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Run Through this Checklist Before Renting a House

Gemma Johnstone
Written by Gemma Johnstone
Updated October 29, 2021
A scandinavian living room interior with a comfy sofa
Christian Hillebrand -

Check off these pre-move-in steps to keep your landlord-tenant relationship on solid ground

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Whether you’re a new landlord or a tenant, renting a property for the first time can be an exciting but daunting prospect. For landlords, it’s not just about signing a lease and handing over the keys—there are additional safety and maintenance issues to consider. For tenants, you want to know that the home you’re moving into is safe and in good condition.

There are some key considerations for both parties to start the landlord-tenant relationship on the right foot and offer you both peace of mind. Dot your i’s and cross your t’s with these comprehensive checklists.

Landlord Checklist

If you’re a first-time landlord, you’ll want to consider your legal obligations, complete appropriate safety and maintenance checks, and provide a sound lease agreement.

Safety Measures

Landlords should conduct certain checks and installations before the move-in date to keep tenants, property, and surrounding neighbors safe. Many of these are legal duties as part of the implied warranty of habitability, which may vary state-to-state, but essentially spell out that a rental property meets certain livability standards. Some of the key considerations include:

  • Smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors: Some, but not all, states require landlords to install these in rented homes. Always check local guidance for specific requirements. Even if there’s no legal requirement, responsible landlords will install both items in their homes. 

  • Electrical appliances and wiring: Arrange an inspection of all electrical appliances and systems by a local licensed electrician to reduce fire risk.

  • HVAC system: You’re responsible for proper heating and basic ventilation in the rental property. Air conditioning isn’t a legal requirement, but a local HVAC contractor should inspect and service it if the home has this.

  • Gas appliances and heating: A gas safety check ensures any gas-operated systems or appliances are in good working order and don’t pose any immediate safety risks.

  • Plumbing: A local plumbing contractor should inspect smelly or slow draining pipes. Clogged or leaky plumbing can lead to unsanitary conditions and flooding.

  • Pests: Ensure there’s no evidence of rodents or pests like roaches, bedbugs, or ants.

Cleaning and General Maintenance

Prior to any walk-through with a potential tenant, make sure the rental property is in good condition.  

It’s not just about giving it a deep clean. Carry out routine maintenance and finish any rental renovations—whether that's repainting, replacing problematic windows, checking locks are secure and functional, or even just replacing light bulbs.

Going through the rental inspection report (outlined below) in advance helps ensure you have everything covered before the tenant moves in.

Lease Agreement

Drafting an airtight lease agreement is vital to protecting you and your tenant’s interests. It helps better safeguard the property, sets out obligations, and minimizes the likelihood of future legal disputes. The responsibility falls on the landlord to ensure the lease agreement meets legal requirements. If it’s your first time renting out a property, you can consult with a licensed attorney who’s familiar with residential laws. Below are some details typically included:

  • The length of the tenancy

  • The rental amount, and how and when it will be collected

  • Terms of the security deposit and any additional fees (check if your state has specific security deposit laws)

  • Repair and maintenance policy

  • Any local rent control laws and regulations

  • Limitations on tenancy (e.g., subleasing, pets, smoking)

  • Right of entry conditions

  • Property damage accountability

  • Details of those signing the agreement and home occupants

  • Who is responsible for paying for the utilities

  • Any state-required landlord disclosures (i.e., presence of lead-based paint, previous flooding, bed bugs)

Tenant Checklist

A tenant entering with moving boxes into new house
MOAimage/Moment via Getty Images

If you're renting a property, move-in day can be busy and exciting. But before you start unpacking dishware and arranging your rooms, there's one thing you must do. Check the terms of the lease agreements and verify your landlord has taken the proper safety and maintenance measures as outlined above. Alongside this, the primary responsibility you have as a new tenant is to do a thorough inspection of the rental property before committing to the lease.

Rental Inspection Report

Documenting your property walk-through on a formal rental inspection report or checklist has multiple benefits. It acts as a record of any existing damage—making disputes over a deposit less likely—and it allows you to spot any bigger issues that need remedying before your move.

Both you and the landlord should sign and hold a copy of this move-in checklist. Note whether things need replacing, repairing, or cleaning and what sort of condition they’re in. Take pictures of any damage or issues you find to accompany the report and to guarantee you get your full deposit back when your lease is up.

The inspection should include, but is not limited to, checking the condition or operation of the following:

  • Floors and floor coverings

  • Door locks and hardware

  • Windows and screens

  • Lighting fixtures and bulbs

  • Walls and ceilings

  • Electrical and gas appliances

  • Outlets and switches

  • Smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors, and fire extinguishers

  • Plumbing

  • HVAC systems

  • Shades or blinds

  • Entryways

  • Stairwells

  • Outside space (yards, parking places, fences, garage)

  • Signs of leaks, flooding, mold, or mildew

  • Any furnishings

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