Why I Never Do Move-out Walk-throughs with Departing Tenants

I recently had a tenant express frustration over the fact that I wouldn’t come meet him to conduct a final move-out walk-through at the rental property. I’ve been moving tenants in and out of Austin rental homes since 1990, and I’ve learned a few lessons in doing so. One is that there is no upside for a landlord in conducting a final walk-through with a tenant. Only bad outcomes can occur.

Namely, the tenant is going to want you to affirm or state that everything looks “ok” and that they’ll get all of their deposit back. Nowhere in Texas Property Code is this sort of “instant accounting” required. You’d be a fool to agree to say something like that, because a lot of possible damage is not discernible on a cursory walk-through.

Just a few examples off the top of my head are fleas that haven’t hatched yet, carpet stains that were scrubbed invisible that morning but will re-appear tomorrow, the dirty A/C filter your HVAC guy could find sucked up into air intake cavity (as I encountered last month), pet odors that are masked at walk-through but which return in a couple of days, the cat hair blanketing the refrigerator coil, and a long list of other possibilities.

Therefore, even if I wanted to, even if the place appeared to be in great condition with no visible problems, there is nothing I could or would say to a tenant with regard to whether the home “passes” inspection or not. The reason the tenant wants the walk-through – to receive assurances – simply can’t and won’t be provided.

And then, as I learned in the old days when I thought it made sense to do a move-out walk through, an argument ensues. So I just don’t go there anymore.

To better and more fully see my position, there are a few things one must understand.

First, as a Property Manager and Agent, I work for and represent property owners, not tenants. I therefore have a fiduciary duty to protect the interests of my owners by not committing errors in judgment that increase the owner’s legal exposure and potential liability.

Second, Landlords, as a business class, are sued more than any other type of defendant in small claims courts in America. Most of these lawsuits are about deposits and deductions that were made after move-out. Knowing that, a prudent landlord will always operate from a careful defensive position, remaining fair to the tenant, but not accommodating risky requests such as personal move-out walk-throughs.

The best defense against lawsuits is a well documented  accounting of what the specific deductions were and why the deductions were fair and justifiable.

The best way to end up with that type of documented paper trail, which can easily be handed to a JP Court Judge as evidence, is to employ a consistent and static turnover process that removes as many variables as possible. Of the many different variables a landlord might have to contend with in defending legitimate deposit deductions for damages and/or cleaning, the very worst and most problematic ones are the “He said, She said” type, where the landlord is placed in a position of having to refute things that in fact were never said, or that are being mischaracterized by the tenant.

And, finally, the best way to avoid “He said, She said” debates, is to simply not say anything in the first place. Instead, reduce all communications to documented written steps and stages so that when (not if) you do end up in court someday with a tenant, you have a nice packet of printed and easy to understand paper trail evidence that represents all communication that took place.

The very dumbest, worst thing a landlord can do is spend 30 minutes or so walking around a house with a departing tenant, trying to respond to comments/questions from the tenant such as “does everything look ok”? “So, we’ll be getting all of our deposit back”? “When will we be getting the deposit”? And my favorite, “it’s cleaner than when we moved in, so we expect all of our deposit back”.

You have lost control of the entire process as soon as you allow that to happen, and you have to assume that every utterance you make can and will be misconstrued and mischaracterized later if you end up in court. So just don’t go there.

I’ve accounted back the deposit for thousands of tenants in over 20 25 years of owning and managing rental homes in Austin. I’ve been to court a total of three four five times and have prevailed 100% each time. No tenant has ever convinced a judge that I’ve ever done anything wrong. My process works for me and it protects my owners.

A Well Documented Turnover Process
The turnover process begins at the moment written notice to vacate is received from or provided to a tenant. Instantly, upon receiving a move-out notice, I mail to our tenants a two page set of instructions documenting everything they need to know and do in order to have a successful departure and deposit refund.
Move-out Acknowledgment and Instructions

This sets expectations and clarifies for the tenant what was agreed to in the lease agreement and the process that will be followed.

After the tenant’s departure, I walk through the vacant property and check it out. Then I have a 150+ point preventative maintenance checklist that will be conducted and which will reveal problems or issues not readily apparent during a cursory walk-through. Only after this full and thorough evaluation of the property can a final assessment be made as to whether or not tenant damages exist that will be charged to the tenant deposit.

Conclusion: You control the process, not the tenant. Don’t have casual conversations about the deposit or condition of the property. Don’t attend a final walk-through. The tenant is free to take hundreds of digital photos, videotape, etc. if they want to document the final condition. You don’t need to be there. Keep everything in writing, stick to the process and don’t subject yourself to exposure or risk that Texas Property Code does not require of you.

Finally, be fair with the deposit, don’t be greedy or heavy handed. Be firm but fair. Remember you might end up in court defending yourself, and judges do give the benefit of doubt to tenants. Don’t be an idiot and get dragged into court over something that could have been avoided had you not been petty or greedy. For me, personally, I’ve adopted the policy of grading move-outs on a A, B, C, D, F scale. If a tenant does almost a perfect job on move-out, equivilent to a “93% Good”, I call that an “A” (using the 90-100 = A scale). Tenants who earn an “A”, through an honest effort, get 100% of their deposit back. I’m not going to pick a fight over a $65 worth of nit picking stuff. That’s stupid. Be a smart landlord or Property Manager, be fair.

118 thoughts on “Why I Never Do Move-out Walk-throughs with Departing Tenants”

  1. i just ran this articel though words spellig check… it turnd up 5 mis-speled words…

    soon as i have the time.. i’ll run the rest of steves blogs… i shudder at wehat might come up…

  2. Though I agree that a walk-through should never be about confirming the return of a deposit, I have to disagree that they are not important enough to push through. Instate a policy about discussing the deposit during the walk-though if you must.

    The walk through should not be a time for the tenant to get the landlord’s approval. It should be a time to 1) discuss any problems that have not yet been addressed or have been discovered during cleaning and 2) for the landlord to point out to the tenant anything that the latter might have missed but would drain the deposit. That is, it’s a final chance to bring it up to the landlord’s standards. What is very obvious to you as a landlord, a tenant might be completely oblivious to.

    In my state, CA, (and my previous state in New England), a final walk-through is a legal requirement.

  3. > That is, it’s a final chance to bring it up to the landlord’s standards.

    Hi Roxanne, unfortunately I can say without reservation that such an accommodation would result in nothing but trouble for a landlord. It’s human nature to debate and argue. A 2nd chance would turn into a third, and this would be a no-win for the landlord.

    Most of the failed move-outs I see are not even close calls either. They are home that have obviously received little to no effort.

    On the sales side we have the same problem, though sellers usually do a pretty good job of leaving a clean home for the new owner to move into. Nevertheless, we write into all sales contracts for buyers that “seller to have home and carpets professionally cleaned prior to closing”.


    • Thank god I don’t live in Texas!! CA state law says that the owner MUST do a walk through if the tenant requests it so that they have adequate time and the opportunity to make any needed repairs or cleaned items. This is so because of scamming landlords that overcharge for needed repairs or bogus cleaning fee’s etc. It is a fare opportunity for both parties to remedy any issues before leaving the property. Just because it is not the law in TX and it might not “benefit you” it is the fare and reasonable thing to do. Sounds like you have the “every tenant is against me attitude” and only look out for your best interest’s. I understand wanting to protect your investment, but you can do that and be a good human being. If you suspect the filter or carpet issues, check them! If there is a doubt, tell the tenant that you will have to address that after the property has been vacated, but any repairs etc. should be addressed before the tenant leaves the property.

    • “Landlords, as a business class, are sued more than any other type of defendant in small claims courts in America.:

      With goid reason, most are either incompetent or dishonest. No other class if bussiness person ecpects a double digit risk free return, thats a ridiculous expectation. Worse, mist landlords make tenants scapegoats for the timing of aged appliances and fixtures wearing out makiing them pay for normal wear and tear. Ive been on both sides of the game and decided being a landlord was personally demeaning to my self worth.

    • Hi Robert, some Landlords are in fact as bad as you think. Not us. Many tenants are worse than you can imagine as well though. I always operate with integrity and treat everyone honestly and with respect. I still do not do a pre-move-out walkthough, and it is still a good, solid policy for us, and no tenant who reads the move-out instructions and acts in good faith has ever suffered from it.

  4. Wow. If a carpet stain is scrubbed invisible one day only to reappear after the tenant has moved out, it could safely be assumed that “you”or your guest made the stains, not the tenant.

    I am a landlord and as such have to say that your “faulty logic” gives us all a bad rap. I will always give the tenant an opportunity to accompany me on my final walk-thru. What’s there to hide from the tenant? Be thorough and you won’t need to do anything on the sly.

  5. Hi Gina,

    Thanks for your comments. Check with your carpet person about the issue of returning stains. This is a common, known problem.

    You are free to run your landlord business as you see fit, and I won’t argue with you. I can promise that your method, if applied to 2,000+ move-outs, would cause major headaches and you’d soon change your mind. Dealing with one property and a move-out every 2 or 3 years won’t expose you fully to the validity of the rationale, until you encounter that one pita tenant who changes your views (and your policies) forever.

    Good luck on your walk-throughs!


