6 Tips for Showing an Occupied Rental Unit

Written on February 3, 2015 by , updated on July 19, 2016

Showing Occupied Rental UnitsWhen it’s time to re-rent your property, you have two choices:

  1. Wait to show the unit until after the current tenant vacates it.
  2. Show the unit while the tenant is still in it.

As you might expect, there are pros and cons to both approaches. This article will help you decide how best to handle the situation when it comes up.

1. Waiting Until the Tenant Vacates

Pros:

  • It’s easier. It’s easier and less stressful on you. You can take your time.
  • It will show better. Once the tenant leaves, you can evaluate what needs to be repaired, and fix it.
  • No notification needed. You can hold showings and make repairs without having to notify your tenant.

Cons:

  • You’ll lose money. You’ll lose out on at least a month’s rent, depending on how long it takes you to re-rent.
  • You have to pay for utilities. You’ll need to turn on utilities at your own expense — you can’t very well show the place with no electricity.

2. Showing an Occupied Unit

Pros:

  • Uninterrupted cash flow. You’re less likely to lose out on rent money.
  • Zero vacancy. The new tenant can move in right after the old one leaves.
  • Only transfer the utilities once. The new tenant puts the utilities in his or her name, so you don’t need to worry about that.

Cons:

  • You can’t ensure a clean unit. The unit could be messy, have that “is there a cat in here” odor, or have loose animals running around.
  • Sabotage. The present tenant might hang around for the showings. Awkward.
  • Unexpected holdovers. Your current tenant could prevent the new tenant from moving in.

6 Tips for Showing an Occupied Unit

If you’ve chosen to show an occupied unit, you’ll have a greater chance of everything working out smoothly if you follow these six tips:

1. Communicate Frequently

Let your tenant know your plans. Tell your tenant that you plan to show the unit starting on X date.

Related: How to Host a Landlord’s Open House

2. Give Proper Notice, Always

Work out a plan that you and your current tenant can both live with. Although the place is yours, your tenant has the right to live there undisturbed as long as he or she is current with the rent.

You also have the right to show your property after giving your tenant reasonable notice, which is usually 24 hours. Be sure to check your various state laws on how much notice you need to give.

Related: How Often Should a Landlord Visit Your Unit?

3. Ask the Tenant to Clean, and to Secure Any Animals

Understand that you can ask your tenant to keep the unit neat, contain any animals and leave during a showing, but you can’t force your tenant to do any of those things.

4. Offer Incentives

Sweeten the deal by giving a restaurant gift certificate to a cooperative tenant.

If you plan to be super intrusive, such as having multiple showings and open houses, you might want to give your tenant some rent abatement. But be smart: limit the amount of showings by combining them when possible.

5. Do Not Use “For Rent” Signs

A renter once told me that when she was renting a house that was for sale, someone pulled in the driveway unannounced and asked to look around. The renter told this stranger he could not come in (because her child was napping) and that he should call the agent listed on the sign.

A stranger disturbing your tenant is unacceptable. If you must have a “For Rent” sign out, make sure you put these words on the sign: “Do Not Disturb Occupants” or “Showing by Appointment Only.”

6. Use Lock Boxes with Caution

Real estate agents are still required to give proper notice before allowing anyone into the unit.

A lock box is a secure device that is typically attached to the front door. It holds a key that anyone with the code can get to, therefore inviting illegal pop-in showings. Lock boxes will cause more issues than they are worth.

Related: Use a Key Lock Box to Prevent Lockouts

Summary

If you have a bad or disgruntled tenant, one who is hostile or has stopped paying rent, it would be wise to wait until he or she has moved out before you show the unit.

That tenant will likely attempt to sabotage the showings. Your best option here might be to pay the bad tenant to leave. If you think you’re going to have a lingering tenant, you could offer a few hundred dollars if he or she gets out on time and leaves the place in good shape.

In all other cases, I think it’s better, and absolutely more profitable, to show an occupied unit. With open communication, and general politeness, your tenants shouldn’t mind.

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106 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • poppy

    Hi there,

    I am buying a place and want to rent it out immediately. Is it possible to ask the current owner – who i have been directly dealing with and is very accommodating, wether I can show it to the two people i have lined up? Or is that totally unacceptable?

    Thank you

    • Chris

      Perhaps you should not be greedy and don’t buy that house. Let another family buy it that actually wants to live in it and call it their own home.

      • Marshall

        Chris – is there something wrong with her buying a house as an investment property and renting it out?

        • Chris

          What did I literally just write?

