Ask Lucas 011: What’s in the Move-In and Move-Out Letters?
In this episode, Bo asks about move-in / move-out letters. What kind of information do I list in my welcome and departure letters?
Learn more about the move-in / move-out process in The Landlord’s Guide to Tenant Onboarding
Lucas Hall: What’s up everyone? This is Lucas Hall from Landlordology and Cozy. Welcome to the 11th episode of Ask Lucas. It’s a bite-size Q&A show where I answer your questions about landlording and property management. The way this works is very simple. You can leave a recorded question on landlordology.com/ask-lucas and I’ll answer it in this podcast. Today’s question is from Bo. Before we tune in let’s hear about our sponsor.
Ask Lucas is brought to you by Cozy which provides property management software for landlords like you and me. I think really it’s the best way for an independent landlord to accept rental applications, screen their tenants or their credit reports and then automatically collect their rent online. That last part is really key because automation personally has changed my life in the way I do rentals. I use Cozy to self manage all my properties and I highly recommend it. Get Cozy at cozy.co.
Now let’s hear what Bob has to say.
Bo: Hey Lucas. I love your webpage. I’m learning a lot. I’m really curious what a welcoming letter looks like for a new tenant and what the letter looks like when you’re sending one away.
Lucas Hall: Hey Bob, thanks for your question. I love the way you asked that because move in move out times are traditionally some of the most stressful for landlords and you just seem like it rolls right off you, so congratulations for that.
The question is an awesome one. I really, really love that you asked it because I have a couple of templates that I use, which just make the process a whole lot easier. There are two letters. As you mentioned there’s a move in letter and a move out letter. The move in letter is given to the tenants before they’re going to move in or right as they’re moving in, and it just tells them what they can do to make the transition smoother and then the same goes for move out.
My favorite of the two is the move in letter because it’s an exciting time and they’re pumped to be there. I try to leverage that and just feed off of it. For example my move in letter usually starts with one or two paragraphs at the top that just say, “Hey, welcome, I’m so excited you’re here. I take great pride in being a proactive landlord and I want you to know you can call me at any time whether that’s for a maintenance request, or you’re just concerned about something, or you have a question about where the closest Red Box is. Feel free to call me.”
Then I go on to actually list out a lot really important information about the house and the neighborhood. The information that I list in the welcome letter is the property manager, which would be me or any other people who really have a regular interaction with the house. I don’t use any other property managers. I do it all myself. But if I did hire a property manager I would list that person as well as maybe a sibling or something if I had them do a lot of work at the house.
Also I list an emergency backup. In this case it’s my wife. I just put down my wife’s name and her phone number and say, “Hey, if you can’t get ahold of me and there’s an emergency, call her.” But I also very boldly say, “If there’s a real emergency you call 911 first and then you call me.” The policy is if you ever have to call 911, call me second, tell me what happened within privacy rights. Tell me what happened, but make sure you get the help that you need first.
I also list all the important utility information about the house. I literally just go through in bulleted format, all the details like trash, cable and internet, electric, heating, gas companies, water and sewer, all that, and I’ll put the name of the company, the phone number, and a URL where they can go to set an account with those companies.
Comcast is the only service provider at a lot of my properties. I say, “Hey, listen, they usually have a two-week waiting list. If you want to get it early why don’t you set this up two weeks before you move in. That way you have cable and internet on day one of your move in and you don’t have to wait a while.” I’ll give little tips like that.
But then on top of that I also tell them useful information about the property such as where certain utility shutoffs are like the main water shutoff or the main circuit-breaker for the house. Those are all key things that they need to know in case something happens. What else? Tell them where the smoke detectors are and the carbon-monoxide detectors, and if there’s any fire extinguishers where those are and how they can be accessed, or how the batteries can be replaced.
I also mention a few key things about the lease such as when the rent is due, which they should already know, but sometimes it’s been a few weeks since they looked at the lease and they forget. So I just remind them, and I tell me what the late fees are, and then how to pay that rent.
As I mentioned early I use Cozy to pay rent, so all my tenants by this point should have their account setup and the security deposit is already paid through Cozy. They don’t even have to worry about that. It’s all automated.
The next part is I list all of the local websites or local information centers where they can really learn about the neighborhood. I feel like somebody who moves in and gets to know the neighborhood quickly is going to be a happier tenant. I list local papers, local schools, where the local courthouse is, although that might be not a great idea if they wanted to sue me. But I just show them where they can get city or county alerts. A lot of counties have text messages that go out to their citizens and you can sign up for that.
Then lastly I actually print out a Google map and I take a sharpie and I just circle where all the key things are, so where there is a hardware store, where there’s a safe way or a grocery store, and where the police station is and the fire station, and where maybe some good restaurants are. That way if they really have no idea about the area, they can then instantly figure out how to get pizza.
That’s it for the welcome letter. I usually try to actually give them a physical copy of this. I usually leave it maybe on the kitchen, on the counter top or something, somewhere obvious for when they move in. But hopefully I’ve also given this to them either at the lease signing or a few weeks prior to so they can set up things like cable and internet beforehand.
I tend to try to leave all my tenants some sort of little welcome package. My favorite type of welcome package costs about 10 bucks and what that is a roll of toilet paper, a roll of paper towels, a little tiny hotel size bar of soap, and a clear plastic shower liner so that they can just get by on day one of moving.
Related: Bathroom Essentials on Move-In Day
All those things put together plus this nice little welcome letter, or maybe even a little tiny card that you say, “Congratulations, thanks for your tenancy. I’m glad you’re here.” All that put together really makes a great first experience, and then you’ll reap those rewards for the entire year just because you set it off to a good tenant.