  6. I so understand your thought process. I’ve been doing final walk throughs and it becomes an argument. Tenants are ticked off when I point out things that are not done and the argument begins. Stress that I do not need…
    I never used to do them and then started for some reason. Perhaps I read that I had too. My property is in Minnesota. Does anyone know if I have too? I’m sick of it and I don’t care to do final walk throughs anymore. My lease is very clear about my expectations and I am very clear when tenants move in.

  7. Wow, Steve. You read my mind. I’ve only done walkthroughs a few times, but that limited experience has told me I simply don’t want to do them, EVER.

    Every time, tenants argue about everything. EVERYTHING. They throw every excuse in the book at me. They say ANYTHING. I was about to undertake the policy of refusing to do it simply because I do not want the agony of dealing with a 30-60 minute argument over something that is, inherently, not subjective:

    1) Was it there when you moved in?
    2) Does it fall under the definition of “reasonable wear and tear”?

    No, and no? Simple. You get billed. Shut up.

    It seems like renters often are people who are incapable of reading or understanding leases, and beyond that, are people who are incapable of grasping a basic sense of responsibility for what they’re paying for. I think that they think I’m getting rich off of them, but they don’t see the cost of vacancy, repairs, updates, and property tax.

  8. I only wish I would have seen this article a month ago!! My husband and I are military and are renting our house in Texas out to other military… I recently check out the second set of renters we have had, yikes!! they were given a copy of the cleaning list when they moved in so that they could use it as a reference for filling out the move-in condition sheet and where told that those where the things we would be looking for when they moved out, I also gave them a copy the day after they gave us their 30 day move-out notice and told them that they needed to have all of it done before the walk-thru and they even had two extra days to complete everything. When I began the walk-thru (the first one I had ever done, the first renters we had left before the walk-thru could be done) I started to point things out and they began to get extremely defensive and started giving me every excuse in the book as to why they didn’t have time to do it all. On top of not cleaning the property, they painted with an unapproved paint color and did a terrible job and neglected the front garden to the point where I had to pull out all of the bushes and plant new ones in order to bring it back up to HOA standards… we withheld most of their small deposit (less than half of one months rent) and now they are threatening to sue us… ugg… they are trying to say that I made an agreement with them during the walk-thru which is NOT the case!! I just stopped pointing things out and started writing things down because I didn’t want to get into a confrontation with them… I was there by myself and it was two against one. :/

  9. In a world full of slum lords who refuse to fix anything but call you before your rent is even due and you have never missed a payment. Things from the former tenants stay where pointed out , documented date upon move in with said LL, which we both had copies. But nothing had ever been fixed. To not have the courtesy to walk through YOUR property shows how much you actually gave a crap your property and your greed in wanting to keep your tenants deposit. Before you rent ask your LL if he does a move in and move out walk through, get it in writing. If he refuses look for another landlord because that says a lot about what kind of ignorant, careless person you will have to deal with for the duration of your stay in their dwelling. Finally, your article does not entice anyone to set foot on your property because you clearly show that it is only important to you when it comes to returning the deposit that you surely want to keep. It’s always good business to form a good relationship with your tenants and have everything in writing so that there are no arguments when your tenants vacate. As a person who has had to take said slum lord to court, I was smart enough to keep everything documented , dated photos, saved emails and certified letters and most importantly a few professional acquaintances, one who is also a Realtor as my witness to assist me in the process when the landlord refused to walk through with me, the guy got slammed and I got my money back. The lesson here… do a walk through with your tenants…the small headache you get is worth it if it keeps your but out of court.

  10. Hello,

    As landlords, my husband and I abide by California law which requires the final walk-through. It may not be required in your state but really opens you up to litigation. Also, as one poster remarked, it doesn’t make for a strong tenant-landlord relationship.

  11. Hi Jasmine and Alice,

    Thanks for your comments. You’re certainly welcome to run your landlording business a different way once you acquire some rentals of your own. How I handle move-outs with tenants is a tried and tested business decision, and it’s fair for to tenant, as explained in the article.

    But thanks for your feedback.


    • How you run your business is favorable for you as the landlord, (which makes sense, you want to make the most money you can with the least effort). You’ve chosen a great state to live in given the views you have espoused; Texas is one of the most landlord friendly states in the country! I can’t logically fault your argument – it makes sense to follow a “business practice” as it makes it easier for you to keep more of their security deposit with less conflict. From your writing, your view of your tenants is clear: they’re all just whiny, lying, grifters if given the opportunity. So best to avoid interacting with them. Unfortunately for you an increasing number of states disagree with your assessment and instead feel you are actually the problem.

      Tenants want as much of their deposit back as they are legally entitled to, (it is a deposit after all, not a fee), and landlords have the upper hand with regards to assessing and charging damages, (especially when they are not able to defend themselves). Many are ignorant as to what is considered wear-and-tear; they don’t know that neither paint nor carpets last forever and if they’ve lived in the unit for many years they are likely not responsible for to replace either. They frequently don’t know what level of cleaning is legally required. They just moved, possibly quite far away, making it basically impossible for them to take you to court. Plus they just had to pay a security deposit on their new rental, and you kept their previous deposit, so it is doubtful many will have the funds to consult a lawyer or sue you for its return.

      Enjoy skipping move-out walkthroughs as long as the local laws permit you to do so!

  12. While Texas may allow you to conduct business that way, you should alert your readers to the fact that in many other states (e.g., California), it is illegal for a landlord to fail to notify the tenant of his or her right to a walk-through, and it is illegal to refuse to conduct such a walk-through.

    As a practical matter, I suspect that the way you deal with your tenants in the long run saves you money, because most tenants are ignorant of their rights and get intimidated by classic unethical practices like restrictive endorsements (e.g., “by cashing this check I agree…”). Your readers should know, however, that at least in states in which landlord-tenant laws are fair, that in individual cases where the tenant presses his or her rights, a court can and often does award substantial punitive statutory damages, sometimes up to double the original security deposit amount (in addition to the security deposit itself).

    Tenants are always at a disadvantage in these kinds of conflicts, because the landlord is holding their money (and as you well know, a security deposit belongs to the tenant and is held in trust by the landlord), and for financial reasons they have to give in to landlords’ demands. Don’t get me wrong, I know that some tenants are out to rip you off, but you act like they all are. You may make a few extra bucks conducting yourself this way, but your priority seems to be to retain the largest amount of money possible, rather than making sure the right thing happens, and frankly, that is why so many Americans regard business practices like those you advocate as slimy and unethical. You really make good landlords look bad.

    • I don’t think anyone here that advocates against walkthroughs is trying to squash or even chill tenant rights. You’re barking up the wrong tree.

      The potential of a tenant being awarded 3-6x damages, the necessity to prove such damages were real, and the hassle of court are enough to make any ill-gotten gain be not worthwhile. What we are talking about here is the reality that the vast majority of tenants will never admit to you that there is any damage. Infact, they will argue with you. A lot. At this point, even if you go back to your photos and documents and can prove the damage, you’ve riled them up. Now they’re fired up and when they get that deduction, I personally believe they’re going to argue more. My best tenants ever turned nasty when I pointed out a few minor things. And that was even prefaced by “I’m not going to charge you for this”.

      If I were forced to do a walkthrough, I would make it so brutal the tenant would leave early on their own. Why should I be held to that which I spot immediately, under pressure, under certain lighting and conditions? I’d get out pictures, carefully examine the place, and so on. What about the urine smell in the carpet that is not evident until you clean–but once you start doing so is unbearable? What about scratches and gouges on expensive wood floors that aren’t immediately obvious, but once you see them, you see that they’re all over the place and show an obvious carelessness, and constitute significant damage? Oh yeah, I’m the scumbag.. right.. but the tenant who managed to puncture a laminate floor in 7 different places–they’re the poor, oppressed tenant that I’m taking advantage of. Yeah, I’m what’s wrong with America. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to puncture a well made laminate floor? That’s not even in the class of accidental damage. That’s deliberate damage.

  13. Hi Paul,
    > You may make a few extra bucks conducting yourself this way

    Property Managers don’t “make” any money on repairs. We only deduct for legitimate damages. The entire balance is returned to the departing tenant.

    I have a lot of property manager friends in California. It’s hardly a model of sanity. It’s the joke of our nationwide email list-serve. The laws there are so pro-tenant it’s ridiculous. And despite that, based on the war stories shared on the list-serve, the tenants there have the biggest chips on their shoulders and complain more than in any other state. Which really just proves my point. No good deed goes unpunished. The more accommodating and “nice” landlords are, the more complaining and flack they receive at move-outs.

    Texas has sensible, fair laws that balance landlord-tenant rights. Nowadays, every tenant can take a gazillion photos before move-in and at move-out to document condition. Texas has a triple-damage law for unlawful withholding of deposits, and JP Courts are very accessible and easy to use. There is nothing a Texas tenant can hope to gain by trying to pin down a move-out assessment at an attended walk-through. They just need to follow the lease and Texas Property Code and their rights remain fully intact.

  14. You know, I think the positions people take here reflect the situations they have been in more than anything else. As landlords, you take note when tenants try to screw you. You might be totally ethical business people, I don’t know you, but if you think that landlords don’t routinely try to screw tenants, you just don’t know. I’m not saying all, or perhaps not even a majority, but a substantial percentage of landlords do whatever they can to deprive tenants of their rights. In some areas it is gray, but in others it is black and white.

