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How best achieve a positive end of tenancy checkout?

keys for renters moving out at the end of a tenancy

The end of a tenancy is often fraught for landlords and renters alike, even if it’s the renters who’ve given notice. The renters are usually anxious to get their deposits back promptly and to get a good reference. The landlords are worried about what state the property will be left in, and how long it will take before new renters can move in.

In this blog post, I share 7 tips to help you have a positive, smooth, boring even, end of tenancy handover. This means one where the renters receive their full deposit back, and the property needs minimal work before the next renters move in.

Mission impossible? Not necessarily. Here’s how to go about it.

1. Start the tenancy with a professional inventory

extract from inventory
Extract from the professional inventory report of one of my properties

Key to building a good relationship between a landlord and a renter is to start off on the right foot. An professional inventory is an independent record of the state of the property at the beginning of the tenancy. Inventories are fair to both parties, and show renters that their landlord is professional and keeps records.

Inventories are a vital piece of evidence if there’s a dispute at the end, as it means the “before” condition of the property should be clear. It’s a fixed set of goal posts for both parties.

An inventory serves serves a tangible reminder to the renter of the standard they’ll need to reach to get back their full deposit. Renters tend to look after properties better if they know there will be an end of tenancy check-out inventory.

I know an inventory costs around £100 according to the number of bedrooms and the location of the property. However, I believe it’s a worthwhile investment. If the renters leave the property in top condition, all well and good. If they don’t, the inventory will help support your decision to deduct remedial costs from the deposit.

As the extract above from one of my inventories shows, it contains detailed photos and descriptions of the property’s condition. This is evidence that someone independent has verified my claim that the appliances were brand new. In order to have the appliances described as “brand new”, I needed to show the inventory clerk receipts.

Ask your renters to check the inventory report when they move in, and say whether they would like any changes made. It may be that they spot a maintenance issue or a problem with the property’s cleanliness or condition that the inventory clerk didn’t. For instance, mould at the back of the cupboard, the extractor hood not working, or items left in the loft. That way, the landlord can fix these issues at the start of the tenancy.

It’s also worth checking in with your renters a couple of weeks after they move in to see if they’ve spotted anything else.

If you didn’t get an inventory done when your renters originally moved in, you can print off any photos that you took at the time. Copies of receipts eg new carpet can also prove something was brand new. Something is better than nothing.

2. Do regular checks

woman with a clipboard undertaking a landlord inspection

It’s very important to do regular checks on rental properties – at least every 6 months. It’s fair for both parties, and not something to be wary of.

Landlord check that the renter is taking good care of the property, and nip issues in the bud. For instance, has the ventilation been sealed up, causing damp? Is the garden over-grown? Are they using a doormat to help remove dirt from shoes before walking on the new carpet.

This is a good opportunity for the renter to point out what needs repair if they’ve been reluctant to do this formally. The landlord should encourage this by asking if there are any little niggling things that need sorting. It’s far better to know about potential problems. Likewise, it may be that the renter needs help with how to prevent mould in the shower or bath.

By having this dialogue, the renters will know the expectations of the landlord in terms of how they need to look after the property. Also, landlords can see for themselves how the property is faring. This means there should be few surprises for either party at the end of the tenancy. In theory at least.

Of course the landlord/letting agent will need to give notice to the renters for a visit, at a reasonable time. I give a few time slots a week in advance and ask them to confirm which is best for them.

Unless the renter has given permission to enter the property without them being present, do knock at the door. It’s polite, and respects their right to privacy and “quiet enjoyment”.

If the landlord decides to delegate inspections to a letting agent, they should be clear what they expect the agent to check. Will they compare the property against the original inventory report? Will they look for areas for preventative repair? What about unauthorised pets or additional people living at the property. How will the agent report back to the landlord?

Whoever carries out the inspection, it’s important to follow up what was discussed and any actions agreed by email or letter. Do ask the renters to confirm they’re happy with the summary and don’t have anything to add. This means there’ll be a clear and agreed record of the visit so neither party can dispute what happened at a later date.

3. Pre-checkout inspection

back garden with long grass and weeds
23% of tenancy deposit disputes involved the state of the garden

A pre-checkout inspection a couple of weeks before the tenancy ends is a good way of avoiding misunderstandings as to how the renters should leave the property. Ideally you should arrange the inspection before you give your landlord reference.

This is where your check-in Inventory Report starts to pay dividends. The aim is to make sure they understand what they need to do to return the property to its original condition, taking into account normal and reasonable wear and tear. Try to make it clear what they need to do to get their deposit back in full.

Take two hard copies of the original Inventory Report – one for you and one for the renters. Walk through the entire property with the renters, and point out where the property’s condition differs from the report. Talk to them about problem areas they need to sort out before they hand over their keys, and make a note on your copy.

