The Essential Checklist for First-Time Landlords

Laura Olson
Mar 1, 2023

Becoming a property owner comes with plenty of challenges and responsibilities. To succeed, you need to be well-prepared before renting out your property.

If you're feeling overwhelmed, don't worry—this first-time landlord checklist is here to help.

In this article, you’ll learn the essential steps new property owners need to take to get up to speed quickly and start renting confidently. You can also download a copy of the checklist to keep track of action items as you complete them!

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Step 1: Prepare The Property for Renting

It’s important to ensure your property meets all safety and building regulations, looks its best, and is ready for potential tenants. By following the tips below, you’ll have taken the first step to successfully renting out your property.

Tips for Making a Property Rent-Ready

____ Schedule a property inspection

____ Check for any structural damage or deferred maintenance issues

____ Secure all doors, locks, and windows properly

____ Make sure all electrical outlets are in working order

____ Replace any burned-out lightbulbs throughout the property

____ Test smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors throughout the property

____ Clean carpets, upholstery, and curtains to get rid of dirt, dust, and allergens

____ Repair or replace any broken appliances in the property

____ Examine plumbing fixtures such as sinks, showers, and toilets for proper operation

____ Assess the water heater for proper temperature and operation

____ Treat for any pest infestations

____ Check for compliance with local building codes

____ Paint interior walls, ceilings, and trim as needed

____ Refresh exterior paint job to repair chipping and fading

____ Clean gutters and downspouts to keep water away from the property's foundation

____ Test fire extinguishers and make sure they are up to date

____ Inspect decks/patios for safety concerns such as loose railings or unsteady stairs

____ Make sure all stairways have handrails in working order

____ Install any window treatments if necessary

____ Clean all areas of the property thoroughly before the tenant's arrival

Tools & Resources

  • Angi - formerly Angie's List
  • Handy - house cleaning, home cleaning, furniture assembly, TV mounting and other handyman services
  • HomeAdvisor - renamed to ServiceMagic, this platform links homeowners with local service professionals who specialize in home improvement projects, maintenance tasks and remodeling services
  • Thumbtack - online directory that allows users to search for, rate, and hire local service providers to work on a variety of projects, including home improvement
  • zInspector - property inspection solution for property managers, contractors, rental & real estate agents and tenants that works on any computing device

Step 2: Determine The Rental Cost & Lease Terms

Determining the fair market rent and lease terms is a critical step for any first time landlord. It’s important to ensure your rental rate provides a good return on investment while remaining competitive with surrounding properties. You should also research local laws so that your rental agreement follows all regulations, such as pet policies and late fees.

How to Determine The Right Rent Rate

____ Research rental rates trends and competition in your area

____ Review landlord-tenant laws for your state

____ Set an attractive fair market rate rate

____ Include pet policies, deposits, and rent in the lease agreement

____ Detail late fees and payment instructions

____ Create guest allowances and rules

____ Ensure all items in the lease comply with local law

Tools & Resources

  • Avail Rent Analysis - report includes rental market trends, rent prices, and competition in your area
  • Rentometer Rent Calculator - see what rents go for by clicking the rent calculator button below, entering your property details, and getting a free rent analysis
  • Zillow Rent Zestimate - an estimate of a home’s monthly rent price, calculated using a proprietary formula, available for 114 million homes in America
  • HUD - learn about Federal housing programs, discrimination laws, and legal requirements
  • Nolo - list of state landlord-tenant laws

Step 3: Get Landlord Insurance Coverage

When selecting landlord insurance, it is important for new landlords to understand their specific needs. Doing so will help them find the right policy for their particular situation.

One of the first things they should consider is whether or not the property is in a high-risk area. A high risk area might require additional coverage such as flood insurance or earthquake insurance depending on the region.

Obie's interactive risk map makes it easy to quickly see what kinds of risk a rental property faces based on its location and type. Simply enter the property address and receive an instant analysis of risks including flood, wildfire, earthquake, wind, and the location of the nearest fire station.