    I had a landlord in Los Angeles once try to not pay any interest on my security deposit — something required by law in Los Angeles, and where it isn’t prescribed by law, it is certainly the only ethical thing to do, for obvious reasons. When I pointed out the law, the landlord with a straight face said “oh that doesn’t apply.” The same day he was served, he wrote me a check.

    People, whether landlords or tenants, can be evil. I’m sure not giving your tenants walkthroughs saves you money, and you might very well be relatively honest in your dealings with your tenants. But please don’t pretend that there isn’t a substantial amount of fraud, charges for ordinary wear and tear, repainting charges after a tenant lived there for 10 years, etc., and that not giving a walkthrough is a strategy used by unscrupulous landlords to facilitate fraud. It happens all the time. You might not care since you’ll never be on the receiving end, just like people who aren’t landlords might not be very sensitive to the terrible things tenants do, but if you deny that it happens on a regular basis, you are out of touch.

  15. Far more leases are breeches by tenants than landlords, mainly for non-payment of rent, skipping out early, moving people in who are not authorized by the lease, bringing in unauthorized animals, etc.

    Do some landlords try to screw tenants out of deposits? Of course. But if you’re trying to make the argument that the typical American lease contract is violated more by landlords than by tenants, the actual facts say otherwise.

    But this article was simply explaining why we have this particular business practice and why it makes sense to do it our way. Any landlord is free to do it differently, but in Texas, a tenant in fact has no right to a move-out walk-through and it would serve no useful purpose if they did. That’s the point I’m making.

  16. This is simply put an easy way to have to provide justification and/or the tenant with an opportunity to repair any supposed damages. The fact of the matter is that Texas needs to provide more legislation around renter’s rights… i.e. Landlords should have to pay interest on the balance of the deposit retained over the 30 days post vacation. The fact of the matter is that Real Estate agents that handle rentals, only do it to supplement their income… and because its harder work with a lower pay off… they simply see tenants as a nuisance. Most Real Estate agents are not properly trained or qualified to be in the business, and are very disorganized. That is the main reason for avoiding direct interaction with the tenants. It simply results from a lack of planning, a clear exit strategy or process. Because of that lack of preparation it causes delays in doing the “walk though” (which many don’t happen at all)… and even further delays in refunding the deposit. Deposits are simply put… NOT OPERATING CAPITAL… they are monies held in lieu of “damages”. The definition of which will continue to be subjective (based on the Landlords opinion only) until there is sufficient regulations in place to protect people from LAZY Realtors.

  17. Hi Joe,

    Paying interest on deposits is done in some states, but not all. It’s a huge hassle, especially for the software makers and also when the agreed rate (as prescribed by some states) is higher than the rate paid by the banks who hold the actual deposit funds.

    > Most Real Estate agents are not properly trained or qualified to be in the business, and are very disorganized.

    I agree. Those of us who have been professional property managers constantly encounter part timers who have no idea how to run a management company. The serious property managers belong to NARPM (National Association of Residential Property Managers) and obtain professional designations such as MPM (Master Property Manager).

    Thanks for your comments.


  18. Perhaps a middle way that would help both parties would be to do a non-binding walk-through. I understand the arguments here against binding walk-throughs (basically, hidden damages that surface later) — but often tenants just would like to know what they need to address. If the walk-through isn’t binding, and everyone is very clear about it, it gives the landlord an opportunity to point out some of the things the renter should fix before moving out, which has to save everyone money.

    The law in Los Angeles is basically this — landlords are required to do walk-throughs if requested, but they are allowed to make deductions from the security deposit for damages that weren’t visible or apparent during the walk-through, either b/c furniture was in the way, or because it was temporarily concealed by a cleaner but clearly visible after.

    I know this might seem like a hassle, and it might be personally annoying to deal with combative renters, but if everyone is very clear in advance about the non-binding nature of the walk-through, there isn’t any reason why the tenants would be combative, since knowing it is not binding, they will only request it if they genuinely want some direction (rather than trying to lock the landlord into agreeing that the tenant isn’t liable for anything not seen in the walk-through).

    Besides, if a hidden smell or something comes up after the tenant moves out, what are they going to say, that the landlord intentionally damaged his/her own apartment so that he/she could deduct additional damages? In any event, it won’t matter b/c there is no legally binding document.

    As for Joe’s comment about interest on security deposits — this is obviously right, and is I think a clear litmus test to see whether the landlord is acting in good faith. I’ve lived in several different states (military), and wherever I go, whether it is required by law or not, there are honest landlords who will pay interest on security deposits, and I would never agree to lease from a landlord who won’t. The deposit is the tenant’s money, held in trust to cover damages. If the landlord is going to use that money in the meantime either as an investment or to facilitate operations, the tenant is ethically and in many places legally entitled to interest. That being said, if the landlord chooses to invest the money, he/she shouldn’t be forced to pay any more than the actual interest earned. But I think everyone can agree that it is a common sense good faith practice — I’ve never heard an explanation for why the landlord shouldn’t pay interest, though if I’m not seeing this properly, I invite someone to explain the justification.

  19. > I’ve never heard an explanation for why the landlord shouldn’t pay interest

    Well, no Texas Landlord I know of pays interest. We’d have to send a 1099 to the tenant for interest earned, plus other regulatory hassles, not to mention the difficulty of tracking this without special software. Some professional property managers manage 100s of tenants and the reporting and compliance costs would be higher than the interest amount earned on the deposit. Then you have the small mom and pop landlord who owns only one rent house and isn’t equiped to deal with the reporting burdens.

    It’s nothing to do with fairness or ethics. It’s simply a needless burden on business which would cause more trouble than it solves. It’s the sort of “feel good” law that is now driving business away from California to Texas, by the droves.

    Luckily Texas leads the Nation in NOT imposing this sort of nonsense on business owners.


  20. REPUBLICAN much??laziness is a character flaw and can’t be legislated… I agree with you there. A manlier should have no right to earn interest for monies held in trust… period. When a security deposit is required… it is required immediately… and should be refunded with the same haste. If the walk through is done properly and by a qualified individual… there wouldn’t be these suspicious “after the fact” issues. Many properties rent the day after a tenant moves out… so a walk through would make sense and avoid needless finger pointing. STOP being lazy… and do your job!

  21. Well, Joe, all I can say is that if/when you own your investment properties, you can differentiate yourself from the competition by offering instant deposit refunds with interest.

    I simply spelled out why I do it the way I do. It’s a business decision and it’s a fair and reasonable approach.

  22. >It’s nothing to do with fairness or ethics. It’s simply a needless burden on business which would cause more trouble than it solves.

    I agree that if you had to track it like you say, it would be a pretty cumbersome hassle (though I don’t know if it would be as much trouble as you describe if you just put every tenant’s deposit in a separate savings account and passed on the tax liability to them). But, I don’t think that is really necessary, as you could just set an interest rate and then just multiply it by the amount of the deposit and then time it was held. In Los Angeles, the interest rate for 2011 is .29% — so if the deposit is $1000, that’s less than 3 dollars a year (and negligibly more if you compounded it continuously, though that would be above and beyond). In terms of costs, it is extremely trivial, but it is a matter of principle and, at least for a certain population of potential tenants like myself, it is a way to compete against other landlords. For me, it isn’t about the savings– it’s a cue I use to help predict how fair the landlord is going to be with me. In that respect, it works better in places where it isn’t legally mandated, as it is then that there is an opportunity to use it to distinguish between otherwise equal potential apartments.

    I’ve never lived in Texas and it may be so alien there that it wouldn’t make a difference, but I dunno, I think the cost is so low that it is a basically free advertisement. And if/when there is a conflict with a tenant, if the tenant thinks you are being fair, they are probably going to be a little more reasonable (speculation on my part since I’ve never been a landlord, but it seems logical).

    Anyway, just a thought.

  23. Hello: I see this is a little bit old but I am wondering if you or any of your readers, would share your ‘checklist’ of things you check after the tenant has vacated?

  24. The laws regarding landlords and tenants vary from state to state, and are also subject to various local ordinances as well. I find your advise very sound and prudent, but it may not be applicable to all Landlords. In my state and in accordance to local ordinances, a Landlord is required to return the security deposit within 45 days after a tenant vacates, and itemize all amounts withheld. There is no legal law or ordinance here that requires a landlord to agree to providing an exiting tenant with a walkthrough.

    That said, in this current economic crisis, I know more landlords who have ended up losing their rentals and even filing bankruptcy due to the difficulties of evicting nonpaying tenants. To avoid the time and expense of the eviction process, we do whatever it takes to mitigate our damages, up to, and including letting tenants out of their leases early without penalty, and even refunding at least a portion of their security deposit upfront, in return for leaving voluntarily without forcing us to take them to court.

    It is far cheaper to buy a $15 gallon of odor remover, and dump it on the carpet ourselves, than to hire and pay $1,000 to an attorney to defend against a tenant lawsuit. I can vaccum the cat hair off the refrigerator coil in a couple minutes for free. If we ever tried withholding any portion of the security deposit for anything like that, I have no doubt that the tenant would prevail in court because the laws here prohibit landlords from with holding any portion of the security deposit for “normal wear and tear.”

    Under that same principle, if the tenant tore great big holes in dime store linoleum, they might also prevail in court, because they could argue “normal wear and tear” for crap material. Instead, we use an extremely high-end wood grain laminate that is made out of rubber, waterproof and designed for heavy duty industrial traffic. We haven’t had a tenant yet who’s managed to find a way to damage it, but if one ever did, its just snapped together, so individual pieces can be easily and cheaply replaced. We also spend the extra $5 per gallon for the expensive paint, that cleans up easily with a “magic eraser”, and don’t use $10 faucets that are bound to break in rentals.

