If you’re a landlord in Long Beach, the move-out process is really important. They have to be done correctly because the most litigated issue by far is the security deposit. If you deduct something from the security deposit, you have to make sure it’s documented and fair. Otherwise, the tenant can dispute that deduction, and you’ll find yourself in small claims court.
The drama of small claims court is something you want to avoid, even if you’re confident that the deductions you made are justified.
We’re sharing a lot of information about how to handle the security deposit, the small claims process, and everything that goes with it. Today, we want to start with an overview of the move-out requirements that need your attention at your Long Beach rental property.
Offer a Pre-Move Out Walk Through
Before moving out of the property, your tenant is allowed to do a walk-through with you.
This is more than a courtesy that you’re providing; it’s a law. You are legally required to provide a walk-through to and with the tenant if it’s requested.
During that walk through, you will have the opportunity to point out issues with the home and any of the things you might deduct from the security deposit. Show the tenant what is beyond wear and tear, and then the tenant can address the problem before moving out, or you will take care of it yourself and make the applicable deduction from the security deposit.
Before moving out, your tenant has a legal right to affect that repair.
Unfortunately, we have found that tenants don’t always do a great job making those repairs. So, while they might affect the repair, they aren’t meeting our standards. But, they have a right to the walk-through, and if your tenants request it, you have to complete it. During the walk-through, make sure you point out every item and issue that may be a problem after the tenants move out.
This helps you because when they do move out and get your list of deductions later, they won’t be surprised. They know what repairs were needed, and if they didn’t satisfactorily make them before vacating the property, they’ll have the pay for the work you do.
Many of the tenants we work with don’t request this walk-through. They’re already mentally checked out and thinking about the move and the next place they’ll be living. We might have 10 to 15 percent of our tenants ask for the walk-through, but most of the time, we don’t end up doing it.
Understand Depreciation and Life Expectancies
Once you have possession of your property, you’ll need to go through and pick out items that are beyond normal wear and tear. These are problems or damages that have been caused by the tenant.
If you’re wondering what normal wear and tear is, you’re not alone. Many Long Beach landlords are confused by this term.
We recommend you look at the law. It states that if a tenant has been living in the property for five years, a lot of the deterioration will be attributed to normal wear and tear. For example, carpet has a life expectancy of five years. So, if the tenant was there for five years and you need to put in new carpet before the next tenant moves in, you cannot bill the departing tenant for the new carpet.
Tile floors will last longer. Paint is another good example of how you need to take lifespans and length of residency into consideration. Usually, a typical paint job will last for three years. So again, if your tenant has been in place for five years and you need to repaint the walls, you cannot charge the tenant for the paint. However, you can charge for any damage that they might have done to the walls.
Normal wear and tear is still a pretty gray area, and we always recommend that you lean on the side of caution.
Landlord and Tenant Move-Out Cleaning Requirements
By state law, you have the right to clean the property to make it rent ready. If your tenant chooses to clean the property before vacating, it has to be held to that standard. It cannot be a quick go of cleaning the counters and sweeping the floors. That’s not good enough. It has to be a thorough and professional cleaning.
Again, the vast majority of our tenants chose to move out of the property without having it professionally cleaned, and we simply bill them for the cleaning. They don’t have to worry about it, and we know it’s been done right. We have had situations where they tried to clean it, but did not do it to the point that it was ready to be rented again, so we had to re-clean it. In this situation, state law definitely does fall on your side.
Potential Security Deposit Deductions
Some other deductions may be made, beyond deducting for damage and cleaning.
If your tenants don’t return all the keys, you can deduct for that. Garage door openers also need to be returned. Pets might have caused damage. If they scratched the floor or chewed something off or ruined some blinds, those things can definitely be deducted.
Returning the Deposit in 21 Days
Here is the most important thing you need to know about the move-out process: You have 21 days from the time a tenant moves out to return the security deposit.
The clock starts ticking on the day tenants hands over the keys to your property. This 21-day timeline is really important because if you decide to wait 30 days to return the deposit, the tenant could easily bring you to small claims court. They might be entitled to triple damages. So, don’t wait until day 21. Try to get your accounting done before that. Then, you’ll need to forward that deposit to the forwarding or the last known address of the tenant.
You have to give tenants a clear accounting. If you have a security deposit of $2,000 and you are going to deduct $500, you have to show every receipt and show every accounting to what those deductions were for and where they came from.
In the end, Long Beach landlords and property managers go to small claims court more than we want to.
The winner in small claims court is usually the party who documented better. Tenants generally do not do a good job at documenting, so you have an opportunity to make your case.
Before they move in, take numerous photos in every room of every wall and every ceiling. Videos are even better. Video the condition of the property before they move in, and do the same after they move out. This will really help you in a court of law. If you charge a reasonable amount to your tenant for the damages, that’s going to go a long way.
It is so important to document everything. If you don’t document well, the judge is going to want to split everything in half. So, document well and do not use the security deposit to improve your property. Make sure you know the economic life of things like paint and carpet.
Check out our other blogs on this subject, and if you have any additional questions about your Long Beach rental property, please contact us at Progressive Property Management.