          • Mike

            That you don’t understand real estate.

            • Chris

              Let’s roll, brotha. Go ahead and tell me what I don’t understand about real estate.
              You’re likely going to rant about the economics only. I’m referring tonthe ethics and morality of home ownership. Buy a home, live in it. End of story.

              • Laura Agadoni

                Hi Chris,
                If there were no landlords or property owners who rent space, where would people live who don’t want to buy a home for whatever reason?

              • Mike

                I’m not the ranting type. It’s just odd to come to a website that’s giving great tips on being a landlord, just to say don’t own property unless you’re going to live on it. I don’t see how it’s immoral to own land. Sorry for hijacking your article Laura.

      • Michelle Cocco

        Wow
        It’s greedy to buy and rent out,
        Where is that coming from.

        I have a tenant who is speaking to people who come to see the home I have to sell

        She also has stuff thrown everywhere .

        Not sure what to do

  • Dee

    My landlord wants to sell the house I have been renting for the past two years. I have been pretty cooperative about allowing access for the realtor to show the house to prospective buyers. However, the landlord just asked me if I could make my children (teenagers) leave the house while the house is being shown (like take a walk for a half hour or so). Do I have to comply? I feel that since I am paying for the right to live here, my children should not be asked to be disrupted and inconvenienced. I’m nervous enough about strangers being in my home, having potential access to my clothing, jewelry, etc. I prefer for my children to be present because I don’t trust that the realtor will ensure that people won’t be roaming around unaccompanied.

  • Christina

    I disagree. My landlord has taken the position that since she owns the property she can do anything she wishes. I have been a tenant for 10 years and plan to move at the end of my lease. I am already packing. My landlord not only wants to show the place which is fine but feels I should be available to permit up to 5 showings per day every day. This is not only intrusive but unreasonable. And lets not forget the tenant is entitled to their right to privacy. The real estate agent does not think it will be worth showing the unit as since I am in the process of packing I have boxes stacked 7 high in the living room. Sorry but this is what happens when people are preparing to move. LL is not happy but you can not have it both ways.

    • Ellie

      My issue is that my boyfriend / fiance has been a ” property caretaker ” for over six years for the couple we now rent from. He is still their property caretaker also. He made and agreement with them about a house they had sitting vacant thats been on the market for eight plus years. And after he moved in he invited my son & I to move in. They were fine with it. However, the woman is a retired lawyer fearing money dwindeling in retirement years and is suddenly pushing harder than ever for the house to sell. She does as many showings as possible as often as possible with zero regard for us. And whats worse is we are ” Forced to leave the property entirely for nearly two hours every single time there is a showing ” ..is that legal ??

    • Maureen stoddard

      So advise here please. I’m trying to sell my home because I have no choice. I told my tenant of 1 year that I had to sell the beginning of the year back in November. She is on month to month. I told her today that I need to meet at the house with the realtor to take pictures and my tenant said no! She said I have no right at any time to come into the home for any reason? Any advise?

  • Luba

    Hi, Laura

    My family and I are renting. We recently put in our 30 days notice. With in 24 hours of receiving our notice the landlord asked to show it that next morning. We unfortunately were not ready and we kindly sent a note asking for a little more time to tidy up. A couple days later we received another note asking if it would be okay to show on a Thursday, for the duration of 6 hours between 1-7p. We are not sure on how to respond. 5-7p is our winding down time, dinner etc..,with a toddler. We don’t mind a couple hours, maybe even up to 4 hours or spread out over the week and weekend. We feel this excessive, for one day? We are very good renters and don’t want to tarnish the relationship over the haste and our privacy concern

  • Kay

    I think it is intrusive and the fact that the law sides with homeowners to the extent that it does is beyond me.

    We rent because we want to be financially responsible and have 20 percent or more for a downpayment before purchasing, which leaves us no other choice but to rent. We have been renting for a long time and it is aways a nightmare.

    You never know what type of despotic property manager we will end up with. In my opinion, and I am attempting to be understanding something some people in the business know nothing about; it is beyond stressful to have people in a home you paid rent on, invade while moving. Period! If I paid my rent, don’t touch the lights, you don’t pay my bill. Take your shoes off, I still live here.

    Not a fan.

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Kay,
      I hope you get in your own house soon. It sounds like you’re on the right path by saving 20% for a down payment. It’s stressful to move, period. Homeowners who sell their house also have people in and out during move-out. If you hate the practice as much as you say, you could try to arrange a deal with your landlord. Maybe ask for them to wait until the second part of the month to show the place. That way, if they agree, you can leave by mid month and not have to worry. True, you will pay for the whole month and live there for only half, but it’s an idea. If the landlord were forced to wait until tenants move to show, they would be out a full month’s rent at least, but some landlords do that anyway.