    Rather than nickel and dime departing tenants over the security deposit, we cover our costs by charging a higher monthly rent than most other landlords in our area. We don’t have a problem renting out our properties because tenants can see the difference in the quality, practically the second they walk through the door. It also helps attract higher quality tenants, who would not want their credit harmed by an eviction and unpaid utility bills.

    Basically, we automatically build an extra $50/month into the rent, to cover the costs of cleaning and repairs, which amounts to $600 over the course of a 1 year lease. As long as any damage does not exceed that amount, we refund departing tenants security deposits in full.

  25. Steve is on point. I have seen a carpet stain “clean away” by a reliable professional carpet cleaner. I was very happy and the new tenant was very happy. (The next day I received a call that the carpet stain “reappeared”.)

  26. Hi Steve,
    this is such a timely find for me. My tenant is threatening filing a complaint as she does not agree with my reasonable charges for the damages. I have one question. If the tenant fails to submit move-in condition report (within 7 days according to my lease terms), per property code, it is deemed that the property is free of damage. She submitted the document 20 days after move-in. In this case, do I have the right to assume everything was ok without a written statement letting her know at the time of move-in.

    She is disputing items that are clearly not marked in move-in report. However, i want to know if not turning in report within specified limit in the lease nullifies her claims. I appreciate your insight.


  27. Sue,

    Since any dispute would ultimately be in JP Court, you’d be at the mercy of the particulat JP Court Judge (assuming you are in Texas). The Judge may or may not care about the move-in condition turn-in timeline, so I’d show up prepared to argue on the merits, as if the move-in condition form had been turned in on time.


  28. Has anyone ever heard of a tenant having the “right” to hold the keys and garage door openers back (after their lease has ended) until an end of lease walk through is done ?? This is in upstate NY. I have no interest in doing a walk through. Along with signing a lease, the tenant was sent a move-out letter/instructions and move-in pictures that were taken one month before the end of their lease.

  29. Interesting post with a good discussion afterward. I see both sides as I have been a tenant for most of my adult life and my family also owns rental property. Based on my experience, the root of the problem is usually ‘bad renters’ in general.

    In the last five years, I have been shocked and disgusted by the state in which people leave rental properties. I have seen so much trash, furniture, and other debris left behind that I understand why landlords are so worried about not being allowed to keep deposits in order to pay for repairs.

    I resent people who do not follow through with their legal obligations – whether they be tenants or landlords. Many of us are in situations where we don’t really have a choice between rental and ownership. People who abuse this relationship cause a greater level of stress and difficulty for the rest of us and frankly, I don’t appreciate it. I doubt that ANY good landlord or tenant appreciates it.

    As for the move out inspection – I am generally appreciative of this process, have not participated in it from the landlord side of it, and have not had any problems regarding it. Most of the apartment managers that I’ve worked with did conduct a walkthrough inspection with me, but a few did not. I got my deposit back either way. As long as he is acting within state law, this is a business decision that every landlord has the right to make.

    People seem to think that businesses are evil and greedy if they look out for their own interests, yet businesses can’t exist otherwise. Those same people want the freedom to manage their affairs the way they see fit, yet they criticize others who also do this. Reality is that rental property ownership is a TOUGH business that isn’t even profitable at times! The idea that all landlords are wealthy Scrooge-like people couldn’t be further from reality.

    The bottom line is this – if a landlord chooses not to do a final walk-through with a renter (assuming that is legal in the state of the rental property), the renter usually has nothing to worry about as long as he has actually followed through on his part of commitment.

  30. So, I am probably barking up the wrong tree, since this site seems to lean towards the property management opinions in Texas.. But, I will try my luck for a decent answer.

    We recently moved out of a rental property to purchase our new home. We are military and have had many final walk throughs in my life. This lease, was the FIRST in my over 20 years that I was told point blank that it is company policy to NOT allow either the tenant or owner present. All I wanted was a list of items they felt needed to be addressed.

    Let me include that HUGE red flags went up when heard that news. This is supposedly a decent property company here in San Antonio. Anyway, we went WAY out of our way to make the house was immaculate, had professional carpet cleaners come in… Which we were told was all that was required to vacate… The home was scrubbed from top to bottom, yard was immaculately trimmed… We even videod the entire house… Oh, important note- The owner had a custom paint scheme in the house that we did not ask for or change upon moving in…. Upon moving out.. we puttied all picture holes, etc that needed to be addressed and was told by the PM that we were to use the paint left behind by the owner to do our touch up painting… After TWO years.. the paint was no longer an exact match and it was obvious…. They not only kept out entire $1700 deposit.. they charged us $900 to repaint the house another $264 to ‘CLEAN’ the house.. that is obviously clean in our video and there was even damage in pictures they sent us in the ‘Itemized’ report that WAS NOT there in our video….

    We are going to military housing with the PMs pictures and our video…. looks like we will also be going to small claims court since there blatant discrepancies from our video and their pictures.. This is an obvious example of WHY Texas needs better tenant rights…

    We were not out to ‘RIP’ off the owner or PM…. We expected something to be withheld… just because that is the way the world turns.. BUT, to keep $1700 to paint the house…. We were in the home Two years…. And we did not ask for custom paint….

  31. Hi Rochelle,

    Sorry to hear about your experience.

    > All I wanted was a list of items they felt needed to be addressed.

    We provide that to tenants when we receive or give the notice to vacate. Most professional property managers I know have a “move-out checklist” of some kind, that they mail and/or available on the website.

    > Upon moving out.. we puttied all picture holes, etc

    Well, our move-out instructions scream “Don’t” putty the holes. Your story is exactly why we want tenants to leave the holes alone. If you were instructed by the PM to do that, and to use the old paint, and you have that in writing, then they may have a hard time defending the deductions in court. After all, you’re not expected to be painting contractors for the owner. The TAR Lease allows a “reasonable number of small nail holes” to be left at the property.

    It doesn’t cost much to send a demand letter for the amounts you deem improperly withheld, then follow up with a small claim if that doesn’t work.

    Good luck,


  32. Your blogs and retorts are very informative. Thank you. As a PM, what action do you ascribe to if your landlord (client) negotiates in bad faith and causes undue hardship and expense to your tenant?

  33. Thanks so much for the info. I am just in the process of checking the legal situation re. this in Florida. That link to a website (in the comments somewhere) didn’t really help me. I’ll be dealing with an already highly argumentative tenant tomorrow morning. He is moving out rather short notice and informed me of the time (Saturday, before 8:00 am) a few days ago. He is very argumentative and will insist that I sign that all is fine. He has kept the place in great shape as far as I can tell but it is fully furnished and I feel like I can’t check all the appliances, A/C filters, etc with him breathing down my neck on his way to the airport.
    To prevent further stupid mistakes on my part – can you recommend a good contract? And what’s your process/paperwork when someone moves IN?
    Thanks for any advice.
    Stressed in Orlando,

  34. Hi Claudia,

    Don’t allow yourself to be bullied by your tenant. You have no obligation to show up and get berated or pressured into an “on the spot” or “instant” declaration of “pass or fail”. If you feel intimidated, just take a friend, collect the keys, and say “I’m not going to have time right now to conduct a full move-out inspection, but I’ll do so and return your deposit in accordance with property code rules”.

    Good luck,


  35. thanks!!
    Can you recommend a good contract to use with our next renter?
    And what’s your process/paperwork when someone moves IN?

  36. Claudia: We use the TAR Lease Agreement. You have to be a Realtor or use a Realtor to use the TAR forms.

    Diem: I usually do meet tenants at move-in. Oddly, many property managers don’t/won’t do this, but they do walk through at move-out. I like meeting tenants at move-in because:

    a) It may be the first/only time we’ll ever see each other in person.

    b) Often, I haven’t had time to walk through the house yet following the pre-move-in prep, such as carpeting cleaning, make-ready cleaning, painting, repairs, mowing, etc. Especially when we’re moving someone in 1 to 3 days after the previous tenant moved out. I want to be there to make sure everything is good and take care of any problems right away.


  37. Hi Richard,

    Thanks for your comment. It is factually incorrect though. I understand there can be different points of view on this topic. What I wrote about, and continue to practice, is the case against walk-through. You are free to disagree, but I have to respond to factually incorrect arguments. A tenant’s liability for damages and deductions is in no way connected to whether a move-out walk-through occurred.

    A good resource for tenants who need help with handling improper deposit deductions is the Austin Tenant’s Council.

    Thanks for your input!


  38. I completely agree with you Steve.
    I used to do check-list walk throughs with tenants when they moved out, and it was frequently a fight. Pretty much every time I would hear “It was like that when I moved in.” Really? The refrigerator looked like a cat blew up in it when you moved in? So, I started taking my 6’4″ husband with me on walk throughs and the fights pretty much came to a complete stop, even tho he just stood there and usually didn’t say a word. 🙂
    I still do walk throughs with the tenants, since I’m in California and am required to. But, I bring a video camera with me and video everything. I make sure to get the tenants on camera to prove they were there with me on that date. I never tell them that they passed or not. I tell them they will be notified by mail of our final findings within 21 days. If they argue later, I send them a copy of the video. Once I started using the videos, I’ve never been to court.

