#TenantTipTuesday: Documentation

Documentation is the single most important action you can take to protect your rights as a renter.

Keeping good records and communicating in writing help:
  • Increase credibility
  • Clearly demonstrate the effort of a tenant and the lack of response of the landlord
  • Hold the landlord accountable
  • May help to prevent retaliation
Documentation can also help:
  • Protect you from retaliation by the landlord. It is illegal for the landlord to retaliate or try to get back at you for standing up for your rights in a reasonable way. However, retaliation can be extremely difficult to prove, so documentation is very important.
  • Help you get your deposit back if you feel that the landlord has kept some or all of your deposit unfairly.
  • clarify any questions as to whether the rent is late or not and may save you late rental fees.

Good documentation is extremely important if you should ever go to court over a dispute with your landlord.

Instead of having conversations with your landlord by phone or in person, try to keep all communications written. Write a letter to your landlord instead of calling them. Ask your landlord to respond to you in writing. Keep a copy for your records. Keep the tone of your letters clean and professional.

Getting organized

Create a log or diary to document any problems you are having with your rental home, whatever the problem; repairs, rules, utility issues, access, etc. If you have to talk to your landlord in person or over the phone, make sure to include dates and times of any conversations that you have had and a brief description of what was said between the two of you.
Ask for written verification of any agreed upon changes or arrangements between you and your landlord. If your landlord doesn’t provide the requested written verification, you can document the agreement in a letter, keep a copy of the letter for your records, and mail it to the landlord using a certificate of mailing. Have a notebook and pen by the phone in a convenient location that will serve as a rental diary for the duration of your tenancy.

Keep all your documents
, i.e., receipts, rental agreement (lease), move-in/move-out unit inventory and condition report forms, any correspondence between you and your landlord, and any other document that has to do with your tenancy together in a secure place – such a filing cabinet, a shoe box, a manila folder or anyplace that will help to keep your documents organized and easily accessible. We also recommend that you keep documentation for at least three years after the date you move out.

Some examples of when, what, and how to document

  • Screening
    • If your prospective landlord charges an application fee, they must tell you in writing what the screening process is, what exactly they check, how much the screening fee is, and how you can correct this information if it is incorrect.
  • Payments
    • Landlords must give receipts for any payment you make if you ask
      for one.
    • If you pay rent, deposits, or fees with a money order, be sure to keep the money order stub as your proof of payment – and get a receipt from your landlord or manager.
    • If you with cash, always ask for a receipt in writing, as this will be the only proof that you have paid whether it be for rent, fees, or deposits.
    • If you pay by check, an original or a copy can be obtained from your bank.
  • Repairs
    • When you ask for a repair requests, make sure you do so in writing. Keep a copy for your records. This provides written documentation that a request was made.
    • A written request is useful for another reason: you can request that access to your rental unit be limited to times that are convenient to you within reason.
  • Verbal Statements
    • If the landlord verbally agrees to anything, for example, telling you it is okay to paint your rental unit, pay on the 10th of the month instead of the 1st, allows your or someone else to make a repair, etc., make sure you get this in writing before you proceed. Although verbal agreements are legal and binding, they are hard to prove in a court of law.
  • Move-Out Notice
    • When moving out, give your landlord your 30-day notice in writing. Keep a copy for your records. Be sure to include in your notice a forwarding address so your landlord knows where to send your deposit.
  • Move-In and Move-Out Documentation
    • It is very important to document the condition of the rental unit upon move-in and move-out. This can be done by taking photographs or video taping the rental until both at the beginning of your tenancy and at the end, and by filling out a unit inventory and condition form. You can view and download a sample template to use here.
    • First, ask your landlord or manager, in writing, to do the unit inventory and condition report with you. Keep a copy for your records. In your letter, you can state that if they are not able to do so, you will do your own unit inventory and send them a copy.
    • It is also a good idea to send copies of photos documenting the condition of the rental unit along with the move-in and move-out forms to yourself, and leave them in a sealed, dated envelope in the event that you end up in court. Keep copies for three years after moving out.
  • Letter of reference
    • If you have a positive rental experience and are on good terms with your landlord, it is a good idea to get a letter of reference from that landlord in writing sometime during the move-out process. It is not unheard of that your past landlord (who would give you a good reference) cannot be reached for one reason or another. It is wise to plan ahead and make sure that you get the good reference that you deserve.