Landlord/Tenant Q&A: CATHERINE M. MATTHEWS (R), GRI
Q. I am getting ready to check a tenant out of my unit in a couple of weeks. This tenant has become less than friendly and I am a bit uneasy to be around him. When I check the unit out do I have to allow him to come?
A. There is nowhere in the Landlord Tenant code or the Hawaii Association of Realtors standard lease that states the tenant has the right to be present during check-out. I do have several comments about this process for you though. I know companies that have policies both requiring (if at all possible) a tenant be present and I know of companies that have a policy against allowing a tenant to be present.
The fi rst thing to do during a check-out is to get your check-in record; the inventory and condition information which is in written form, very thorough and supplemented with pictures.
This describes in writing (and ideally backed up with photographs) the condition of the property when the tenant took occupancy. The inventory and condition has been signed by both you and the tenant. If you do not have a check-in sheet, the Landlord Tenant code 521-42 (a) states, “If the landlord fails to make such an inventory and written record, the condition of the premises and any furnishings or appliances provided, upon the termination of the tenancy shall be rebuttably presumed to be the same as when the tenant fi rst occupied the premises.” So in other words, if you do not do your due diligence upon check-in you will have a hard time proving in court that the tenant left your property in any other condition than how they received it when they moved in.
We will assume for the sake of your question that you do have a written inventory and condition form. Many agents I know like to (or even require) having their tenants present at check-out if at all possible. They feel that thoroughly reviewing the property together for damage leads to less questioning of deductions from the security deposit later. On the other hand, I know companies that do not like tenants present because they feel arguments can arise and tensions can escalate. Also, they feel it is easier to look around without being distracted by the tenant. This is a business decision and one that you should make based on your level of comfort as an individual. My suggestion is to be clear with the tenant up front about how move-out will be handled. As you walk through the property, with or without the tenant, take into account how long they have lived there. Wear-and-tear for a tenant that has been in a property for six months versus six years are two different things. Keep in mind that things do wear out whether a tenant lives in a property or an owner lives in a property. There is a difference between wear-and-tear and damage, but that is another whole article!
As a suggestion, something I like to do is a “pre” check-out. I go to the property and walk through with the tenant (this could also be done by appointment without the tenant) and let them know the things that should be done prior to move-out…for example, filling holes in the wall, trimming the plants, cleaning soiled draperies. Let them know if you see anything up front that can be taken care of or may be charged to them to avoid tension and misunderstandings.
Regardless of whether or not you walk through the property with the tenant, if you see something after they move out prior to returning their deposit, you can still charge them for this or have it corrected. You do need to have the check-in sheet verifying this damage. For example, I once had a tenant that ripped draperies which were brand new when they moved in one year prior. The whole hem was ripped along the bottom and I did not notice this during our check-out. They had taped the hem of the drapery with clear packing tape so it wasn’t noticeable. When I went back a few days later the tape had begun to fall and I noticed it then. I quickly had the drapery repaired and included the bill with the refund of the deposit within the 14-day allowable period. I also included a picture of the taped drapery.