Move-in checklists are critical to both renters and landlords -- and for wholly different reasons.
On the renter side, a detailed move-in checklist offers protection, ensuring you don't get blamed for damage that was done prior to move-in.
For landlords, the checklist provides grounds for repair charges once a tenant moves out. If an item was not marked as damaged at the time of the renter's move-in, you can more easily justify charging the tenant for said repairs once they're out of the property.
In short? The document can offer security to both tenants and landlords alike -- as long as it's done right.
Want to learn more about move-in checklists or how they could protect you as a landlord or renter? This guide can help.
What is a move-in checklist?
A move-in checklist is a type of form filled out by the tenant immediately after moving into a new rental property or apartment. The renter will use the document to detail the condition of certain features in the home, and it's usually due within a few days to a week of move-in. The renter will also need to note any existing damage that's already there.
Depending on the landlord or property manager, this document might also be called a:
- Rental inspection checklist.
- Rental walkthrough checklist.
- Apartment checklist.
- Final inspection.
- Inspection checklist.
Despite its name, the checklist also has use during the move-out phase. After the tenant has left the property or issued their intent to vacate, the landlord can use the document to assess the home's condition. If any damage is found that's not already noted on the form, they may be able to charge the renter or use their security deposit to pay for repairs.
What should a move-in checklist include?
In order for a move-in checklist to do its job, it's important for the document to be thorough, detailed, and customized to the exact property you're renting out.
In general, it should include sections for:
- Every room in the house.
- Walls, flooring, paint, ceiling, and carpeting.
- Electrical elements, outlets, and light fixtures.
- Any included furniture.
- Doors, windows, and window treatments.
- Countertops and backsplashes.
- Plumbing elements, tubs, showers, toilets, and sinks.
- Cabinetry, drawers, and built-ins.
- Architectural elements like stairs, railings, and balconies.
- The garage and driveway.
- Smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors, security alarms, etc.
- Fans, A/C units, and heating systems.
- The home's exterior features, including the mailbox, doorbell, and any patio or other outdoor areas.
To see how this might look all laid out, here's a move-in checklist template from our partners at Avail. Like all templates, this is only a starting point and probably needs some customization. As such, we strongly encourage you to contact a real estate lawyer if you have questions about this template and whether it is right for you.
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Move-in checklist section breakdowns
The above offered a more general look at what a rental inspection checklist should contain. Now, let's get down to the nitty-gritty of each individual section.
The kitchen is where renters will spend a large chunk of their time, so it's a spot that's highly susceptible to damage. It's also a room that landlords tend to invest a lot of cash in -- especially if appliances are included. As such, it's important that both parties are thorough in this area of the form, both in constructing the document and filling it out at move-in and move-out.
Make sure you include kitchen-specific items like the garbage disposal, dishwasher, fridge, trash compactor, pantry, hood vent, oven, and microwave, as well as more standard features like the countertops, cabinets, sink/drain, backsplash, drawers, and built-in shelves. Outlets and light fixtures are also important to note.
There should be a section for every bedroom in the house. These sections will be pretty short compared to some of the others on the checklist, but they should still be thorough nonetheless.
You'll want to cover the basics like the walls, ceilings, and floors, but also more detailed areas, including the closet, windows/window sills, light fixtures, and of course, any window treatments, blinds, curtains, or furniture items that are included.
There also needs to be a designated section for every bathroom in the rental unit -- including any half-baths. It should cover the same basics as the other rooms (floor, walls, paint, etc.), but also more bathroom-specific items like the tub, showerhead, faucet, drain, countertops, and plumbing. If there are any medicine cabinets or drawers, these should also make the list.
The living room is another high-traffic area that deserves a lot of attention. The checklist needs to cover the general features of the space -- ceilings, floors, carpeting, and windows -- as well as any window treatments, entry doors, electrical outlets or hookups, and baseboards/molding. In the event there's a fireplace and mantel, these also need to be included.
Not all rental properties are going to have a dining room, but if yours does, it needs thorough inspection, too. This section of the checklist will look pretty similar to that of the living area, with the addition of any extra features or included furniture.
Landlords and tenants also need to thoroughly assess the home's interior systems and features at move-in and move-out. These systems will vary but generally include things like heating and air conditioning elements, smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, fire alarms, security systems, and any plumbing and electrical elements.
Finally, if the rental comes with any exterior area or outdoor space -- a driveway, garage, parking spot, garden, balcony, or patio -- these all need a spot on the checklist. You also might include the lawn, any pathways, tables, or coverings in the backyard, entryway stairs, fences/gates, the garage door, outdoor electrical outlets, and the doorbell.
Tips for success
Detailed instructions should always be included on a move-in checklist, and there should also be a key noting what terms the renter should use when filling out the form ("satisfactory," "needs cleaning," "needs repair," are just a few examples). This keeps the document clean and easy to understand for both parties.
There should also be an open-ended section for other comments/notes at the very end of the document. Tenants can use this spot to detail any strange smells or other concerns they have about the property or apartment upon move-in (and the landlord can do the same when filling it out after the renter has vacated).
The bottom line
A detailed and thorough move-in checklist is critical for landlords and tenants alike. To see what your inspection checklist might look like, download this template from Avail now. Need more help protecting yourself? Comprehensive rental insurance for landlords and renters insurance for tenants may be able to help.