Smoothing Your Tenant Turnover Process

So one of your rental tenants is ready to move on. The tenant turnover process is a natural part of being a landlord, but that doesn’t make it easy. The vast majority of the time, being a landlord is a fairly relaxed occupation. While you need to be ready for repairs and emergencies at any time, for the most part, your tenants take care of themselves and you trade friendly hellos during the annual maintenance rounds. However, when a tenant decides to move somewhere new, suddenly your life kicks into gear as a whole slew of new landlord duties become necessary.

The Tenant Turnover Process

Turnover is by far the most challenging part of being a landlord because there are so many tasks to take care of in a relatively short amount of time. Not only do you need your previous tenant to clear out the home and settle their affairs before departing, you also need to prepare the home for someone new and somehow source a great and responsible new tenant. Simply managing the first half of tenant turnover – seeing off your departing tenant – can become a serious ordeal and can even bleed over into bothering a new tenant if not handled thoroughly from the beginning.

A Smooth Tenant Turnover Process Requires:

  • Coordination with the departing tenant
  • Mail forwarding
  • Dealing with abandoned items
  • Cleaning
  • Repairs
  • Improvements
  • Key handover

The key is to work with your departing tenant to help them get out of the home as cleanly and completely as possible. To help out with this challenging process, we’ve put together a few tips:

1) Communicate the Tenant Turnover Process

When a tenant announces their plan to depart, your timer starts ticking. You and they have until the end of the lease to get the home completely clear of items and settle all affairs that connect the tenant to the residence. While some tenants are rental pros who can handle the entire process themselves, usually you will be the expert on what is necessary for a smooth and successful departure. Therefore, your best technique for a smooth turnover is to communicate your priorities and process to the tenant as they prepare to leave.

Take the time to meet your tenant and talk to them about what is needed for a smooth departure. Let them know what you’ve learned from dealing with previous departing tenants and a few best practices you’ve developed along the way. If the meeting is tense, lighten the mood with a few funny stories about turnover fiascos from the past that make it clear you’re not nit-picking, just careful.

2) Create a Security Deposit Checklist

Your tenant wants their entire security deposit back and you want to give it to them. Most tenants would strongly prefer to handle small repairs and touch-ups on their own rather than see a security deposit deduction, but they don’t have a landlord’s eye for detail when it comes to seeing where those repairs need to take place. The best way you can help your tenants and yourself is to write up a quick, but thorough security deposit checklist.

landlord and tenants reviewing security deposit checklist

This should enumerate where small damages and touch-up spots usually hide and how to spot them. For each item, include a tip on how to repair the type of damage.

Things to Look Out For Include:

  • Nail holes in the walls
  • Scratches in paint and on floor
  • Carpet stains
  • Dents in the drywall and interior doors
  • Leaky plumbing
  • Excessive grime or mess

While it’s not absolutely necessary, mention in your checklist that a final sweep and polish is a great way to leave the home and will help them find smaller damages that will need to be repaired.

3) Be Clear About Your Abandoned Items Policy Before and After Departure

Many landlord move-out horror stories include items left behind by tenants or other abandoned items that are a constant concern for any turnover process.

To prevent your currently departing tenant from abandoning anything, be very clear with them about your abandoned items policy and offer them a few solutions for things that won’t fit in their new home or the moving truck. Give them the names of a few charities who will pick up things from the house and how to order a bulk trash pickup just in case. If there is anything they want to keep, but can’t take yet, suggest they find a storage service.

4) Transfer Utilities

For any utilities your tenant has been taking care of, you’ll need to take back over the accounts. This will allow you to keep the lights and water on while you clean and update the home between tenants. Suggest your tenant cancel all non-essential bills like cable or regular deliveries and help them transfer the necessary utility accounts back into your name.

5) Mail Forwarding

Getting someone else’s mail is a known hazard of rental homes, and your next tenant won’t appreciate getting your departing tenant’s mail. While the best solution is for your tenant to update all their accounts to their new address, something will always be missed or forgotten for months. Suggest to your departing tenant that they set up mail forwarding while they get their new life set up to ensure that your next tenant is not constantly opening the mailbox to letters addressed to someone else.

6) Go Through a Final Walkthrough

The final walkthrough of a home with your departing tenant is a courtesy. It’s an opportunity to point out any glaring problems with a day or two left to fix them, and it gives you a chance to wish them well in their new home. Let your tenant know you want to schedule a final walkthrough with them within the last two weeks of their lease, but also that this walkthrough will not be your final assessment. Take this time to ask them what, if any, little repairs they performed and any issues with the home they noticed along the way. A squeaky bathroom fan, for instance, isn’t something your tenant is responsible for repairing, but it might be something you want to fix before inviting a new tenant.

If your tenant is friendly, consider asking them to write a letter to the next tenant about any tips they’ve learned for enjoying the home.

7) Hand Over the Keys in Person

Finally, one of the last steps of the tenant turnover process is to try to have the keys handed over in person. This is ceremonial, but it also ensuresthey don’t do something silly like leave the keys somewhere any hooligan could pick them up and enter the home between their departure and your next inspection. Get the keys in your hands and encourage your tenant to retrieve any keys they gave to friends and family or hid somewhere on the front porch.

That said, change the locks anyway. You never know when a key copy is floating around.

Smoothing the Tenant Turnover Process Makes Your Life Easier

After your departing tenant is fully departed, there’s still a lot of work to do. But by handling the tenant turnover process thoroughly with the cooperation of your tenant, you have just dodged the vast majority of turnover challenges and the potential drama that comes with them. No fights over the security deposit, abandoned items, un-forwarded mail, piles of garbage, or un-repaired surprises.

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