Steps to Onboarding a New Tenant

You can’t just turn over the keys and walk away when you’re onboarding new tenants. It’s better to have a process in place so that you can provide the information they need to properly maintain their obligations under the rental agreement. Effective tenant onboarding isn’t just good for the landlord or property manager, it’s good for tenant retention as well.

April 4, 2021

9 min read


[.blog-disclaimer-text]Disclaimer: This article is not legal advice. Legal information is not the same as legal advice, where an attorney applies the law to your specific circumstances. Consult an attorney for advice on your interpretation of this information or its accuracy. You may not rely on this article as legal advice, nor as an endorsement of any particular legal understanding.[.blog-disclaimer-text]

The end goal of the tenant screening process is finding a right tenant (or tenants) for your property. So you’ve completed the application process, conducted the screenings, and determined which potential renter is right for you and the property you represent. Now it’s time to implement a process that will help you set up a successful relationship between you and your new tenant.

An effective onboarding process will set the tone for the landlord and tenant relationship, creating appropriate boundaries, communicating needed information, and facilitating the move-in process. In addition, by creating onboarding content for ongoing communication you can provide better tenant services and answer questions before they’re asked.

We’ve put together some of the main elements of the onboarding process to help you navigate this important part of establishing a relationship with your new tenants. Follow these steps to help your renters get off to a great start in their new home.

1. Explain and Sign the Lease with Your New Tenant

You’ll need to spend time with your tenant explaining the various elements of the lease. Leases may contain some legal terms and some conditions that you want to review. This is especially important if you are working with someone fresh out of college or new to renting, since they will probably have many questions for you. It’s important that you make yourself available in case your new tenant has any concerns or needs additional clarification.

The lease itself should contain the following information:

  • The full legal names of everyone living in the rental property
  • The date the lease begins and the length of the lease term
  • Deposits due, including security and other deposits, as well as the amount of the rent
  • Policies related to late payment of rent, including fees and penalties
  • Policies related to pets, including pet deposits and damage fees and pet rental rates
  • Guidelines for acceptable cleaning and lawn maintenance, parking restrictions, noise levels, and other restrictions.
  • If the property is in a community with a homeowner’s or condominium association, you may need to include additional information to ensure appropriate compliance with neighborhood rules.

If you are unable to meet with the tenant for an in-person signing, consider using a video service to create a virtual review of the lease, highlighting all of the main points. If your new tenants need to sign remotely, provide them with an e-sign option, which can help guide the process and provide added security.

2. Collect Pre-Payments and the Security Deposit

Most leases require some pre-payment of rent along with security deposits, pet deposits, and other charges. These are generally held in an escrow account in case they are needed for repairs due to damage from the tenant or their pets, as well as for late, partial, or unpaid rent.

In order to facilitate payment of the monthly rent as well as deposits, you may want to use an electronic payment processor like Square, Paypal, Apple Pay, or Google Pay. Alternatively, you may want to offer incentives for renters to register for an automated clearing house (ACH) draft directly from their checking or savings account. These options provide convenience and added security for your rent payments month after month.

If your property management company or property owner facilitates the payment of utilities, there may be additional deposits due at this time. Be sure that your renter knows what utilities are included, if any, and which ones are not. You’ll also want to coordinate current utility services with the startup of the renter’s utility accounts.

3. Schedule Move-In

Discuss with your new tenant their proposed date for moving in. This may or may not be the same as the first day of the lease. For example, some tenants may choose to move in gradually a little at a time, especially if they are transporting their belongings using their own vehicle or if they are arriving from out of town.

It’s a good idea to get the move-in date in writing, either on the lease itself or in an email. This way you can provide clarification in the event that there is a discrepancy between the renter’s memory and yours.

4. Prepare the Property

If you haven’t already done so, hire a professional cleaning service before the new tenant moves in. At that point, you should also do a thorough inspection of the property, looking for any damage to the floor, walls, ceilings, or surfaces. You should also check appliances, smoke detectors, HVAC, and other systems to ensure everything is in working order.

Make notes and take pictures of anything you find that is less than perfect. Go over everything with your tenant and have them sign and date two copies of the property’s condition report. Give the renter one copy and keep one on file for yourself. You will need to refer to this report in the event that there is subsequent damage, either during the term of the lease or upon move-out.

