So just how important is the move-in checklist?

You’ve found a good tenant for your rental and you are excited to meet him/her and sign the lease.  The date and time are set and the only thing left to do now is grab the lease and head out the door, right?  Wrong.

At least in WA state, the law says you cannot hold a security deposit of the tenant without a move-in checklist!  Imagine having a “security” deposit that provides no security at all because you are missing this one essential document.  It means returning the entire deposit to the tenant regardless of the condition the property was left in.

So you go back and grab the move-in checklist at the same time as you grab the lease.  You head over to meet your new tenant.  You’re runnmove-in-2ing a little short of time.  After all, you just want to grab the money, give them the keys, and be done with this nonsense.  So you draw a line down the move-in checklist under the ‘Good’ column and figure that overs you, right?  Wrong.

You need to put a check next to each item or the checklist is invalid.  This one is the judge’s call whether they will accept it or not, but imagine having a move-in checklist and still being ordered to return the full amount.

All right.  So you have a move-in checklist and each item is checked off.  Three years have passed and it is time for the tenant to move out.  Do you have notes on the move-in checklist so you can determine which repair items are chargeable to the tenant and which ones to the owner?  Good notes — and even photographs — help insure fairness for all parties.  If you don’t know then how can you charge fairly?

The move-in checklist (and its counterpart, the move-out checklist) are critical legal documents to a lease.

How to tell if your tenant screening is working

We all know (or should know) that if you put the effort in on the front end with your tenant screening that you will be rewarded on the back end when the tenants move out. Here’s a test to see if your tenant screening is really working.

  • 1.       You don’t get excited when someone makes application  (i.e. you aren’t desperate).
  • 2.       You deny at least 10% of applicants (i.e. you aren’t desperate).
  • 3.       You have criteria and stick to them (you don’t bend them to fit the applicant).
  • 4.       Less than 10% of your tenants are late with rent.
  • 5.       Less than 10% of your tenants owe you more than $100 at move-out.
  • 6.       You aren’t worried about meth labs, parties, or kids trashing the unit.

How did you do?  Be honest with yourself.  If you got 5 or better then you are doing great and don’t change a thing.  But if you got 4 or fewer take a good look at your process and make some changes….or hire a good property manager! 🙂

Peter Nelson is President of Full Service Property Management.  Full Service offers a full suite of management and maintenance services for residential property owners in the greater Seattle area.  They can be found at

Evictions — a sensible approach

As property managers probably the one question we get asked more than any other is: how do we handle evictions.  Evictions represent the biggest ‘downside’ to being a landlord.  And whether it is a do-it-yourself landlord or an owner who has hired us, the fear of a long, protracted, expensive, legal battle looms large in the back of most landlords’ minds.Image

I learned the hard way.  I am honest and gullible — the perfect stooge for being taken advantage of.  That School of Hard Knocks was pretty hard on me.  But I persevered and survived and came out the other side with a clear and confident methodology to effective management of late pays.  I share it here.

Our rents are due on the first of the month, and late on the sixth.  By the 7th or 8th of the month we contact anyone who hasn’t paid rent.  We will give them up to 2 weeks to pay their rent — with late fees.  We make arrangements for the rent to be made on a specific date.  This is our attempt to be compassionate human beings and treat our tenants with respect.

We also explain to the tenants that we are simultaneously serving them with a 3-day Pay Rent or Vacate Notice.  We further explain that if they pay the rent (and late fees) as agreed then they have nothing to worry about.  But if they fail to make the full payment then we will refer their file to an eviction attorney.  We empower our tenants — they can choose whether they want to continue living in our rental or get evicted.

We do not accept any excuses.  We tell them to be darn sure of the date they can pay the rent because they are now on a short leash — zero tolerance policy is in effect.  By explaining the “rules of engagement” in advance it frees us up to act on them if need be.  When the appointed date comes we follow through.  We either file the 3-day and do not act on it or we refer it to our eviction attorney.

Now, if we serve a 3-day notice and we still do not hear from the tenants then we know we are going to have to take some serious action.  We refer the file immediately to our eviction attorney.

Where most do-it-yourself landlords get in trouble (including myself in the early years) is believing in the promises without backing it up.  Accepting the reason for the late pay without serving the 3-day is simply asking the tenants to walk all over you.  We run across this stuff all the time.  My favorite is the tenants’ who pay their monthly rent every 5-6 weeks.  By the 4th or 5th month they are a full month behind!

Serving the 3-day notice AND giving the tenant some leeway protects the landlord’s interests while respecting the tenants’ needs.  It empowers the tenants’ to determine their future without undermining the landlord’s rights to what has been agreed upon by both parties in the lease.


Peter Nelson is a landlord and President of Full Service Property Management of Seattle, WA.  With over 28 years leasing experience under his belt, he has seen his fair share of late pays.  To his credit, Peter has been successful in staying out of eviction court.those 28 years.  How to get bad tenants out of rentals without going to court — sounds like a good topic for a later blog!