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The 5 Phases Of Tenant Move-Out: A Detailed Guide To A Successful Move-Out Process

  • January 30, 2024
  • James Beeson
  • Category: LANDLORD TIPS, Property Management

Are you ready to handle the tenant move-out at your rental property? Managing move-outs, especially when dealing with multiple properties, can be a challenging task involving various elements. When tenants choose not to renew their rental agreements, providing them with a clear move-out process is essential. Offering a checklist will help your tenants understand your expectations, enabling you to turn over the property. Remember, as an owner, the move-out process is as crucial for you, and having a streamlined procedure is essential for simplicity and convenience.

Once a tenant vacates your rental home, prompt action is necessary to prepare the property for a new tenant. This involves conducting inspections and checking all the marks on your checklist.

To help you get an overview of the whole process, here we have gathered 5 key phases for a successful tenant move-out process from your rental property:

The 5 Phases Of Tenant Move-Out

#1 Getting The Notice from Your Tenant

Begin by acknowledging your tenant’s notice to vacate. Depending on the terms outlined in your lease agreement, tenants must provide a specific notice period before leaving the property. This notice might coincide with the approaching renewal date, indicating their decision not to renew. The lease will specify the required notice duration, and tenants should submit a written notification detailing their departure date.

Tenant Move-Out - Getting The Notice from Your Tenant

If your tenants convey this information verbally, encourage them to formalize their notice through a written medium, such as text or email. Documentation is crucial, and achieving that through a mere conversation is challenging.

Following this, contact your tenants via phone to express gratitude for their care of your property during their tenancy. During this conversation, inform them that you will send an email confirming the outstanding rent up to their vacate date. Additionally, provides insights into the steps they need to take to ensure the full return of their security deposit.

This discussion is significant—it conveys appreciation to the tenant, clarifies the amount owed, and outlines the necessary actions for securing the bond, which is a priority for renters.

Once you have the move-out date, you can schedule a walk-through and arrange for any required vendors to prepare the property for new tenants.

#2 Assigning A Move-Out Checklist

Upon receiving notice from your tenant, promptly provide clear instructions and necessary forms to facilitate a smooth transition. Giving an instruction sheet or a move-out checklist is essential for guiding the tenant through the necessary tasks before vacating the apartment. This checklist contains all crucial aspects of a move-out process. Give your tenant an overview of what they are responsible for doing and check before they hand out the keys.

This checklist aims to establish mutual understanding between the tenant and the landlord, streamlining the move-out process. By sticking to the checklist, both parties ensure a hassle-free experience for the landlord, the tenant, and the future occupant of the rental property.

Tenant Move-Out - A Move-Out Checklist

Usually, all these important details are already mentioned in your lease agreement, outlining the expectations for tenants upon moving out. When you provide the tenants with a clean and fully functional property, they expect to return it in a comparable condition. However, providing them with a separate sheet during the notice period detailing each point can help them understand your expectations better. The Key inclusions in your move-out checklist should include the following:

  • Notice for Property Inspection and Security Deposit Return:

Before vacating the premises, providing a 3-5 day notice to the landlord for a thorough property inspection is essential. This facilitates a transparent assessment and allows time to point out any overlooked things during the check-up process.

  • Maintaining Floors, Ceilings, and Walls:

The tenant must leave the property with walls, floors, and ceilings without writings, marks, or adhesive spots made by the posters. The tenant should also maintain the stairs and repair any breaks or damage made during the tenancy, which is pivotal in preserving the property’s integrity and ensuring a smooth transition for incoming occupants.

  • Complete Removal of Personal Property:

Leaving no trace behind is one of the top things to consider when moving out. Tenants must remove all personal property from the house, whether old mattresses, couches, or any personal belongings. Tenants can either sell them, dispose of them or give the items away.

  • Zero Garbage or Waste Left Behind:

A good departure involves thoroughly removing any garbage or waste within the premises. This practice not only upholds sanitation standards but also contributes to a more efficient turnover, sparing the landlord the burden of waste disposal.

  • Thorough House Cleaning and Restoration:

The tenant is responsible for comprehensively cleaning the house and returning it to its original condition upon occupancy. This includes addressing any necessary painting to match the original colors, ensuring a seamless transition for the next occupants, and maintaining the property’s overall appeal.

  • Outdoor Area Maintenance:

 If the property has an outdoor area, tenants must also focus on this space. Cleaning and restoring it to its original condition is important. This includes mowing down the backyard, cleaning the outer storage room, cleaning the swimming pool (if included), and making any repairs on fences and boundary walls.

