Question re: property management company
June 4, 2010 11:10 AM   Subscribe

A year ago, a property management company took over the house I've been living in for 10 years. Now, 10 years after I moved in, they want me to fill out a walkthrough checklist to indicate the condition of the house. I feel like I'm being set up somehow. Tell me how to protect myself (or that I'm being paranoid).

After 9 years, my landlord decided she didn't want to deal with the house (or its tenant) anymore. I'm pretty much the easiest tenant ever -- I do all the minor repairs myself, and only contacted her about once a year for big things (HVAC, sewer line, dead hot water heater, etc.).

Anyway, the management company contacted me last week and asked me to fill out this walkthrough checklist because they didn't have one on file. Of course they didn't -- it's usually completed when someone moves in, and I moved in 10 years ago. The checklist states the condition of various parts of the house -- carpet, paint, etc. The manager told me they needed one on file so they know "what repairs I'm responsible for when I move out."

The property management company has a pretty notorious reputation here in town for treating tenants poorly -- mostly college students. Almost as a rule, they don't return security deposits. I feel like I'm being set up to be financially responsible for normal wear and tear on the house. Over the past 10 years, the landlord has put absolutely zero routine maintenance into the house -- everything that's been done to preserve its condition has been done by me. Not because it's my responsibility, but because it improves my quality of life.

First question: Am I being paranoid about the intentions I'm presuming? Is this a totally normal thing that I shouldn't be worried about, or are they setting me up and collecting documentation that will allow them to keep my security deposit after I move out?

Second question: I can only answer the form honestly -- but the house needs work. For instance, the carpet (which wasn't new when I moved in 10 years ago) is in bad shape and needs to be replaced. So if I mark on the form that it's in poor condition, is that going to come back to haunt me? I feel like the form needs to reflect that the house has gone 10 years without the routine care that would have taken place between tenants, had the tenancy cycled over ever year. Is there something I should write on the form to indicate this and therefore protect myself?

Oh, and I just renewed my lease, if it matters, and will be in the house at least through August of next year, so the deposit isn't an immediate issue. Just trying to think down the line her.
posted by mudpuppie to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I would speculate that this is a good thing, not a bad thing. There is no documentation as to the condition when you moved in, therefore (IANAL) you can't be held responsible.

Do a good job with the check list, take photos of everything you see as problematic (have someone from the management company initial the back of each photo). And then take care of the place from here on out....
posted by HuronBob at 11:25 AM on June 4, 2010

Thoroughly fill out the checklist, document everything. I had this happen to me. However, I was in a small town in Missouri with few tenants' rights. It looks from your previous questions that you are in California? If so, become familiar with the Tenant Book for the state. NY's Tenancy laws were a huge help to my husband and I when we were renting.

Also, from the Property Management point of view, for each property there is probably a checklist of things they have to have on file, the walk-thru is one of these items. Their request does not necessarily indicate malicious intent.
posted by fyrebelley at 11:40 AM on June 4, 2010

Best answer: You're looking at this the wrong way- the items in poor condition that you mark on the list won't reflect badly on you, that is to protect you! Make sure you mark every ding, mark, and less-than-stellar appearance because when you move out, if something needs fixing and you didn't note it on the list, those are the things they will try to charge you for.
posted by Eicats at 11:48 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I would agree that as part of their paperwork they need to have a walk-thru form on file. I would fill out the form with condition of the house as of the date of the walk-thru (now). That becomes the starting point for comparison when you move out. I think bureaucracy is working in your favor here.
posted by metahawk at 11:51 AM on June 4, 2010

Best answer: I would say this would most likely work to your advantage, since the difference between the state of the home now and the end of the lease one year from now, are going to be much smaller than one year from now vs. 10 years ago.

I would be extremely, extremely detailed on every section of the checklist. Take accompanying photos. Make a copy of the entire packet for yourself before you turn it in.
posted by BlahLaLa at 11:56 AM on June 4, 2010

Best answer: Having a walk-through assessment is a completely normal part of renting. In theory, you shouldn't be allowed to move in without filling out an assessment.