Another factor to consider is what kind of damages are covered under the policy, such as property damage, liability claims and loss of rent. Additionally, landlords should make sure that the coverage limits are sufficient enough to cover any potential damage or loss sustained by their rental property.

Tips for Choosing The Best Landlord Insurance

____ Obtain multiple quotes for landlord insurance

____ Analyze the coverage options available

____ Compare different policies, coverages and rates to identify the right one

____ Find out which risks are associated with your rental property

____ Confirm that policy includes weather damage, liability, and loss of rent protection coverage in the policy

____ Check if there are any discounts applicable to your policy that can reduce premiums

____ Research online for additional information on landlord insurance requirements

____ Contact a qualified insurance broker or agent to make sure you understand all of your options before purchasing a policy

____ Consider signing up for coverage with Obie to get the right insurance for your rental property

Get an Instant Quote From Obie Today

When searching for landlord insurance for rental property, it's important to take the time to investigate coverage options online, obtain multiple quotes, and compare them. Additionally, look out for discounts that can lower expenses and increase your potential profits.

Obie provides instant insurance designed for landlords and real estate investors. With Obie, you can acquire the right coverage for your particular property without wasting time trying to decipher all the details yourself.

Obie gives you full insight into the insurance process, which can help landlords and investors save time and money.

  • Hassle-free online process to get the right insurance for your rental property
  • Obie works to locate the best policy based on your specific requirements
  • Get comprehensive coverage at competitive rates with Obie's help

Obie offers rental property insurance in all 50 US states, and investors have placed over $4 billion worth of their properties under its coverage. To get started on protecting your rental property, simply go to Obie's website and enter the address for an instant quote.

How Much is Landlord Insurance?

Step 4: Find & Screen Tenants

New landlords need to take the right steps when it comes to finding and screening tenants. First, they should create a rental application form that meets all requirements of the Fair Housing Act. It's also important to perform credit checks and background checks on each applicant and verify references for each applicant.

How to Choose Good Tenants

____ Learn the Fair Housing Act guidelines and regulations

____ Create an appropriate rental application form that complies with local, state and federal laws

____ Run credit checks on all applicants to determine their affordability (check your local laws for any restrictions)

____ Perform background checks for each applicant for a comprehensive view of their financial and criminal history (check your local laws for any restrictions)

____ Obtain an eviction history report for each applicant (check your local laws for any restrictions)

____ Verify references for each applicant to ensure trustworthiness and reliability

____ Ask for proof of employment or income to ensure tenants can pay the rent

____ Collect necessary documents, such as photo ID, and references, from the tenant

____ Interview tenants in person or via video call to assess behavior and attitude towards renting your property

____ Request a security deposit and/or first month's rent before the move-in date

____ Obtain proof of renter’s insurance from the tenant

____ Clearly communicate the eviction process with the tenant

____ Consider using tenant screening tools

Tools & Resources

  • - tenant screening, rent collection, and more
  • E-renter - an FCRA-compliant consumer reporting agency
  • Rently - a smart home and self-guided touring hardware and software provider
  • RentSpree - easily manage the entire rental process online, from rental applications and tenant screening to renters insurance and rent payment
  • Zillow Rental Manager - access background checks, credit checks, eviction history and income verification with online applications
  • Zumper - offers free renter screening tools for landlords

Step 5: Collect Rent & Establish Policies

Be sure to clearly define when rent is due each month and provide multiple payment options, like online or via check. Outline in writing any fees associated with late payments so both parties understand exactly what will happen if a payment comes in late.