  • Doors and Windows Integrity:

Doors and windows form integral components of a secure and functional living space. Tenants must ensure the proper functionality and lack of damage to these elements.

  • Electrical Equipment and Wiring Compliance:

The tenant is responsible for ensuring the seamless operation of all electrical equipment and wiring within the property. This includes a thorough check to guarantee the functionality of lights and the absence of missing bulbs.

  • Plumbing and Water System Maintenance:

An integral aspect of tenancy responsibility is the maintenance of the plumbing and water systems. Tenants must keep these systems functional, free from leaks, and in the same condition as when they initially occupied the property.

  • Kitchen Hygiene and Functionality:

The tenant is expected to maintain the kitchen clean and functional. This includes ensuring that counters and cabinets remain in good condition. All equipment already in the house should be functional, including a stove, fridge, oven, microwave, dishwasher, and sink disposal system.

  • Bathroom Fixture Integrity and Cleanliness:

The condition of bathroom fixtures is a crucial consideration for tenants. Ensuring these fixtures remain undamaged and functional is an essential responsibility of the tenant before handing out the house. They should repair any leakages, address any problem with sewage, and ensure everything in the bathroom, including the tub, shower, toilet seat, sink, and mirrors is clean and undamaged.

  • Additional Equipment and Non-Removal Clause:

Beyond the listed responsibilities, tenants must also ensure the good condition of any additional equipment the landlord provides, such as emergency backup lights, smoke detectors, and water pumps. Removal of these items is strictly prohibited, and they should be functional.

  • Key and Remote Control Return:

A crucial aspect of concluding a tenancy is the rightful return of all keys and, if applicable, the remote control keys for the house. This ensures that the landlord maintains control over property access and security.

  • Ensure that all Utility Bills are Updated

Tenants bear the responsibility of promptly settling utility bills upon commencing their tenancy. Therefore, prioritize the inclusion of up-to-date bills in the move-out checklist. This includes electricity, gas, water, sewage, garbage disposal, and TV services.

#3 Landlord’s Walkthrough and Condition Assessment

After tenants have completed their responsibilities regarding repairs and almost vacated their belongings, you are permitted to enter and conduct a “before hand-out” inspection. During this process, you will assess the necessary work required to make the property rentable again. It is crucial to distinguish between damage done by a tenant and damage done unintentionally over the years.

Damage that is imperative over time is your responsibility, and tenants cannot be held accountable for covering the costs of repairs or replacements. These damages constitute the natural and gradual deterioration of the property over time, resulting from any tenant’s normal use of the property or its equipment. This phenomenon would occur regardless of who inhabited the space. Tenants are not liable for the expenses related to repairing these kinds of wear & tear.

For instance, damage is imperative in the carpet. If there is noticeable wear in high-traffic areas like hallways, it is likely due to years of use. Similarly, small holes in the walls from pictures hung by tenants and scuff marks on the paint caused by furniture contact are considered normal damage. You must address and fund all necessary repairs associated with these damages before putting your property on the market.

If the tenants have neglected to address any repairs outlined in the move-out checklist, they are subject to charges for resultant damages. Any harm arising from a tenant’s abuse, misuse, or negligence will be deducted from the security deposit. Distinguishing between damage done out of the tenants’ responsibility and actual damage done by them can sometimes be challenging.

Suppose you had conducted a thorough move-in inspection before the tenants assumed possession with videos and pictures. In that case, you can compare the conditions before and after, examining written descriptions and accompanying photos and videos. Assess the extent of necessary repairs, the duration of the tenant’s occupancy, and the overall structure and condition of the home. Additionally, scrutinize for any unauthorized alterations. For instance, if a tenant painted a wall and failed to restore it to its original color, you are justified in charging the security deposit for the cost of new paint.

#4 Settling Any Disputes

It’s almost unavoidable to encounter issues with tenants, especially during the end of the lease. Whether it’s a minor disagreement on repair quality or a more significant dispute over unpaid utilities, the need to make decisions on resolving tenant problems will arise. Your lease serves as the ultimate guide in these situations, clearly explaining the inspection and move-out process, outlining tenant responsibilities for damages, and specifying how damage costs will be determined.

Tenant Move-Out - Settling Any Disputes

When facing such situations, your options include direct communication with the tenant, seeking external dispute resolution through mediation or arbitration, or resorting to court as a last resort. Regardless of the chosen path, the objective is to resolve the dispute with minimal cost and maximum efficiency. Consider how your actions and decisions will impact your relationship with other tenants and your standing with the local small claims court or housing authority.

