Posted: February 21, 2022
As a landlord, proper documentation is essential. Documentation can be used to prove that you complied with the law, such as giving a tenant advance notice when appropriate or collecting a tenant’s authorization before conducting tenant screening.
While documentation is necessary when a tenant is renting from you, it is also important that you keep their files even after they have moved out. IRS audits can happen for at least six years, and former tenants generally have between five and seven years to file a civil lawsuit. Keeping tenant records protects you from accusations that could occur years later. (For more on how long to keep tenant documents, look here).
So, what documents should you hold on to?
- Rental Application
The rental application, along with the lease itself, is one of the most important documents to hold onto. You should keep this even for rejected applicants. As part of this, if you run a credit and background check on your tenant (which you should), you want to keep the applicants’ signed authorization. If you subsequently reject the applicant, keep a copy of the adverse action notice as well.
- Screening Documents
It is not essential to keep screening reports themselves. However, it can be helpful to have this in a tenant’s file, especially if it influenced a decision to approve or deny a housing application. It should be noted that some types of reports may be subject to privacy acts that require secure storage. Make sure to check local and state laws.
- Signed Lease Agreement
Keeping the signed lease agreement is critical. Without this document, there is nothing showing that there was ever an agreement between you and the tenant at all. The lease agreement also has all of the conditions that you and the tenant have agreed to. If there is a problem between you and the tenant, this is the first document that should be referred to.
You will want to keep a record of all the correspondence between you and the tenant in their file. This includes any informal agreements, as well as notices, complaints, or requests.
- Move-in paperwork/checklist
If you have paperwork or a checklist a tenant goes through upon move-in, make sure to save this. This can come in handy when they move out if there are damages to the property or any other issues.
- Move-out paperwork/checklist
Likewise, you should keep a tenant’s move-out paperwork. This is especially important if you held a portion of the tenant’s security deposit to pay for damages. This documents any issues with the move-out that could come up later.
- Lease renewal paperwork
If a tenant renewed their lease, you should keep that paperwork in their file. You should also have a copy of a lease renewal form so that you are prepared when asking a tenant to renew their lease.
- Emergency Contacts
This one is a bit obvious, but nevertheless – you should keep this information so that you know who to contact in case of emergency.
- Security Deposit
If you require a security deposit from a tenant, you should keep a record of their payment so there are no issues when it comes time to return it.
If there were any changes to the lease, you need a copy of those changes that are signed by the tenant. Store this with the original lease paperwork.
One final note – now that you know what documents to keep, you should know where to keep them. A paper copy of these documents should be stored in a fireproof, locked filing cabinet. A digital copy can be stored using a secure storage service on the internet. Because these records contain private information, both physical and digital copies should only be accessible to you.