Next I want to talk about move out letters and what is in mine. My move out letter is actually very simple. I only list about seven things that they have to do. However the actual documentation is quite long and I’ll tell you why later.
First, I give them general instructions. I try to keep it very formal and straight and I say, “Thanks for your tenancy. I’m sorry to see that you’re leaving, but here are the things you have to do. Number one, cancel all the utilities. So if any utilities are in your name, make sure you cancel those utilities as of the last day of tenancy,” I’m sorry, “the last day of your lease,” which is often the last day of tenancy but not always.
Oftentimes tenants will move out 15 days early and they’ll shut the power off when they move out and then you have 15 days of no electricity in the house which can lead to frozen pipes and other issues. Anyway, I tell them, “You have to keep the power on and make the last day of all your utilities the absolute last day of your lease.”
Next, I’ll tell them that you have to clean the house. It’s very important. You have to return the house to the condition that was when you moved in, which I have a move in section form that they filled out, which you can actually include that as part of your welcome letter as well, but I’ve also, usually I’ll staple that to our lease or you give it to them separately in an email and just say this is what you’ve got to do. But anyway, you’ll have that in the move in letter or move in inspection form that you can compare the condition to and then document any damages. Just let them know that they will be charged for damages that they caused and they’re responsible for cleaning up.
Number three, I told them very specifically to remove all their trash and their treasures. A lot of times a tenant, especially in group houses where they’re younger and they’re transitioning a lot they’ll say, “Oh, I didn’t really need that futon so I just thought I’d leave it for the next tenants.” It’s like, “No, no, no. I really don’t want your dirty futon and neither do the new tenants, so please call the city and they’ll come pick it up, or hire a trash guy to come take it away. That’s your expense. If you leave it, I’m going to hire somebody for you and then deduct it from the deposit.”
Four, I tell them to return keys. This is critical because oftentimes they just forget. They have it on their key chain. It’s been there for a year. They don’t think about it. Sometimes they’ll leave without the key to lock the door and then leave which is silly. I tell them how many exterior door keys were provided when they moved in. So if I gave them six I tell them, “Hey, I gave you six keys. You need to turn them in to me.” B, I tell them how many door keys if there are any doors like interior bedroom doors that have locks, I’ll tell them exactly what keys were involved there.
Number five, I will tell them about the final inspection. You’ll have to check your state laws which you can do at landlordology.com/state-laws and find out if there are any rules around doing a move out inspection. In my state I’m only responsible for just performing the inspection and then itemizing those damages and sending them to them to review. But oftentimes other states like California require you to do a pre-move out inspection, and then tell the tenants what to fix, and then you’ll do a final move out inspection.
Anyway, I usually tell them about this inspection and tell them, “Hey, you have the right to be there if you want to. Just let me know if you’re interested. Otherwise I’m going to do it this day or this time and if you show up, you show up. If not, don’t worry about it. But just know that I’m going to be inspecting the premise.”
Then number six, I tell them in bold please contact the United State postal service and tell them about your forwarding address. So if you don’t forward your address I’m not going to do it for you and your mail will probably be thrown away by the new tenants. So make sure that you do that. They can do that at usps.com, and I think it might even be a small fee if they do it online, maybe a buck or two. Then if they don’t want to pay that, which surprisingly some people are that thrifty, then they can go to the post office and fill out a little form.
The last thing I tell them is to please make a list of anything that’s broken. This is key because if there really is a broken window or something that might require me to contact a repairman they might be busy, or maybe a tree fell down in the backyard and they didn’t tell me, I might need more than a few days to schedule that and get it taken care of. So anything they can tell me beforehand would be greatly appreciated.
Going back to my second item on that list was I tell them to clean the house. I don’t just tell them to do it. I actually provide instructions on how to. I discovered a long time ago that many of my tenants who are anywhere from 22 to 28, because I have a lot of after college students, they don’t really know how to clean. It’s not necessarily their fault because they just never had to in the past, but they’re starting to grow up and they’re starting to take responsibility for their lives, and part of that is cleaning. I figured I don’t want them to experiment or learn on my property. I want them to know.
The only way I can ensure that is to actually make a bullet list for them which says you have to vacuum the carpets, and you have to clean the windows with Windex, or you have to clean the oven with a little chemical called Easy-Off. These are things you can buy at the grocery store but I specifically say what would be a great tool to use. Another one is Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. It works wonders on getting scuffs off walls.
These are things that a 25-year-old may not know. I tell them, “Hey, you have to remove smudges, and you have to clean the oven, the fridge, and all the appliances, even the light fixtures. Replace all the batteries out of the smoke detectors. Clean all the storage out of the storage units. Clean the deep freezers. Clean out the lint trap in the dryer.” Yeah, I try to make a list of everything I can think of and basically give it to them. I figure if they do 50% of it, that’s great. But the bottom line is that they’re responsible for returning that property to the condition it was when they first moved in. I emphasize that.
Lastly, I’ve said lastly three or four times, but lastly if there are any personal pieces of belongings or furniture that I have in the house, whether it’s decoration like picture frames, or a couch, or a dining table or something, if there’s anything that belongs to me, I just tell them what those things are so that they don’t take them by accident, or intentionally, or that they don’t throw them away because I told them to remove all their trash and their treasures and sometimes they don’t know any better. I list those out to make sure that they don’t throw it away. If they do throw it away then I can say I warned you and please compensate me for that 1910 dining room table that you just tossed.
I think that’s it. That’s a very long-winded answer to a very short question, but I really appreciate you bringing it up. If you have any more questions, be sure to just leave a comment, or hit me back up on Ask Lucas. Thanks a lot. Have a great day.