  • Kate

    Hi Laura,
    We’ve been good tenants for several years and are totally willing to cooperate with showings as our landlord prepares to sell at the end of our lease. However, he expects to make repairs and improvements while we live here. For example, he wants to re-carpet the whole house while we’re living here with small children which would require moving around furniture, etc. Are we required to comply with this, or can we insist he wait until we move? He didn’t bother to replace the nasty old carpet at any point before this so it feels pretty rude to have him want to inconvenience us while he makes the house nicer for prospective buyers.

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Kate,
      Ideally, your landlord would wait to have this done until after you move out. Your best bet is to ask if this is possible. If not, you can’t insist your landlord wait, but you are not required to move any furniture, either. That would be the job of the carpet installers. You could also ask to be put in a hotel or other accommodations while the work is being done or to get out of your lease early. You are entitled to quiet enjoyment of the property, but the landlord can also maintain and improve the property. It’s a balancing act. Good luck!

  • Kristin Graeber

    Landlord is selling, gave us 60 days notice after 15 years. We are preparing to leave in 60 days however i work from home and now im being asked to vacate for an hour at a showing while they bring in buyers. This is most disrupptive to my work n i will lose money coming and going so much. Do i have any recourse for this?

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Kristin,
      You don’t have to vacate, but the landlord has the right to show the house after giving you proper notice. It’s best to talk with your landlord to work out a plan that you both can be happy about (or at least agree to).

  • Jeffrey

    I’m a property owner/landlord of one condo. My current tenant has signed a standard California (CAA) lease allowing showing of property with 24 hr notice. I’ve tried to cooperate with tenant demands on limited dates/timing of showing. The property has become unshowable now. Stuff all over and it smells like urine (from their dog) urine papers/poop box visible, and garbage is piling up on balconies. Tenant is also insisting I not show the place and that I do not enter the place until after they leave, despite lease agreement. What rights does a landlord have in this situation? Can I require that the place be kept in a presentable state? If not, is there recourse against loss of rental income? Thanks.

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Jeffrey,
      If you give your tenants 24-hour notice, you can show the place, even if they insist you wait. Unfortunately, you cannot make your tenants be tidy, and you cannot charge them if you have vacancy time.

      You now have a decision to make: show the place in the unkempt state, or wait until your tenants move, then ready the place, and then show it.

      Here’s my advice: if your market is luxury and you’re trying to get top dollar in a market with plenty of rentals, wait until they leave to get the place show ready. If there is lack of supply and high demand in your area, show the place as is with an explanation that you will have the place professionally cleaned when the the tenants move out. Good luck!

  • Mindy Smiley

    I’ve lived in my rental for 5 years, my landlord notified me yesterday they’re selling the house and put in a lock box, they notified me today via text while I was with my daughter at chemo that they are showing the house tomorrow, while I’m at work. My oldest daughter in the house is 16 and she watches my 2 smaller children. There is no one over 18 to come and supervise and my 16 year old is terrified….. what can I do?

  • Lisa B

    My landlord will be showing our apt while we are still occupying the unit. He’s concerned about “clutter” and wants us to move our belongings out to his garage. A neighbor also parks in this garage. We don’t want our possessions out there. Can he force us to do this?

  • Lisa B

    Actually, sorry. I DO have one last question. We are moving out on the 15th of the month. We told him we’d pay for those 15 days prorated. We’ve only been communicating by email so eveything would be documented in writing, but this time he said he wanted to “talk to us in person”. He told us (nothing in writing and we did not comment) that he wants the ENTIRE month’s rent. Even though we won’t be living here the remaining 15 days do we still owe him a whole month of rent? We also have to pay our new apt rent prorated. Thank you for your help!

  • Lisa B

    Oops…forgot. We did give at least a 28-day notice. Thank you.

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Lisa,
      I don’t know your exact situation. But typically, when you stay just one day into the next month, you pay for the entire month. Landlords don’t charge by the day. They charge by the month. You will pay a prorated amount for your new place because you are moving in mid-month. To save money, you would need to stay in your current place until March 31 and move into the new place April 1.

  • Danielle Gagne

    I have rented an apartment, signed the lease, have the keys and put money down on the unit. The old tenants were supposed to be out of the unit April 15, 2018. As of yesterday the old tenants still remain in the unit. I am suppose to already be moved in by now. I’ve contacted the landlord and he keeps assuring me they will be out. Do I have the right to go into the apartment and ask them to leave? I’ve paid for the unit, can I call the police to escort them off the property?

