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


  • 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.


  • 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


  • 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.


  • 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


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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