  39. I live in California so we do not have a choice in this state. Failure to do a walk-through with a tennant forfiets the right of deposit. Period. As a tennant for many years I can tell you how many times my deposit was ripped off from horrible land lords who would refuse any repairs and then blame me and take my money. In fact, my interest in the law is how I got into managing property. I don’t look at myself as an agent for the land owner but as a middle man who sticks to the law. I protect both sides. Here in California, I do a 2 week pre-move out walk through that gives the tennants the ability to repair any defects and a final move out inspection when they leave. Of course, that is required in this state if the tennant asks for it. What I have found is that most tennants have been ripped off so many times that they almost always assume they are not getting the deposit back, which then leads to a messy home. In fact, most of them don’t know the law. I make sure both walk throughs are done and the majority of the time they are clean. Of course, like any one there is an occasional disagreement however in 12 years I have not yet been to court.

  40. Just read this, and, as a tenant, I have a question.

    My apartment’s management constantly seems to try to find the “cheapest” solution, or best way to make/save a buck. I spent over a week without a ceiling in my bathroom (after upstairs neighbors flooded theirs, dropping our ceiling), with exposed wires hanging over my shower, because my landlord said they were looking for the best bid to fix it.

    I just spent over 36 hours without water or sewage (with a major medical condition), because, according to my apartment’s maintenance, “its Sunday, so it won’t be fixed today”, ie- not wanting to pay a plumber weekend pay, with 2 complexes completely out of water and sewage. Also, they are not willing to pro-rate even the day we spent, despite it being “uninhabitable” by Texas Property Code.

    The majority of tenant here do not speak english, and are not educated, and I feel that if I try to bring any of these issues to my landlord again, there will be severe deductions from my deposit

    I am moving out soon (a month or so after closing on a house), but with the attitude my landlord has shown this far, can I really expect them to be fair with the deposit?

  41. This has been extremely informative. Thankfully, I live in TN, and there is no walkthrough requirement. My first renter demanded that she receive her deposit in full, and told me that she had the right to a walkthrough. Upon research and talking with a few PMs in the area, I found that tenants are only allowed access to the unit if they wish to dispute the accuracy of the damage listing, not because they have the right.

    My tenant glued the top of the toilet to the tank after filling it with debris, threw trash off the balcony into the community area, and placed nails inside the garbage disposal. And I am having trouble understanding why she demanded a walkthrough… to see the look on my face when I find all of this damage?

    I have been both a tenant and a landlord. I never got back all of my deposits in full, but I also have never been stiffed. There are laws in place that protect all parties because some people cannot accept the responsibility of being a decent person. I hope the tenant enjoys the home, but we aren’t friends. This is a business arrangement, and it is not my position to educate tenants on the difference between right and wrong or make sure that they know what rights they have. I place an ad for rent, someone shows interest, we discuss the lease, and they choose to sign it. I am taking a chance that they will fulfill the terms, and they take a chance that I will provide a functional space to live in.

  42. Thanks for your comments Dan and Michelle.

    Kaycie, you should contact your local Tenant’s Council for advice. In Texas, there are laws against “retaliation”, which is any adverse action a landlord takes against a tenant that can be connected to a request for repairs. So a tenant should never feel afraid to report legitimate repair problems such as those you describe.

    Another option is to make an anonymous complaint to City Code Enforcement, which will trigger the City of Austin to come investigate and take further measures.

    In the end, your lease agreement an TX Property Code control everything. Withholding deposits without justification is not allowed.

    RC – been there, done that with tenants who do that sort of thing. Sometimes they seem like the nicest people in person, but who knows what motivates that sort of thing. At a certain level of damage, it becomes a legal/insurance issue. I had a tenant once hammer holes in all the sheetrock in every room of a house, after losing at eviction court. The police came and deemed it (I forget the exact word) something equal to criminal vandalism. Owner’s insurance paid for the damages and the tenant was charged with a crime, and eventually settled to make restitution.


  43. Wow, great advice. I have done one walk-through, and while it went ok, the tenant left expecting to receive their full deposit. Somehow they thought the non-refundable pet deposit would apply to them leaving a big mess. They were mad, but I think we only disagreed over less than $200 🙂

  44. “non-refundable pet deposit” lol. It isn’t a *deposit* if it is *non-refundable*. Obviously. If it is non-refundable, call it a fee, and then you won’t have people expecting it to be returned. Unless it is illegal to call it a fee where you live, in which case it is almost certainly to have a “deposit” that is non-refundable and for practical matters indistinguishable from a fee.

    Sorry if this is off-topic but the Orwellian doublespeak can be maddening.

  45. I rented a few homes for 20 years. My personal take on deposits are:

    1 – If the home was really torn up the deposit did little good.
    2 – A home that gets torn up is often because I did a poor job inspecting and maintaining it. You have to put the brakes on a bad tenant before it gets out of control.
    3 – I never charged for a hole in the wall or a ripped screen. I factored that wear n tear into the rent. I hardly ever did a walk through where it was not rode hard and put up wet.
    4 – I almost always refunded deposit just to get rid of them (whether they were good tenants or not). I looked at refunding deposit as a way of shutting the door on a lawsuit.
    5 – If I did deduct I would ask the tenant to agree with the conclusion writing. In the few times I deducted the tenant always agreed with me.
    6 – The best thing I ever did was use a 3 month lease and gradually expand it (6, 12). Coupled with diligent inspections I caught the bad tenants fast and was able to get rid of them with a legal lease expiration. It did put off some potential tenants but I was OK with that.
    7 – 4 lawsuits in 20 years? Negligible relative to the real risks. Your doing great.

    I had some great tenants and some bad ones. I got out of it because I got tired of it.

  46. I would really appreciate having a copy of your 150 point preventative maintenance checklist. I own one rental house and have found you comments and advice very valuable.

    Jim Johnson
    Bridgeville DE

  47. Great, well written article! I must admit I didn’t agree at first (I own a rental, using a property manager), but you present very good reasoning and we actually do something similar. As a tenant in the past I don’t think we ever did a move out walk through with the manager and most of the time it was a reasonable experience. The only thing I would add is to do your walk through (or have your inspection person do it) before any “professional” cleaners come through. The few times we’ve had issues either as owners or as tenants the damage was caused by the cleaners who tried to pass it off to the renters. We now like to do a thorough walk through (without the tenant) before the cleaning crew comes through, then we can also evaluate the cleaning services we’re paying for. If there’s any issues we take photos and document it so we can discuss it with the tenant.

  48. People who generally ask for a walk through are the good and honest people who are trying to get their security deposit back. It’s attitudes like this person that make me see why people live out their security deposit by not paying their last month rent…thus not giving the landlord a choice on whether the landlord return the deposit or not. After reading this article, I’m going to be one of those people cause clearly this is nothing more then perpetuating lies. Fleas? Give me a break. At best it’d cost 100 dollars for a landlord to rid themselves of them…but this guy clearly thinks he’s entitled to an entire security deposit for this minimal cost…and btw author…your also not entitled to new carpet even if your carpets have these miracle stains as you claim…you are only entitled to the value of the carpet less it’s depreciation…Often slumlord apartments like the ones this guy is suggesting the flooring has no value as carpets only have value for about 5 years…After that they have no value…If they aren’t older than that then they can be repaired by what is called remnants.

    • You might indeed return most of the deposits, but a lot of Land Lords do not. Why should it be left up to you to return the deposit and decide the amount given? Here’s the flip side a final walkthrough protects renters, but your right it doesn’t benifit you because it shouldn’t.

  49. This article is just another “shady” business practice! First of all, If I was a Rental Manager, I would make sure that a walk-through is done with the new tenants once they agree to rent. If Renters/Managers were as interested in doing pre and post walk-throughs as they were when they were trying to get you to rent the unit, we would not have reason to have a discussion like this. Bottom line: Instead of giving the tenant the checklist and telling them to go home and do an inspection, the Renter should have a list of what is ALREADY wrong with the unit and do a pre-move-in walk-through WITH the tenant to give the tenant an opportunity to Affirm and add any other problems.Then a post walk through should be “cut and dry”..but then again, that would leave very little room for the Property Owner and Manager to bilk a poor guy out of his deposit.

  50. Hi Jonathan,

    So let me say what Steve is too polite to say:

    You’re clearly NOT a rental manager, or you wouldn’t be speaking like this.

    Policies and procedures always exist for a reason. That reason may or may not be related to your behavior, but it is defensive in nature and usually gets put into place after someone gets burned by bad tenant behavior.

    Laws exist to allow you as a tenant to not only recover improperly withheld damages, but 3-6x. Cameras are ubiquitous and cheap. Small claims costs $75 to file in and you need no attorney. So why are you complaining?

  51. Ed,

    I do not recommend you try to “live out” your security deposit in the last month. This is horrible advice. If you did that with me, and I couldn’t politely talk you out of it, you would end up in court fighting a nonpayment eviction.

  52. I’ve been both a landlord and a tenant. I say the whole business is dirty and lacks significant protections for both parties. I expected a certain amount of wear and tear on a hosue that i rented. but i’ve noticed other rental companies expect the house to be turned in “good as new” which is rediculous. in short, i think the tenants lose in most cases, and i think it sucks.

