Q: We have a tenant who is breaking her lease early. Our lease states that in order to do so, she must pay an early termination fee (equal to the security deposit, which is $1,250).
She is also responsible for any damages to the premises, the current water bill, and likely some cleaning to the unit.
What is our best method to keep the deposit and to document any additional cost for damage to the home? We want to make sure to follow the correct procedure, such as doing a proper walk-through and written follow-up.
A: Any time a tenant leaves unexpectedly, it can cause a host of problems. You’re wise to tackle this head-on, to minimize the damage and your possible losses.
Having an early termination fee is helpful, as it will give you some cushion when it comes to renting the unit. In terms of the tenant vacating the premises, you should schedule a final walk-through with the tenant before she leaves and document the specific condition of the apartment.
Create a pre-written checklist that scores each item from 1 to 5 based on its level of cleanliness, and then check off the appropriate level you walk through the property. This written checklist will also allow your tenant to know upfront how you see the condition of the property, and it gives her advance warning that you will be using some of her security deposit to fix certain items.
But to do it right, you’ll need to consult with a real estate lawyer in your area. Some municipalities have strict requirements relating to security deposits, the return of security deposits and claims for damages. In some cases landlords may have to document any damage caused to the property in a certain way.
The landlord might have to obtain detailed receipts showing how the damage was repaired and the cost to make the repair. Others municipalities require written notice to the tenant as to the extent of the damage and how and when the landlord will make the repairs. Not following your local rules can cause you not only aggravation but can cost you money.
Hopefully, your tenant hasn’t trashed your property and you won’t have to chase her for more than her security deposit.
Here’s a final thought: Once you’ve created this checklist, you should use it not only for a final walk-through but as a move-in tool. This will allow you to document the condition the property is in before your tenant moves in, not just when he or she moves out.