When the problem resides in a gray area, strive to promptly resolve it with the tenant, ensuring they acknowledge and sign off on the agreed-upon solution. Here are some tips you can follow during any disputes:

  • Be Mindful of the Law

The most effective approach to resolving disputes is to prevent them proactively. Many issues arise due to a need for more awareness regarding lease agreement breaches or a misunderstanding of legal rights. Investing time in understanding the law and staying informed about housing regulations can help you sidestep problems, enhancing your effectiveness as a landlord.

  • Maintain Composure at All Times

In a challenging situation, it is crucial to remain composed, even if your tenant becomes agitated. Strive to stay calm and address the issue independently. Legal assistance may be necessary if difficulties persist or the tenant needs to be more cooperative. However, you present yourself in the best possible light by maintaining your composure.

  • Engage in Open Communication with Tenants

Addressing issues through thorough discussions with tenants can often lead to resolutions. It’s important to keep your temper in check, even when frustrated, as there might be a straightforward explanation for the problem, and both parties could exaggerate the issue. Finding a mutually agreeable solution between the involved parties is typically a more cost-effective and easier approach in the long run.

  • Utilize Professional Mediation Services

If resolving the dispute proves unsuccessful, consider hiring a professional mediator. Many states now offer property dispute mediators trained to handle situations commonly encountered in rental properties. This external assistance can be instrumental in facilitating a resolution.

  • Explore Small Claims Court

In most cases, rental property disputes fall within the jurisdiction of small claims courts. Opting for this route is often more cost-effective than pursuing civil or criminal court proceedings and may result in a swifter resolution.

#5 Refund the Security Deposit

In the United States, depending on state laws, you typically have one to two months to return the security deposit after the tenant has moved out. If the landlord fails to provide a detailed damage statement with repair costs and receipts but does not return the full deposit, they must return the entire amount within two months of the tenant vacating the rental.

Mail the itemized list and deposit, along with copies of invoices, to the forwarding address given by your tenant. Occasionally, tenants may overlook providing this information. The deposit should be sent to the last known address, usually the rental property. The tenant may have set in the mail forwarding, ensuring the deposit reaches them.

The move-out process involves numerous details and intricate components. Acting promptly is essential for various reasons, and maintaining open communication and a positive rapport with the departing tenant is equally important. If disagreements arise regarding a security deposit charge, be open to dialogue. Avoiding court proceedings, especially for minor disputes, such as a $50 backyard cleaning, is advisable.


Successfully managing tenant move-outs requires a systematic approach encompassing five key phases. Firstly, acknowledging the tenant’s notice initiates the process, emphasizing the importance of documentation and clear communication. Providing a comprehensive move-out checklist, as the second phase, facilitates a smooth transition, aligning expectations for both parties.

The third phase involves the landlord’s walkthrough and condition assessment, distinguishing between tenant-induced damages and damages induced in years. Settling disputes, the fourth phase requires carefully considering legalities, maintaining composure, and exploring alternative resolution methods before resorting to court.

Finally, refunding the security deposit within the stipulated time frame, typically one to two months, marks the fifth phase. Timely action, effective communication, and a proactive approach contribute to a successful move-out process, ensuring a seamless transition for all parties involved.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What distinguishes timely damages from tenant-caused damage?

Wear and tear encompass the expected deterioration over time, such as scuffs on paint after a tenant vacates a unit. These scuffs are considered normal wear and tear. However, damage caused by a tenant, like a hole in the wall, falls outside the realm of wear and tear.

Q: Can a landlord charge a tenant for repairs?

If a tenant causes damage, they bear the responsibility for repair costs. It is advisable for tenants to promptly report any issues to the landlord, allowing them to bring in professionals if needed. Ultimately, the tenant is expected to cover the expenses related to repairing the damage.

Q: How can rent disputes be settled?

Rent disputes can be resolved through alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods like mediation or arbitration. Mediation involves a neutral third party, known as a mediator, facilitating discussions to help the parties reach a mutually acceptable resolution for the dispute.

Q: What if the landlord does not refund the security deposit?

If a landlord fails to refund the security deposit within the specified timeframe, tenants can file a civil suit against the landlord. Additionally, criminal charges of cheating can be pursued, and a police complaint can be filed in instances where the security deposit refund is denied.