  • Leigh halls

    What happened if I don’t leave after the 60 day termination of tenancy is given? I have no where to go and no money to put my belongings in storage.

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Leigh,
      If you don’t leave, you will likely be evicted. Don’t let it get that far because then you’ll have an eviction on your record, and that will make it more difficult for you to rent another place.

  • Rachel

    I have decided to move and gave my landlord plenty of written notice per our lease agreement – 60 plus days. She is interested in selling the NYC apartment so I am keeping it clean and in viewing shape for her while I still live here. She had a realtor come by and take photos, moving most of my personal items around (jewelry and makeup in dresser, kitchen items in counter, bathroom supplies from shower). And did not put any of it back.
    While not a major issue, I think it’s unprodessional For a realtor to take pictures and not move items back. If my landlord had notified me in advance photos were being taken I could have moved some of those items out of the way. How should I address this going forward?

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Rachel,
      Since this already happened, there’s nothing to address moving forward (unless they have to come back for more photos for some reason, which probably won’t happen). You can just chalk this up to a learning experience for your next rental if you find yourself in a similar situation.

  • Mal B

    Hello. I’ve been renting my current house for 2 years. Our landlord has given us a notice of sale. Our lease is not up until June 30th, however, we were able to find a place quickly and can move in June 1st. We cannot move in later. We are going to repaint back to neutral colors and patch any holes, clean carpets,etc in hopes to get our security deposit back. But I heard from former tenants that the landlord screwed them out of their deposit. I’m worried that the same thing will happen to us despite the painting and cleaning. Additionally we cannot afford rent at both places. We requested to be released June 1st and use deposit to cover June rent giving opportunity for viewings to potential buyers, but were denied.

    What do we do?

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Mal,
      Talk with your landlord now about what you need to do to get back your full security deposit. You do still need to pay June’s rent. If you return your rental to the condition it was in when you rented it, minus normal wear and tear, you should get your full deposit back.

  • Lucy

    Hi.
    The house I have been renting for 6 years is up for sale. I am happy to co-operate with showings,
    but I have a dog who would NOT be happy with strangers in the house when I’m out at work.
    Is it reasonable to ask that the house be shown ANYTIME on weekends and after 3.45pm on weekdays? To be clear, I just want the chance to take him out. We won’t be sitting there during showings.
    Thank You!

  • Lucy

    Thanks! Really glad I asked!

  • Ana

    Hi, I asked my tenant to please have the house clean and ready to show, but he is not willing to do it. What can I do?

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Ana,
      If your tenant is enjoying the remainder of the lease term while you want to show, and they don’t want to get it show ready for you, you either need to show it as is or wait until the tenant leaves to get it in the condition you like.

  • Eric

    Hello Laura!! My question is this…is there anything that a landlord do to make you clean a property nearing the end of a lease for showing to prospective tenants, like signing a hand written clause saying “The tenants agree to keep property clean for showing?
    Thank You!

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Eric,
      A landlord can put a clause like that in the lease or in an addendum to the lease. Anything out of the ordinary in a lease like that should be pointed out to tenants as a best practice. The tenants need to know before they sign about special clauses. If they don’t want to do whatever the clause is, they can ask you to remove that clause, or they can look for another place. But if they agree to the clause, they need to abide by it. However, if they don’t abide by this particular cleaning clause, and they are leaving at month’s end anyway, there really isn’t anything you can do about it, as the eviction process will likely take longer than a month.

      • Eric

        Thank you for the reply..in more depth, can a handwritten clause on the renters intent to vacate at the end of the lease, be added to make sure the property is clean and presentable to show prospective tenants? If all parties sign?

        • Laura Agadoni

          Hi Eric,
          I’m not an attorney, so perhaps a lawyer can better answer that question. What I typically do is put any special clauses in my lease. If you haven’t this time, you can include expectations in a move-out letter (I’m writing that blog post right now, actually!). Send a move-out letter with instructions for the tenants now. Note that not all tenants will have the property in show condition. So be prepared. You might need to offer an incentive, such as reduced rent for the last month, if they keep the place show-worthy. But you might luck out and get tenants who will agree to do that for you.