  53. Great information!!
    I am a Realtor in Florida renting from a LL who moved to CA. After quite the run around with the LL on an extension to the lease, I sent notice of intent to vacate at the end of the 13th month, since it was already halfway into the final (12th) month. (There is no mgmt co, just another Realtor who will be leasing it out and will do a final inspection, Thank God!!) I have a bad feeling with the owner after he claimed I was breaking the lease, that he would make me sue him in small claims court in California, if I wanted to get my deposit back. I am so tempted to hang on the months rent and let him take it out of his deposit. I will lose a $300 pet deposit that I should otherwise expect to get back. It would be nice if I could give the final month to a judge to hold in escrow, as I know he closed his local bank account when he moved. What are your thoughts>

  54. Glen, I would do what your lease and Florida law requires of you. Keep your side of the transaction clean and by the book. Take photos of your move-out and have a witness if possible.

    Your landlord can’t make you sue him in CA. That’s absurd. Small Claims court in your local jurisdiction, based on the property address, handles deposit disputes.

    Don’t assume your landlord won’t do the right thing, and then let it cause you to not do the right thing. Most states impose big penalties for withholding last month’s rent and trying to use deposits instead. In Texas, it’s a triple damages offense. I’m not sure about Florida.

    Good Luck,

  55. It’s your job and duty to do a walkthrough with tenants, so they don’t let slumlords take advantage of them and con them. Bogus charges for this, bogus charges for that. LOL, I hope someone sues you, if they haven’t already. I would.

  56. Thank you for this article. This is awesome. It gives first time landlords valuable information that one might not receive if they use an incompetent property management company as I did.

  57. Great information.
    I have a situation where the tenant replaced the dishwasher without authorization, not because it wasn’t working but because it wasn’t “cleaning properly”. I was presented with this several months after they moved in (that’s a whole other story) and I was at the house looking at another repair request. They never asked that the dishwasher be serviced only said that it was working fine but not cleaning properly – i have an email from them. What they replaced was a well known brand which had been installed by the previous owners in 2009 (per seller’s disclosures). The dishwasher they installed was an obscure brand. After tenants moved out I check the dishwasher and it powered up and since it was “new” I didn’t bother to run a cycle. When the new tenants moved in they reported that the dishwasher didn’t work – it didn’t cycle. With it being an obscure brand, trying to find a repairman that was familiar with it was difficult. Once we did, we learned that the parts were extremely expensive and not readily available. Ultimately we ended up replacing the dishwasher. Unfortunately we had settled the security deposit with these tenants – that’s a whole other story as well.
    My question, is there a statute of limitations for suing for damages caused by a tenant that only became apparent after their move out and security deposit has been returned. Is it worth pursuing in small claims court?
    Thank you.

  58. Liana, consider it a lesson learned and move on. An attorney could clarify your legal recourse, but as a matter of practicality, I’d just move on and let it go. Even if you win in small claims court, collecting the judgement is not assured.

    All sorts of stuff happens in landlording, and eating a new dishwasher is pretty low on the scale of bad events.


  59. This is such great advice and thank you. I have one question. You request they leave the power on till the end of the month. If a tenant breaks a lease, moves out at the end of the month and turns power off, can you charge them for the next month as you get it ready to show to new tenants? Thank you.

  60. I purchase a house from a investor and some tenants were living in the house while it was for sale .Once the sale finalized they have 2 months to leave . The house was very clean when I came to get the key..a few weeks later i fid a walk through and notice a roach so Orkin came out and spray so we took 800. Out the depostit for 6 months of spraying .i spoke with her and she said that she wasn’t aware of any roaches in the house and she’s plan on taking it to court

  61. I realize this is a very old article however tenants have the right to request, not only a move out inspection but, an initial inspection and the landlord should comply. Non compliance of such leaves everything up for questioning. Definitely not the way to protect yourself.

  62. Hi Steve,
    I’ve been reading your blog and it’s been very useful. I had tenants move out recently and left the house filthy. They stated that they left the house with “ordinary wear and tear” for the 8 years they lived there. I sent them an itemized list of the damages and the cost to repair which was well over the security deposit. I stated that I would not request additional funds but would accept the deposit as payment in full. They sent me a Demand letter for the security deposit minus the cost of a burnt blind and garbage they left behind. They don’t believe they should pay for the cleaning cost of all the grime they left in kitchen and baths and doors and walls etc. or the patching and painting for the holes they left behind. I don’t know if I should respond to the Demand letter they wrote or wait? I do have pictures of before and after. They do mention in the Demand letter that I did not do a walk through but in NC I couldn’t find a statute that it is legally required.

  63. So your best defense is a well documented paper trail, a paper trail which you intentionally deny your tenants. I’m sure you also rush them through their initial walk through so that they won’t notice any defects so there is no real paper trail for them at move in. Your approach is “screw the tenant every which way possible”. You are why landlords end up getting sued.

    A friend of mine is moving out and the landlord expect the apartment to be returned to the exact same condition it was at move in, she has told my friend she is going to bill her for painting the entire apartment and replacing all the carpet because they were “damaged”. Another resident of the same property recently moved out and taken care to fix every visible blemish, she was still charged $1,500 in fees for repairs. That is the max the you can take to small claims court, my guess is the landlord does that every one. With the tenant having no paper trail and no final walk through it is the landlords word vs the tenant. That approach seems to be what the author is suggesting, intentionally screwing over your tenants in every possible way.

  64. I agree with Steve, I’ve been doing property management for over 10 years and majority of tenant’s that’s want or demand a walk- thru want you to give them an answer on the spot and if you don’t here comes the angry side of this tenant full speed ahead. My experience with walk thru’s have not been good. Tenant’s distract during inspections and do not allow you to concentrate as they are pointing out things that were already there or things that stopped working while they were there. I’m am very fair when it comes to move outs and refunding security deposits. I’ve never had anyone take me to court, as long as tenant follow move out instructions given, them move out process goes smoothly.

    I feel tenant’s and landlords both have rights, and as long as both parties excercise their rights your covered.

  65. This post topic has generated a lot of opinion. For July 2015 I accounted back 15 deposits for move-outs. 8 received a full refund. 5 received almost full. 1 received this than half due to damages. And 1 left damages that exceeded the deposit.

    Based on what I know from other property managers, my move-outs go better than most and tenants receive more than the average deposit refund. So the “no walk-through” policy is still in place and I still works very well.


  66. Love this feed. Now, I’m in California and I am a Landlord, but the flip side of this is I am also a mediator for Los Angeles Superior court for both small claims court and UD court (as well as family law, but that doesn’t play into this topic). I own a lot of property and have managed it myself over the years (I know, shoot me, but I haven’t found a manager worthy enough who knows enough about my own property and the law to be worthy of hiring). California does have stringent laws that generally protect the tenant for the most part (mostly because we have a lot of landlords that somehow or for some reason believe that when they get that security deposit, that it’s theirs to keep). I’m speaking from the 29 years of experience in court, not me personally. Ha!
    I have found a fool-proof way for all my tenants and myself to remove all doubt from move in to move out. At least in the old days when we had those disposable cameras (now you can just document this same process through a dated email). I give my tenants a camera (or two if they want more) tell them to go through the entire property and take a picture of everything that’s wrong, knicked, scratched, bent or otherwise worn. They take all the pictures before they move a stick of furniture in, then email it to me (dated and documented)” I tell them I will do the same the minute they turn over the keys (and by law I must do the walk through with them, which I gladly do). Then we match photographs, plain and simple (easy to do on an iPad now). If I say, “well, there’s a piece gouged out of the sink” and they reply “oh, that was there when I moved in”, the I reply “show me the picture”. Bingo! Case closed before you even begin any argument.
    It should also be noted, and I hadn’t read here, the statue of depreciation (California has determined lengths for items such as refrigerators, carpet, hardwood floors, etc). No, as a landlord you don’t get all brand new carpet even if your tenants poured red paint all over it if it’s more than 10 years old, even 5 years, you only get half of it or the pro rated amount. So as a landlord, be prepared to prove how old the carpet is when they move in, which should be documented on the hard copy walk through on the initial move in. I had a tenant once that moved into a home I rented them, the carpet was brand new, just installed. They moved out 11 years later and I replaced the entire carpet and of course did not charge them a penny, even though one of their dogs chewed the heck out of one large area. They were shocked and even told me in the walk through that they knew they weren’t getting their deposit back because of the carpet, I said no way, I’m not charging you for any carpet. See, the benefit was mine of that carpet and the house, the rent, etc. for 11 years!
    If they had done that in 2 years, it would have been prorated (after I proved how old the carpet was).
    California law also requires a cursory walk through (probably while their stuff is still in the home) and you must allow the tenant the opportunity to fix things that you would charge for.

    As a mediator in court and very familiar with California Civil Code 1950.5 (a-j) I’ve seen it all over 29 years and believe me going to court is not worth it. Especially if you lose, your FICO score drops 250 points if you have a judgment against you, even if it’s only $1 and you pay it, it stays on your record for years. That’s not worth it. It’s better to settle (coming from a mediator).
    Taking full pictures AND hard copy paper documentation on the day of move in and the day of move out is key here. Being fair and transparent is also a huge benefit. I want my property back the way I gave it to you, you want your security deposit back, so let’s see if we can make us both happy.

  67. First of all, I agree wholeheartedly. You mentioned that you include much of the issues regarding cleaning and repairs in your lease. Is there any way I can get a copy of the lease agreement that you use. I would like to make sure I am doing everything I can to protect our owners.