Tips for Collecting and Managing Rent

____ Determine the rent due date (e.g. 1st or 15th of each month)

____ Establish payment methods (e.g. online portal, check)

____ Set rules/policies around late payments and associated fees

____ Establish deposits and rent rules for pets, if applicable

____ Notify tenant of payment due date and method(s) of payment

____ Consider using online rent collection tools

____ Provide access to an online rental portal if applicable

____ Monitor tenant's compliance with rent collection procedures

____ Investigate any delayed payments or complaints from tenants regarding rent payments

____ Set up an accounting system to track payments

____ Ensure all rent payments are deposited into the correct bank account

____ Send reminders as necessary if payment is not received on time

____ Handle NSF payments per your policies and procedures

____ Plan for additional costs associated with NSF payments

____ Clearly communicate the eviction process with the tenant

____ Seek legal advice if any rental issues arise which cannot be resolved internally between landlord and tenant

Online Rent Collection Tools

  • ClearNow - rent is debited from your tenant's bank account and directly deposited to your bank account
  • eRentPayment - offers online rent payments, plus other services, including online applications, tenant screening, maintenance requests, reminders, and credit reporting
  • PayRent - designed for landlords who like to keep things simple by collecting rent efficiently
  • PayYourRent - landlords benefit from same-day rent payment processing and the ability to build their resident's credit history with each payment
  • Zillow Rental Manager - collect rent online, from rent payments to utilities and security deposits deposited directly into your account

Step 6: Rental Property Management & Financial Reporting

The key to successfully managing your rental property is having a clear system for responding to tenant requests, understanding local landlord-tenant laws and developing strategies for resolving disputes before they become legal matters. In addition, it's important to track all income and expenses accurately in order to remain compliant with IRS regulations and maximize your return on investment while minimizing tax liability.

Best Practices for Rental Property Management & Reporting

____ Establish clear expectations and boundaries with tenants in a written lease agreement

____ Visit the property regularly—at least once a year—to fully inspect the unit and any common areas

____ Inform tenants promptly of any necessary repairs or maintenance tasks that must be completed on the property

____ Create an emergency contact list of reliable repair services, plumbers and electricians for potential maintenance issues/repairs

____ Stay up-to-date on local landlord-tenant laws in your area

____ Understand IRS rules and regulations on rental properties

____ Create a budget based on expected future rental incomes

____ Set up a separate bank account specifically for rental income, deposits, expenses and necessary repairs/maintenance fees for ease of tracking purposes

____ Maintain records of rental income and expenses for tax purposes each year and use appropriate software such as Buildium or Stessa to help with tracking and reporting

____ Make sure all financial activities are properly categorized and reported

____ Ensure proper tracking of payments to contractors or vendors used for repairs/maintenance

____ Generate financial reports of cash flow, profits & losses, or tax liability

____ Reconcile monthly income statements with bank statements

____ Investigate any discrepancies found in financial reports or bank statements related to the rental property

____ Record tax deductions associated with the rental property

____ Develop an emergency fund for the rental property in case of unexpected expenses

____ Collect and store all receipts and documents related to income/expenses for audit purposes

____ Create checklists/templates of tasks that must be completed monthly, quarterly and annually

____ Research insurance options that provide adequate coverage for your rental property

____ Develop an emergency plan for dealing with natural disasters like fires, floods, etc., and communicate it to tenants

Tools & Resources

  • Baselane - banking, rent collection, bookkeeping, and reporting, specifically for landlords, all in one app.
  • Buildium - cloud-based real estate software for professionals to manage their portfolios (leasing, accounting and operations).
  • DoorLoop - automate many of the processes necessary for managing residential and commercial real estate properties, including accounting and rent collection.
  • Landlord Studio - track income/expenses, collect rent online, generate reports, screen tenants, plus additional features.
  • LawDepot - offers quick and easy lease agreements you can customize yourself and many other rental and eviction documents to help you manage your rental property.
  • RentRedi - an easy-to-use mobile app with a full suite of property management features.
  • Rocket Lawyer - property management documents and rental forms suitable for all states, customizable and buildable with any software.
  • Stessa - a simple-yet-powerful finance tool that helps real estate investors with rental properties maximize their profits - for free.