  • Kevin

    Can my landlord show the house when we are out of town? We plan on going away for a week and it will be impossible to come back within 24 hours notice if he wants to show the house. I’m worried someone with “sticky fingers” will try to pocket some of my things and I don’t want to come home to things missing. I mean, who will pay for my stolen items? Our landlord is not at all reasonable so trying to work out a better showing time is out of the question. I’m hoping it is illegal to show the house when we are not present if we object to the showing. Is it?

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Kevin,
      Landlords can show their place to sell or re-rent, typically just needing to give the tenants 24 hours notice. I recommend that you lock up anything you are particularly concerned about. Speak with your landlord about your concerns. They might reassure you of their security measures. For what it’s worth, when I have showings of my 2-story rentals that are tenant occupied, I stay on the main level, and I have someone stay on the upper level to watch people. I’ve never seen anyone try to steal anything.

      • Kevin

        Thanks for the response. This feels really wrong for it to be legal for people to walk around, looking into my closet, possibly going into my bedroom, all without me being there. Also, what happens if the landlord doesn’t lock the door back after a showing and someone sneaks in later to steal things? We have already had cases with people trying to get in, hence why I’m paranoid. Am I responsible for my stolen items even if I locked everything up before I left, but my landlord was negligent in locking it back? There are so many cases that I really feel the law should be on the side of the tenant on this one. Any further advice? I’ll leave you be after this, lol, just wanted to ask some further questions.

        • Laura Agadoni

          Hi Kevin,
          If your landlord gives proper notice, they can show your place whether you are home or not. Many landlords work with tenants, especially if they’ve had a good relationship, but it isn’t always possible to accommodate tenants on this issue. If you feel that strongly about not being home, you can always stay home. Regarding the landlord not locking up: that’s unlikely. The landlord doesn’t want people (vandals, squatters) coming in property they own. But if they do leave your door unlocked and your property was stolen as a result, you can sue your landlord in small claims court for negligence. https://www.landlordology.com/file-small-claims-lawsuit-landlord-renter/

  • Mary Avitia

    Hello…
    Landlord put the duplex on the market on 8/7/18.

    Question…
    Can they show my apt multiple times a day, seven days a week until a buyer is found ?
    I don’t plan on leaving during the showings and will be gone only when I am working.
    Also I curtianed off the front door for security reasons, she demands I remove the curtains and allow access to the front door.
    The kitchen has a back door that allows full entrance to the apt. But she insists on the front door.
    Do I have to open up the front door ?
    She also is focused on showing only my apt. because she had words with the other tenant ( this is a duplex) so the inconvinience of all showings is all on me.

    Thank you..M.A.

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Mary,
      Read your lease and/or your state law to see how much notice (if any) your landlord needs to give you. Showings that happen all day every day would probably be excessive in any jurisdiction. Regarding your curtain, landlords typically should not ask tenants to remove furnishings. Since yours blocks access to the front door, this is something to discuss with your landlord. Good luck!

      • Mary Avitia

        Thank you very much for your quick reply.
        As I also mentioned, their are 2 tenants, myself and my neighbor she only wants to show my apt and not his, that puts the burden solely on me as far as the anytime viewing accebility.
        Why the preferance has me confused…
        Both apts. are the same floor plan. It seems that she should divide time between he and I, or be fair and show both apts.

        Thank you… M.A.

  • Mary Avitia

    Hello…
    Landlord put the duplex on the market on 8/7/18.

    Question…
    Can they show my apt multiple times a day, seven days a week until a buyer is found ? She says yes.
    I don’t plan on leaving during the showings and will be gone only when I am working.
    Also I curtianed off the front door for security reasons, she demands I remove the curtains and allow access to the front door.
    The kitchen has a back door that allows full entrance to the apt. But she insists on the front door.
    Do I have to open up the front door ?
    She also is focused on showing only my apt. because she had words with the other tenant ( this is a duplex) so the inconvinience of all showings is all on me.

    Thank you..M.A.

  • Brian

    Hi Laura, great site. Q: I had to move early and gave notice etc, knowing I might be liable or rent until new tenant moved in. (Corporate) landlord found a new tenant quickly, but there was a gap between my move out and new move-in, during which landlord used apartment to paint etc. (I left place nice, no sec deposit deductions). Do I have to pay rent for the days that landlord was occupying the unit for its own paint/prep purposes? Or just the days it was truly empty — between my move-out and landlord’s fix ups? Thanks!!!

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Brian,
      Thank you! Regarding what you owe, that’s something to discuss with your landlord. Generally, tenants pay by the month, not by the day. So you would typically be responsible for the rent until the place is re-rented. Landlords can make improvements to an occupied unit, so because your landlord painted would probably not release you from your rent obligation.

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