    Thanks in advance,

  68. I agree completely with you. I’ve been do rental management, along with sales, for 30 years and I learned my lesson early in my career. I never, ever, do a walk through with the tenant when they move in nor when the move out. I do not let owners to be present either. I want to be as fair and independent as possible and when you have someone chirping in your ear, it’s hard. My move out instruction sheet is similar to yours and there’s some items I am going to steal from you.
    In FL, we can only fill out our state approved leases which does not provide some of the items that you referred to. We can not even add or change anything on the condo lease but on sf homes leases we can add. Stupid in my opinion. I just can’t justify using an attorney to draw up leases as my owners, after all these years, would never go for it. Do you have a good Checklist for tenants when they move in that you would be willing to share? I keep making up new ones but never happy with them. I look online and not happy with many of those either. I have a very detailed checklist I use when the tenant moves out but it’s too much for the tenants.

  69. “No, and no? Simple. You get billed. Shut up.

    It seems like renters often are people who are incapable of reading or understanding leases, and beyond that, are people who are incapable of grasping a basic sense of responsibility for what they’re paying for. I think that they think I’m getting rich off of them, but they don’t see the cost of vacancy, repairs, updates, and property tax.”

    -> You see, this is why landlords get a bad rap. Those costs of vacancy / repairs / updates / property tax, those are the costs for you to do business. Those are your costs. Your tenants are paying for the service of living in your property, but they are not incurring your costs to do business.

    If a tenant breaks or destroys something, fine, they should pay. But don’t talk to me about the risk and cost of doing business as a landlord; your tenants already paid to live there, don’t make them pay your expenses as well.

  70. Hi Steve,
    Stumbled across this post when I was looking for tips in updating my move out procedures checklist in GA. GREAT thread. If I ever need a good property manager in your area of TX I will definitely look you up.

    I can see valid points on both side of the argument. Having been both a tenant, and property manager, I still agree with your process. I don’t want to put the tenant, owner or myself in a combative/argumentative position just over a deposit. Tenants are already stressed enough at move out over coordinating move, the work of packing, moving, changing addresses, cleaning etc .

    In GA we are not required to meet tenants for move in, or move out, walk throughs. The day before a lease starts we shoot a complete move in VIDEO of the property with all lights on, all cabinets/appliances open etc. We provide a written move in condition report noting all existing cosmetic issues. Any items related to the function of the home are in good repair at time of move in. We also use this video to give the owner an update on the condition of his property as there are often preventative maintenance items that we will note in the video. This makes it MUCH easier to convince our owners to let us address these issues before they become a larger expense or a deterrent to future tenants.

    At move out we do the same thing. Within 3 days after receiving the property from the tenant we complete the same type of video, move out condition report and list of damages/deductions from deposits. I encourage the tenant to do this same due diligence on their own so they will also have a record for themselves.

    The MAJORITY of the time the only thing we might withhold from a deposit is additional cleaning charges. Most of these tenants admit they ran out of time to properly clean the property and accept these charges as fair. There are many times when I don’t hold back any additional money from deposit and I always make a point, in these cases, to send a personal note thanking the tenant for leaving the property in such good condition. I will also let them know to contact me if they ever need a good Landlord referral on their tenant history.

    In the RARE case, where a tenant disputes the charges, they have a right, within 3 days of receiving the list of charges ( IN GEORGIA ), to dispute the charges in writing and meet me at the property to go over their concerns. I am happy to meet them if needed. In order to save time I first send them a copy of the video links for move in and move out. I even offer to “meet” online with them to review the videos live if they want. In every case, once they have reviewed the videos, they either agree with the charges or I simply do not hear back from them again.

    I rent mostly high quality properties to high quality tenants who appreciate this type of rental being available in their area. We respond in a timely manner to all maintenance requests. I try to treat tenants fairly to keep vacancy rates low and encourage lease renewals. I have some long term tenants that have been in some of my rentals for 5 to 10 years. A couple of them have told me they like it so much they want to stay there until the end of their days. This tells me I must be doing something right.

    Lastly I want to say I am very impressed by the complete professionalism in which you have responded to comments both good and bad. We could all, myself included, learn a lot from how you conduct yourself when “under fire”. I appreciate how you have taken time out of your life to give back to the property management community with your information , experiences and insights. I hope I can do the same over here in GA.

    That being said I’ll leave with the lyrics of Joe South. They may be appropriate in some of these situations. We are all a product of our own experiences and those experiences are often very different from others.

    Joe South Lyrics for “Walk A Mile In My Shoes”

    If I could be you
    And you could be me
    For just one hour
    If we could find a way
    To get inside
    Each other’s mind, mmm
    If you could see you
    Through your eyes
    Instead of your ego
    I believe you’d be
    Surprised to see
    That you’d been blind, mmm

    Walk a mile in my shoes
    Walk a mile in my shoes
    Hey, before you abuse, criticize and accuse
    Walk a mile in my shoes

    Now your whole world
    You see around you
    Is just a reflection
    And the law of karma
    Says you’re gonna reap
    Just what you sow, yes you will
    So unless
    You’ve lived a life of
    Total perfection
    You’d better be careful
    Of every stone
    That you should throw, yeah

    And yet we spend the day
    Throwing stones
    At one another
    ‘Cause I don’t think
    Or wear my hair
    The same way you do, mmm
    Well I may be
    Common people
    But I’m your brother
    And when you strike out
    And try to hurt me
    It’s a-hurtin’ you, lord have mercy

    Walk a mile in my shoes
    Walk a mile in my shoes
    Hey, before you abuse, criticize and accuse
    Walk a mile in my shoes

    There are people
    On reservations
    And out in the ghettos
    And brother there
    But for the grace of God
    Go you and I, yeah, yeah
    If I only
    Had the wings
    Of a little angel
    Don’t you know I’d fly
    To the top of the mountain
    And then I’d cry

    Walk a mile in my shoes
    Walk a mile in my shoes
    Hey, before you abuse, criticize and accuse
    Better walk a mile in my shoes

    Walk a mile in my shoes
    Walk a mile in my shoes
    Uh, before you abuse, criticize and accuse
    Walk a mile in my shoes, yeah

    Walk a mile in my shoes

  71. I have a question , I live in Texas and my last and first
    Tenant left. We did a walkthrough and agree they just put so much pressure. That afterwards you don’t see a lot of things. My question is she left furniture outside, including tires and rusted iron. It’s been 3 months I have contacted her to come and pick the furniture and she just doesn’t care. Can I get rid of it?

    I’m preparing to lease it again.

    Plea se help.

  72. I would agree wholeheartedly with you if you were to say to me that you don’t own a property or two and gain more than lose from your tenants. No landlord does what they do without any sort of profit. However, tenants do not profit from this. They lose. Is it their property? No. I’ve seen numerous accounts of people who have said that landlords have unjustly charged them for not painting a wall cream color instead of vanilla. Then they proceed to take back all $2500 in security deposit and have the gall to ask for another $1000 to redo the paint job. Are they serious? Yes. Does this seem fair to you? Doing the move-out inspection is not only necessary for both parties, but also a sign of respect. If most landlords were honest and ethical businessmen, then tenants probably wouldn’t care to do inspection either. Even when people are buying and selling homes, they do inspections. You really think inspections are unnecessary for rental situations? If you’re too lazy or tired of doing those numerous and countless inspections, then why the hell are you in this business? Go sit at corporate and do paperwork. Get a 9-5 job. Cause with your attitude, you’re not understanding the other side as well as you are your own side. There’s only a handful of landlords who are fair and just. The rest of them are all worse than sharks.

  73. Unfortunately not all rental companies are fair nor are they trustworthy. We have been blessed with great landlords and rental companies, but have also had our fair share of crazy things happen. I’ve always done final inspections with our inspector/landlord. I’ve always been told it’s just for my knowledge, and that if things are found, I can’t suddenly try to fix it or buy myself more time. It was a courtesy to me, so I knew where I failed and if anything were taken from our deposit, I would understand why. AND in my experience, 9 times out of 10…I DID leave the house waaaaay cleaner than I received it.

  74. Benefits of Walk-Through Inspections:
    Even if your state does not require you to conduct a walk-through inspection by law, it is still beneficial to both you and your tenant to do so.

    3 Benefits to Landlords:

    Anticipate Repair Costs- The walk-through inspection allows you to determine the repairs that are needed and the approximate cost of these repairs.

    Avoid Disputes- Making the tenant aware of the potential deductions that will be taken from their security deposit can help alleviate disputes. They will know what to expect and will not be surprised by the deductions.

    Tenant Fixes Damages- Conducting a walk-through prior to a tenant’s move out gives the tenant the opportunity to fix the damages so that deductions are not taken from their security deposit.

    3 Benefits to Tenants:

    Remedy Damages They Did Not Realize-A walk-through inspection allows a tenant to remedy damages they may not have realized existed.

    Get Full Security Deposit Returned- If the tenant fixes the damages the landlord has noted before he or she moves out, the tenant is likely to have their full security deposit returned.

    Avoid Disputes- The walk-through inspection informs the tenant of the deductions that will be taken from the tenant’s security deposit so that the tenant is not surprised when he or she does not receive the full security deposit back.

  75. There are in my opinion, two more reason not to do a walkthrough.

    First and most importantly, it is DANGEROUS. I showed up to d a walkthrough once. The tenants were husband & wife. I am female and about the same height and build as the wife, but the husband was 6’6″ and muscular. Before we even started the walkthrough, the husband shoved me and said in a menacing voice that the expected his full deposit, on the spot or he would not leave.

