The biggest advice I give to landlords once they have the property leased is to do a thorough move in and move out.  Take hundreds of photos, take videos, and get every angle and spot of the property on film, even if there is no damage.  Make sure the walkthrough is date and time stamped, and keep a file of the photos, video, and written report for the duration of the lease and then even afterward.

Why is this so important?  As a self-managing landlord, you will be holding a security deposit for your tenant (sidenote, in the state of Missouri this must be held in a separate account, so please make sure you are doing so), and your tenant is going to expect this back at the end of their lease (30 days in Missouri).  Your recollection of what the property looked like at move in is going to vary widely with what the tenant remembers. You will both need to rely on the original move in condition report.

It’s also extremely important to conduct a thorough move out walk through at the end of the lease.  Document with written report, photos, and video again. Compare this with the move in walk through, and determine what has changed, and what can be counted as tenant damage vs. regular wear and tear.

What happens if you don’t do all of this?  I’ve taken over properties mid-lease where the property management company or landlord did not conduct a move in walk through, so there is nothing to show what the condition of the property was like when the tenant moved in.  Therefore, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to withhold anything from the tenant deposit, since there’s no way to know what was the fault of the tenant. The landlord lost money they could have collected for tenant damage.

If you have to go to court to fight the tenant on the amount of the deposit that was withheld, you better have thorough documentation on the before and after condition of the property.  Without this, the judge can’t make a ruling in your favor, and in the state of Missouri, if the tenant fights you on what you withheld from the security deposit and they win, they’re entitled to TWICE the amount that you withheld.

So, no matter what, please make sure you thoroughly document your move in and move outs.  And save them somewhere safe.