects when you can show a property, so you may want to proactively address these two issues by 1) including a default showing schedule in your lease (ours has a weekday morning, afternoon, evening and 10am to 4pm on Saturday) and 2) offer an incentive to keep the property looking nice and be hospitable for showings (we offer $50 if we sign a prospect before they move out).

The Move-Out Action Letter
The first thing we do when we hear that a tenant is moving out is send them a letter that details exactly what we expect of them. That includes a comprehensive list of what condition we expect all of the appliances, surfaces, hardware, and other parts of the residence to be in, and everything else they need to do in order to get a full refund on their security deposit. We remind them (it’s stated in our lease) that we will not meet them for a Move-Out Inspection – no matter how hard you try to be neutral and avoid confrontations, some tenants will make an ugly scene and try to get you to agree that they are not responsible for damages. After being physically threatened a couple of times, we decided the smarter approach was to avoid it all together.

The Pre Move-Out Inspection
Our lease also allows us to inspect a property upon receiving a Move-Out Notice. We do this mainly so that we know what will need to be repaired. Properties in really bad shape we won’t start advertising or showing. We offer this to the tenant as a chance for us to inform them of what repairs we’ll expect – so they can make the repairs to get their full security deposit returned. Maybe because they still consider it their home, we don’t have confrontation issues when we do these. Of course, we also video these!

The Resources List
While we don’t automatically provide a list to resources to all tenants, we do have a fairly comprehensive list of move-out help, from the cheapest place in each county to rent a dumpster to a trustworthy place to rent a moving van. We have contacts with cleaning agencies, animal shelters, and even a day care should they need a place to put their child while they do the heavy lifting. Giving the tenants a service like this will help them think of you positively, and thus avoid getting a negative review from a former tenant on Angie’s List, Yelp or what have you.

Returning the Keys
This is an important step to legally transfer possession back to the landlord. The trick is getting the keys back without getting roped into any type of inspection or discussion of repair issues with the tenant! So, don’t meet the tenant at the property if you can avoid it. Have them drop the keys off at your office, mail them or have them leave them on the kitchen counter (make sure you have a spare key for access!). If you have them leave keys on the kitchen counter try to get an email or text from them confirming they are giving you possession back.

Returning the Security Deposit
Michigan gives a landlord 30 days to return a tenant’s security deposit. Use them wisely. You rarely, if ever, want to give a tenant the security deposit on the day of their move-out. The law gives you 30 days so you can do a thorough inspection of the property for damages and get proper estimates from contractors.

Pitfalls to Avoid
There are all kinds of issues tenants can cause you by not following the legal steps during a move-out and some tenants deliberately play games or try to set a landlord up for a lawsuit. The best way to avoid these is to:

1) Have well written Move-Out language in your lease. Michigan for example, requires certain information in a lease alerting a tenant of what they have to legally do. This language must be bolded and larger than the rest of the lease type.
2) A well thought out system is just as important. Put it in writing and be sure to follow it with few exceptions. We’ve found out the hard way that when we stray from our system it usually bites us in the you-know-what.
3) Communication & Documentation are imperative to avoid legal issues. We’ve had tenants try to set us up and have so far avoided any major legal issues due to our level of documentation.
4) Have a very good attorney available to step in when things go south or start getting “weird”. If you do this long enough you get a “sixth sense” when tenants start acting strangely – trust it and take appropriate action.

Overall, remember the old saying that ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’!

Posted in: 1. Property Owner Blog Posts, Managing Rentals

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