Seconding metahawk that you can only fill out its current condition, not what you can guess it was 10 years ago. Also mark down that the move in date is different than the assessment date.

In my state, renters cannot be held liable for normal wear and tear if they live in the place for longer than 2 years, so you'll only be on the hook for any damage that occurs after you complete the assessment.
posted by meowzilla at 12:02 PM on June 4, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the perspective, y'all. I feel much better. Taking pictures is a good idea too.
posted by mudpuppie at 12:04 PM on June 4, 2010

You may want to rent a camcorder and actually do a walk-through, with a voiceover of "And here's the bathroom, the door has been warped since I moved in 10 years ago..." as you look at everything in the house. You can then give a copy to the company, and keep a copy for yourself.
posted by GJSchaller at 12:16 PM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: As a landlord with a property management company, I'd say this is probably far more benign than you're reading into it. It's more a CYA for the management company for when they bill the landlord for the repairs if/when you leave for the pastures greener. As mentioned above, document everything, but don't get carried away.. "Multiple nail holes on south wall" is better than "20 nail holes" cause then if they were really ridiculous, they'd charge you for the 21st.

Document stained carpet on traffic patterns, worn spots, missing plate covers, etc. When/if you do leave, restore things to the state on that original you're filling out now, and there's really not much they can do.
posted by TuffAustin at 12:30 PM on June 4, 2010

I'm with those saying it is a bit more benign than you think. What I would do is to fill it out fully and frankly, detailing every minor issue. I would also add every single small fix and update that you have made over the past 10 years. At the bottom, add that all of these were made with the landlords knowledge and consent. Basically, point out that the apartment is in as good or better shape than when you moved in because you handled the problems that the landlord didn't.
posted by baggers at 1:40 PM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Maybe talk to a lawyer and also casually mention to your rental contact that your lawyer looked it over and said xyz. If they are on the up and up then they certainly shouldn't mind you have a lawyer...they probably have one too. If they are skeezy, then they will think to themself 'better not try to screw this person, he/she's the proactive fight-back type.'
posted by ian1977 at 3:45 PM on June 4, 2010

Also check your local rental laws. Where I am, a renter can only be charged for damage that goes beyond reasonable wear and tear, and the guideline for carpet is that after 7 years of reasonable wear and tear, it will want to be replaced. If you were in my shoes, since you've lived there for ten years, that could mean either 1. You have good grounds for getting the carpet replaced if you decide that you want it replaced, or else 2. The carpet is already a write-off, so... FOOD FIGHT!!! :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 5:18 PM on June 4, 2010

Nthing photos, writing down every nick & scuff, etc.

Please understand, also, that while the law does protect tenants, many management companies will make you fight for your rights on move-out, especially in a college town when the economy is bad. So, when it gets to that point:

Do have a 'pre-move-out' inspection when you are almost finished, and get DOCUMENTATION, not just a verbal instruction, on what they want addressed.

Take photos of the condition as-a-whole, and specifically of the items you were to address.

Be prepared for shady deductions from your security deposit. Address them in a written letter, pointing out where the condition was either 1) pre-existing (as supported by the document you are preparing now) and/or 2) ordinary wear-and-tear.

Be prepared to escalate to a lawyer-drafted letter, and/or small claims court.

Does this sound like the bitter voice of experience? It is!

Another thing to prepare for is the possibility you may want to shrug it off and just loose the $100 bucks or whatever you're being stiffed for, because it is too much of a hassle and energy drain to pursue them. Although, should you decide on court, California law says the limit of what you can ask for is the deduction PLUS twice the total deposit. Not that you would be rewarded that amount, but it doesn't hurt to ask.

For now, just be super anal to the point of being unreasonable on that form. It doesn't reflect on you, it reflects on the quality of their (and their client, your landlords') maintenance.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 9:57 PM on June 4, 2010

The advice above is great, but I wanted to suggest contacting your local tenants rights organization, and also point you to a relevant section of the California Civil Code. It's always good to know what the law says. Also, there are articles on law sites that can help you get a better understanding of how state law looks at "normal wear and tear."
posted by kristi at 9:31 AM on June 8, 2010

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