5. Deliver the Keys

On move-in day you will want to meet the tenant and provide copies of the keys to the property. You will want to keep a record of the number of keys you provide, along with any relevant serial numbers or identifying marks. You will also want to ensure that they are stamped “Do not duplicate.” Provide keys for the entry doors as well as for any other locks, like those on a shed or on-site storage unit.

Along with key delivery you will want to provide any of the following as necessary:

  • Gate codes or “clickers”
  • Garage door openers
  • Keys to on-site amenities, like a community pool or fitness studio
  • Parking placards or stickers
  • Alarm codes
  • Keycodes for common areas, like social rooms or laundry facilities

6. Prepare for Moving Day

On moving day, you will want to make sure that the tenant knows where to park in order to move furnishings and personal belongings into the home. In a condominium or apartment complex, there may be designated parking, a delivery entrance, and a service elevator that the new tenant can use for the day. Be sure to review the process for move-in before moving day. This is also the time to walk through and have the tenant sign off on your property inspection.

It is a good idea to check in with your new tenant late on moving day so that you can see if they have any questions or concerns. This will also give you the opportunity to ensure that they have everything they need, including information regarding repairs and contact information so that they can communicate with you if needed.

7. Welcome Your Tenant

If you choose to do so, you may also want to provide a small gift at this time to welcome your renters to the neighborhood, and to your property management service. This may come in the form of a welcome basket, gift card to a local restaurant or store, or tickets to a local attraction.

You may also want to create a welcome packet to provide information about the area, neighborhood amenities, and a calendar of local events. Creating connections in this way is an important part of helping your renter feel like part of the community and can improve tenant retention long-term.

8. Maintain Ongoing Communication

There are so many things that come up over the course of a year in your rental property. Your tenant may have questions about:

  • Repairs, both indoors and out
  • Damage from storms, pets, or accidents
  • Questions about landscaping, pest control, or scheduled maintenance
  • Questions about rent deadlines, lease renewal, or community features
  • Questions about ongoing property upkeep, including changing filters, powerwashing the exterior of the home and various DIY minor repairs

Virtual Communication Methods

Rather than forcing your tenant to track you down whenever they have a question or problem, consider creating platforms for proactive communication including

  • Blog posts
  • Email blasts
  • Video tutorials
  • Automatic reminder texts and emails
  • Newsletters or a well-organized process manual

The more you keep the information flowing, the more your tenant will feel satisfied with your service and able to come to you when the problems aren’t so small.

9. Retain Your Tenant

In real estate rentals, the name of the game is tenant retention. After putting together a carefully crafted multi-step process for tenant evaluation, you don’t want to start all over every 12 months. That’s where a smart tenant retention program can help.

There are a variety of ways to keep tenants happy and renting with you. Consider the following:

1. Get to know your tenant and their family by name and learn a little something about them. Find out where the kids go to school and what sports they play. Know where the parents work and what their hobbies are. By showing you know and like them, you’ll make them feel more connected to the home and the neighborhood.

2. Ensure that you employ friendly, responsive, high quality repair technicians and contractors for any service calls. Follow up after repairs to ensure that everything was completed to their satisfaction and to listen to their feedback.

3. Consider upgrading the property itself or the services you provide, including cost-effective upgrades to fixtures and finishes, seasonal improvements, or landscaping services. Smart improvements can not only help you keep a great tenant -- they can help you add value to the property itself.

4. Offer lease renewal in a timely manner so that your tenant doesn’t make other arrangements before they hear from you. Let them know that you value them as a renter and create an easy, convenient renewal process.

5. If your renter is moving because of a growing family or a change in their living situation, consider helping them find a new rental among the other properties you represent. Since you know them and trust them, it’s worth your while to keep them as a tenant.

Taking care of great tenants pays dividends month after month in reliable, on-time rent payments and responsible, friendly renters. Knowing that the property is well-taken care of provides peace of mind for you, the neighbors, and the property owner.

Thank you for reading our guide to Tenant Screening

We hope you’ve enjoyed our guide to tenant screening. It is our pleasure to help you develop a comprehensive screening process that provides fewer vacancies, more reliable tenants, and optimized tenant retention.

At RentSpree, it is our goal to help you streamline the tenant screening process whether you are a landlord, property manager, rental agent, or property owner. Our tools, reports, and customer service options work, whether you are an individual agent, a team leader, or a corporate client.

We offer a process that emphasizes simplicity, transparency, and comprehensive, nationwide service. With an eye on affordability and a straightforward process, you’ll have the information you need to make better decisions every time you need to find a new tenant.


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