It’s useful to have in mind the top four for tenancy deposit disputes, according to statistics from the TDS. These were:

  • Cleanliness – 42%
  • Redecoration – 39%
  • Damage – 41%
  • Gardening – 23%

Unless the property is in perfect condition when you visit, it’s likely any problems will come under one or more of these categories.

renters have left things in the cellar
If the cellar looks like this, make sure you remind your renters they need to remove everything and clean up

Here are a few tips for common problem areas (assuming everything was spotless on check-in):

  • Check the oven and grill, including any oven dishes/grill pans that you supplied. Unless it’s all spotless , explain they will need to clean it.
  • Remind them that they should defrost and clean the fridge/freezer.
  • General cleanliness – explain that the property will need to a professional standard so it is in the same state of cleanliness as on check-in.
  • Carpets will usually need professionally cleaning. Point out any stains or burns on the carpet that weren’t there when they arrived.
  • General condition – check for hols in the walls and doors.
  • Check the cellar and attic/loft – take photos of what is. in there, and check it against the inventory. Explain that they will need to be clear and clean.
  • If any of the light fittings have been changed without your permission, explain that the original ones will need refitting by a qualified electrician. Say you will need to see a receipt.
  • Gardens are neglected, particularly in winter. Check it against the photos from the Inventory, and again make clear what they need to remove.
  • If you have given permission for them to put pictures and other items (eg TV or shelves) on the wall, explain they will need to fill the holes and repaint, to a professional standard.

Remember that the more the renters do before they move out at their expense, the higher the sum left in the deposit for any damage they don’t fix, or rent arrears. It will also reduce the amount of time you’ll need to prepare the property for new renters. The aim should be to return their deposit in full, if they return the property in a good state.

Follow up your visit in writing, pointing out areas that need attention.

4. Arrange a professional check-out inventory

End of tenancy inventory being undertaken by an inventory clerk
Inventory being undertaken by a clerk at the end of a tenancy

Once your renters have moved out at the end of the tenancy, you should arrange a professional check-out Inventory Report. Again, this will be an important document in the event of a dispute.

Do make sure that the inventory includes photos of the meter readings for gas, electricity and water, as you cannot rely on the readings taken by your renters. If the property is to be vacant for a little while, contact the utility companies and give them the meter readings. Your water company shouldn’t charge you while the property is empty; all the more reason to contact them. These costs all add up.

5. Visit the property yourself to check it

I have learned from experience that it’s important to visit the property myself after the renters move out. You cannot rely on the Inventory Report to spot landlord maintenance issues.

On the other hand, it may be that it’s not practical to visit the property yourself, and someone else may need to do it. This may be a letting agent or someone else you trust. In this case, it’s important to make clear to whoever checks the property exactly what they need to check. It’s not a quick once over.

I personally think it’s better to do it yourself, and it’s worth the journey. But then I found through experience during Covid that I can’t rely on letting agents to flag maintenance issues.

The best time to see what needs fixing is when the property is empty after the renters move out at end of the tenancy. Use this void time wisely to check everything so it will be in good condition for your new renters. For instance, check taps, doors, cupboards, windows, doors, locks, wardrobes, the loft, cellar shower pressure, shower trap, plug holes gutters, weeds, lights etc.

If your property is furnished, you should check whether any of the furniture needs replacing.

Try to think what may go wrong, and check that. It will save you hassle in the long run, and make moving in a better experience for your new renters.

It’s likely you’ll need to arrange for redecoration to refresh it for new renters, particularly if they’ve been living there for more than a year. So don’t have unrealistic expectations. It should nevertheless be clean, clear and without damage.

6. Be fair and reasonable

Part of being a good landlord is being fair and reasonable (click here for more on being a good landlord). And this means giving back the deposit in full if the renters leave the property in good condition. It doesn’t have to be perfect, as normal wear and tear is expected.

If the renters have been there a while and have always paid on time, so long as the property is clean and in fairly good condition, be generous and don’t make petty deductions. They should be rewarded for being good renters by being treated fairly when they leave.

I even once cancelled a checkout inventory after visiting the property myself. I was due to sell the flat, and was planning to repaint it anyway. The renters had left it very clean, so I gave them back their full deposit immediately. I also saved myself the cost of the Inventory Report.

7. The deposit

Lastly, if you decide that it’s fair and reasonable to make deductions from the deposit, you’ll need to write to the renters to explain your reasons. You should include copies of quotations or receipts, together with before and after photos to justify your decision.

Both parties will need to authorise the deposit release and agree to any deductions you propose to make.

It will be particularly useful if you can show you warned them of problem areas in your pre-checkout inspection or during other visits. For instance, referring to emails sent after previous inspections.

Remember that any letters or emails you write will be evidence if they challenge your decision through the free resolution service of the relevant deposit protection scheme.

Firstly, if you do reach an agreement on the deductions (if any), you’ll need to return the deposit to your renters 10 days of your agreement.

Secondly, if you don’t reach an agreement, they’ll need to dispute your decision by raising a dispute with the resolution service. In order to do so, they must have paid the rent in full, met their contractual obligations and formally requested return of the deposit from you, and allowed 10 calendar days to pass. The service will usually require proof of their formal request to you.

Thirdly, if you decide to return the deposit in full, message or email your renters promptly to let them know. Do also thank them for leaving the property in such good condition. I know it’s what they should do, but it’s nice to thank them. It costs nothing and shows their efforts were appreciated.

Final thoughts

the front room at the start of the tenancy
The target: a clean front room in good condition, as they found it

The end of the tenancy can be a stressful time for renters and landlords alike. However, the key to having a smooth checkout is making expectations clear, avoiding surprises, and being fair and reasonable.

It comes down to the golden rule – what would you expect if the positions were reversed? It doesn’t mean being a pushover. It’s about stepping back and thinking about what feels right in all the circumstances.

You may also find useful

My 5 biggest mistakes as a newbie landlord

What all new landlords need to know

How to find renters without letting agents

Managing rental properties – is it really that hard?

What landlords should provide in unfurnished properties?

7 Tips for a smooth end of tenancy

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