Property Management Record-Keeping: Tenant Files
As a landlord, the bulk of your records will consist of Tenant Files.
This is because every tenant (and every applicant) creates an exponential amount of paperwork that must be transferred, completed and filed away. These are records you will retain for a period of at least five years, or in direct relation to however long the statute of limitations for making a claim is in your state.
Property Management software is useful in integrating all of the necessary steps and documents into a streamlined process that flows seamlessly into a record filing system. However, keep in mind that even the best software is only as good as its operator. Records require maintenance and consistent input. This means that emails and documentation created outside of the system should be added in a timely manner and destroyed / deleted / disposed of when the time comes.
We’ve reviewed that as a landlord or property manager, it’s important that you retain tenant files in the case that there is ever any legal claim made against you. Expect that you will have to be able to create a detailed timeline of your every interaction with your tenant from beginning to end. This should assist you in conducting your business in a professional manner (imagine that every document you send and phone call you make can be presented to someone else for review) and will keep you covered. These documents can also carry your case in a court procedure like an eviction.
It’s understood that leases are legally binding documents and should be read in their entirety; however, you will find that many tenants do not familiarize themselves with the details of their lease. Having the signed documentation on hand affirms that the tenant agreed to the terms laid out to them. Whether or not they understood the document is subjective to the tenant, and is solely the tenant’s responsibility. Objectively, however, the paperwork will support your case.
Remember that there are some things that are confidential and as such, even if the information is revealed in the course of conversation, should not be filed as pertinent information to you. You are obligated always to adhere to the Federal Fair Housing laws, and as such your tenant files should not contain any information regarding a tenant’s disability (other than in a quantifiable capacity, as proof of income or related to a reasonable accommodation request) or of any services the tenant receives in relation to said disability. That information is strictly confidential and should not be anywhere in your records.
The following, however, most certainly should be:
- Credit/Background Screening
- Application Fees
- Income Verification
The Rental Agreement / Lease
- Signed Copies of Lease & All Addendums/Riders
- Move-In Inspections
- Move-Out Inspections w/ Itemized Deductions List
- Pet Policy Agreement
- Information on How to Submit Service Request
- Record of Receipt of Keys Upon Move-Out
- Notice of Changes to Property, Lease, Payment Arrangments or Management
- Eviction Notices
- Request for the Remittance of Payment
- Service/Maintenance Request, Evidence of Follow-Up Actions
- Property Maintenance Notices
- Intent to Access Premises for Repair/Inspection
- Notice of Lease Violations
- All Emails and Correspondence
- Security/Other Deposits
- Rental Payments
- Late Fees
- Returned Payments