    Secondly, invariably, ever time I plan to go out of town, someone wants to schedule a move-out walk-through. I would go out of town for a friends wedding, and it would be problem. I would fly to out to visit my ailing mother, this would be a problem. The guy who shoved me … I actually cut a vacation short and came home early to do that walk-through!

    I am a FIRM believer that a landlord should never do a move-out walkthrough (unless it is required by law, that is. Luckily my state does not require it.)

  76. Thanks for your comments. We continue to operate as described – no walkthroughs – with essentially no complaints or problems related to security deposit disposition with our more than 30+ move-outs each year.

  77. I just now found this and appreciate it. What if a tenant claims that a landlord has waived their right to damages by refusing a walk through inspection? Does it depend on state laws? I’m in AZ and am actually a tenant dealing with shady landlords who manufacture excuses to steal deposits.

  78. wow. . . glad I live in California. We actually care about consumers and a walk through is required by law. As an owner and a tenant, I am glad it is required – it’s a bit cowardly to not work face to face on at least an initial inspection or review.

  79. I have a tenant that’s been in my home for almost 2 years, carpets AND pad were new when they moved in. We got a super clearance deal on bamboo and decided to replace in 1 large sun room to upgrade home.

    While removing the carpet we discovered the cat had made several carpeted rooms an extension of the litter box — including the sun room. Tenant/husband admitted he suspected that the cat had been peeing in the home, later tenant/wife got home and said that she had noticed the pee smell in that room while vacuuming shortly AFTER THEY MOVED-IN — my husband just turned away so they didn’t see his face. I informed her that’s impossible due to both the carpet and pad being new, I showed tenants the visible pee stains on both carpet and pad, and told her the previous 80+ year old owner did not have pets and the home did not smell of pets. Tenants were 100% aware the carpets were NEW when they moved-in, a move-in condition in the lease was to replace the maroon carpets with new neutral colored carpets. If we had known about the cat problem prior to scheduling the bamboo we likely would have delayed the upgrade. We had the slab bleached and dripped a bottle of lemon grass oil all around prior to installing the bamboo – now can only hope the cat does not like the new feel and smell of bamboo and lemon grass!

    When I am notified of a tenant moving out I will email move-out information along with examples of common deductions — I am very clear in this email that deductions are not known or calculated until after move-out. I also go see the home 4-6 weeks before lease end so I am prepared, and while there I may talk about common deductions if asked.

    If a tenant has lived in your rental for 1-2 years and never changed a filter do you charge them to clean the coil?
    What about grass/plants, how do you determine if they should be charged for yard damage?

  80. I found your article very helpful. I was just recently demanded a walk-through. She said it was her right as a tenant. Not in Texas! Anyways, I was hoping you had a lease agreement to pass on that covers all the necessities without all the hard to read legal mumble jumble. Mine has worked okay so far but can be a bit hard to understand by some tenants. Thanks!

  81. Hi Steve- How do you politely refuse to conduct a move-in walk-through? I have a good tenant that requested one; looking for a non-inflammatory way to respond that we will not be doing one.

    • It is in both your interests to do a move-in walkthrough. If you are an honest person then there should be nothing on the property when they move in, which you would charge them for when they move out.

  82. Thanks for your additional comments.

    I continue to not do walk-throughs and simply tell a tenant that if they ask for one. It’s is still a great policy and it works.


    • I am so glad I ran across your comments. I agree, no more walk thrus. I did an uncomfortable walk thru with my tenant, afterwards she asked for my signature that everything was ok. I signed, just because it was late and I did not want to argue. The tenant was a pain in the rear and I ended her lease early. A day later I noticed that there was a hole in a bedroom door. I told her about it and she went ballistic. She told me that I caused the damage. She sent me a bunch of texts making threats, when I texted her back she accused me of harassment. No more walk thrus, will give tenant her deposit. Goodbye and good riddance!

  83. Where is the protection for the tenant here? I am sorry but this seems like a very unfair business practice. You can than fabricate all kinds of lies to subtract money from their deposit. That is just wrong.

  84. in arizona, its illegal to refuse a walk through. lately, i am very vague, and i inform the tenant first hand that i have pictures of the property just before they moved in. I never let a tenant run the show, and i tell them “We just do not have the time now to do a 3 hour inspection of every single item, but i will do a short general inspection of problem areas and then i will give you a list so you can inspect the rest and know what to expect” and i give them a list at the walk through that states everything i inspect. This tried and true way has remedied the “bully” tenants to know i don’t mess around. fortunately i never have once had a court case yet, due to the due diligence of my method, and unfortunately i do get some disturbing rental inspections. i often say “polished turd” referring to a resident that will touch up their rental to look okay, but behind the scenes it is nasty, moldy, or broken items everywhere. I inform them this is where i find the most loss of deposit.

    I like your way of handling this, but in my state we will never be allowed to refuse walk through’s. good luck fam,

  85. Hi Steve, You are the man! I couldn’t agree with you more. Being fair and not petty is the most important thing. Your tenant move-out letter Rocks. I myself might not go to that extreme. My state gives the landlord 20 days to mail the old tenant their security deposit and I think that is fair to the landlord and to ensure that there are no problems. Skipping the walk through and waiting 20 days to return the sec dep is a right of the landlord, and we should use that right. After all, all the courts in USA are “tenant friendly” and we have to exercise all the rights we can to keep things running smoothly. Thank for all the info!

  86. I’m a long time renter and move frequently. My first question to a landlord or property mgmt is if they schedule walk throughs upon move out.

    History has taught me that landlords will try to bleed every cent of a security deposit when the fact is-in the majority of cases (especially got mid-high end properties), the deposit should be returned in full. For whatever reason, landlords are beginning to feel more & more entitled to money that is only supposed to be “security.”

  87. A walk-thru should be held if only to give the tenant an opportunity to right some wrongs. That pile of boxes in the garage? Those should be removed else you’ll get charged a cleaning fee. That is what a walk-thru should address. The cases you mention are outliers — a reappearing carpet stain. No one is expecting you to do full forensics on every house during the walk-thru.

    No where does a walk-thru mean the landlord is completely signing off on ALL damages. You already have a month’s rent (deposit) in possession and 30 days to account for what you missed during the walk-thru.

    There are bad tenants, bad landlords, and a lot of bad realtors/prop managers. This just doesn’t help your profession one bit.

    This is terrible; bad advice, and, frankly, wreaks of laziness. Luckily TX law sides with you this point in time.

  88. @Zackmayo Thanks for your comment. 10 years later I’m still doing it same as always. Tenants still receive fair deposit returns, I haven’t had any complaints or any trouble at all.

  89. Steve-Thanks for the atricle. It is still getting comments, 10 years after it was written. I have been a landlord since the early 80’s, and have been doing walk throughs since I started. They are without the tenant, and typically a week or two after he leaves. I’m with you. When a tenant moves out, they are no longer a tenant. They are a former customer. Fair, but firm. I have experienced every kind of damage in almost 40 years, and have been to court many times. So far, no post court refunds. Thank you for sharing this.

  90. While I respect your stance as a property manager, what about what is fair to the tenant? I have been renting for 15 years (I move a lot and buying is a huge risk with my job). I have had my share of landlords try to charge for previous existing issues or things I was never made aware I needed to check. Due to your experience your move out inspections are probably 150% more thorough than your tenants moving in; your tenants are now at a drastically unfair disadvantage when it comes to getting a deposit back. I would agree with you if you do a move in inspection showing the new tenant the current condition and tour expectations. An example you listed about the refrigerator coils, I would never think to check at a move in so how do I know that you’re not billing me for a previous Tennant’s filth.

  91. Both a move in and a move out inspection takes time. The new tenant should contact the landlord or property manager as soon as they discover something they think may be an issue. I will never do a move out walk through again for so many of the reasons stated above. The departing tenant wants an answer immediately. If that were even possible why does the law give us 21 days to determine that. I was verbally attacked by my last tenant who wanted to argue over everything and quite frankly I will never go through that again. I know my rentals are exceptionally clean and I state in my lease that they should be cleaned to the point that the new tenant does not have to do any additional cleaning. Every tenant I have ever rented to tell me when they first move in how much they appreciated how clean the rental is and all they had to do is put their things away. But when they move out it is a different story. Take pictures? Yes! But pictures don’t capture dirt inside drawers, on shelves, dirt on walls, doors and windows. I am more than fair in giving back deposits. Getting a few more bucks out of past tenants is the farthest thing from my mind and I usually give more than they deserve. It is nothing for me to spend two full days cleaning a rental that I am told has been professionally cleaned. Maybe I’m in the wrong business and I should start a cleaning business since it appears I know how to clean better than the so called professionals.

  92. Thanks @Mona. It’s a psychological thing. Something to do with how the human brain works. I try not to take it personally when tenants say “we left it cleaner than when we moved in” and they objectively did not. Doesn’t help to argue.

  93. landlords like you are why tenants hate landlords categorically. This is what you called a BAD LANDLORD, who cares nothing about providing safe and affordable housing for people, or respecting tenants as people. I’ve been a landlord for 35 years, and I always show up when the tenant needs me. And just what? I’ve NEVER been sued. I’ve NEVER had to go to court. Don’t be dick. Don’t be like this guy.


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