CYA Documents
Protect Yourself From Tenants

The longer you’re in property management the more you realize that it’s sticky, often hostile, and sometimes even litigious. Over 35 years we’ve been burned many times by tenants and after the second or third time (we’re slow learners), we go back to the attorney and have them draft a document that prevents it from ever happening again. Blaming the property manager has reached an all-time high and isn’t going away anytime soon. So, understanding this reality, smart managers need to spend extra time, money and effort building and crafting documents designed to protect themselves, even from those they are trying to serve. We’ve pulled these documents from our archives and have listed them here for your review and individual download (or in packages by topic). We’ve laid them out in the Property Management Life Cycle categories to give the discussion some order.

Protecting yourself from tenants is what these documents are all about.


These documents are all in Word format (not PDF) so you can add your company name and tweak them to your model. Most were crafted for us by attorney Monica Gilroy in response to someone blaming, suing or terminating us over something we didn’t want to happen again.

Application Processing and Protections

1. Rental Application
Every tenant screening company has a rental application. We do too.

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2. Special Application CYA Language
(to be added to your rental application signature page)
Protecting yourself from tenants starts with including some precise disclosure language in the rental application. Tenants must be told that you intend to investigate their background and may include residency, employment, military, government databases, personal and professional references, social media, character, records of attendance and earned degrees or certificates and more. You need to be point-blank and tell them that by executing the application they are authorizing you to not only check out the information they give you, but share said information to third parties you work with that have a legitimate right to it, plus, contribute to those databases your experience with the tenant. You must protect yourself. You need to cover yourself on many issues before the tenant moves in, during their stay and after they move out.

The consumer protection laws (Fair Credit Reporting Act) are designed to protect consumers (tenants) with regard to who has access to their information, as well as who we (the property manager) can share that information with. If you don’t get the tenant’s authorization to investigate (and pass on) their personal information you’ll expose yourself to both FCRA claims as well as civil claims for damages and attorney fees. You must protect yourself.

Once they’ve completed the application it’s impossible to go back and ask them to execute this special protection language so this language needs to be on the last page of the application, just before their signature line.

Note: In 2016 I was hired by the Atlanta law firm of Weissman Nowack Curry & Wilco as an expert witness in a federal discrimination case against a local property manager with this kind of language in their application. Because they protected themselves with language like this, it will be easy to get him off the hook in the claim as long as their practices match their qualifying guidelines.

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3. Chart of Credit Scores
To develop consistency and supervisory oversight in our qualifying procedures we developed a chart to identify who an application needs to go to in the office for review. We let assistant managers approve certain applications, managers another group, senior managers another and only the broker could approve certain applications. For example, we wouldn’t let an assistant property manager approve someone with a 500 credit score, a comfort pet, a past bankruptcy, a co-signer, a quick move in, multiple pets or a recent eviction without senior staff involvement. There were things only the broker could approve in our system, usually because they had a greater chance of developing some kind of conflict. We developed this internal tool to manage the application process and make sure the better trained staff had an opportunity to approve or deny the harder applications. As you grow your staff this tool becomes more and more important to your qualifying process.

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4. Official Notice of Approval
There needs to be an enforceable document that lets the tenant know they are approved and lists the terms of the lease and who to contact. This identifies the start date, move-in date, rent, deposits, fees, utility companies and other critical data for their occupancy. It puts their deposit at risk and identifies what happens if they change their mind. If you get the lease signed immediately, you probably don’t need this. We don’t get the lease signed until 3-4 days before move-in so we use this to “lock them in” without having to sign the lease immediately. We purposely delay executing the lease because we’ve had some tenants request the lease in advance and back out over something they don’t like (fees, charges, etc). For us it is a 2-step process. The Official Notice of Approval commits them and gets the first month’s rent. Then, close to the move-in date when they are less likely to back out, we execute the lease.

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Buy Package # 1: Application Documents (items 1-4)
Buy Package #1: Resident Sign Up Application Documents (use when qualifying residents) which includes documents 1-4. The price for buying each document individually would total $71.00, or you can purchase the complete package for $62.00 (Subscribers get an additional 20% off).

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Reviews & Testimonies

"As education coordinator at the Columbus Board we love it when Robert comes to teach. Students always appreciate his enthusiastic  presentations and the obvious experience he brings. He keeps everyone's attention for 6 hours on a topic (property management) often seen as boring. He brings life to the classroom and students ask often ask "when can we get him back?" Kari Kinser, Education Char, Columbus Board of Realtors.

The lease agreement should not be more than a few pages long making it easy for new tenants to sign. Minor issues should be managed within housekeeping & ancillary documents allowing you to alter and expand the small stuff without ever changing the primary lease.
You need these short legal documents below to protect your lease from document creep.
Don't know what document creep is? Watch the video on the right.

Resident Sign Up Housekeeping Documents

5. Pet Exhibit
You want to be sure every tenant signs a pet exhibit so every detail is covered. Don’t try to cover this in the lease as it stretches it out. If they have a pet you want them to tell you breed, weight, color and name so they don’t sneak in a different one. You also want to remind them of the six things they need to do after move-out to get their deposit back. If they don’t have a pet you need to remind them of the costs, penalties and process you’ll go through if you discover a pet. Let them know there are serious penalties if they get caught with an unauthorized pet.

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6. Resident’s Maintenance Agreement
You should articulate exactly what maintenance issues the tenant is responsible for. This document addresses the nuisance items you are trying to prevent like after hours maintenance, missed appointments, flipping GFI switches, resetting garbage disposals, changing out all light bulbs and other nickel-dime nuisance maintenance items. We’ve learned the precise balance between pushing off habitability issues to them (which you must not do) and holding them responsible for nuisance maintenance calls.

Owners frequently ask, “how do you prevent/manage tenant’s request to complete unnecessary repairs and running up the owner’s tab?” This document will help answer that question.

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7. Homeowner Association Agreement
This is a big CYA document. If the HOA does something drastic like booting the tenant’s car, disconnect the water, sue the tenant for rent because the owner hasn’t paid his dues or threatened to evict the tenant you need to be protected from litigation. The owner will ignore the HOA to get it leased and you’ll deal with the battles when the HOA wakes up to the reality that there is a new tenant in the community. You want the tenant holding you harmless when the HOA can’t open the pool or tennis courts because not enough owners have paid their dues. You need to protect yourself against the possibility of being sued for constructive eviction, wrongful dispossessory, loss of quiet enjoyment or harassment by the HOA. Tenants want to blame the property manager for everything no matter whose fault it is. If the owner fails to keep current with the HOA it can create chaos between you and the tenant so prevent it with this document and protect yourself.

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8. Landlord vs. Resident’s Responsibilities Maintenance Chart
Some tenants like visuals (an easy reminder) so here’s a chart of who is responsible for what. It’s all in the lease but is often not read. This is something they can tape to their refrigerator to remind them of what they can call you for and what they need to take care of themselves. We like it simple and this makes it simple.

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9. Lead Paint and Flood Disclosure
Houses built before 1978 often used lead paint which has been discovered to be toxic and a serious health hazard. Federal law requires that you have the owner and tenant sign this to disclose the presence of (or lack of) this poison in the home. The owner signs this document to reveal any knowledge they have regarding any lead paint in their home. Copy the original the owner signs and have every tenant sign a copy before you move them in. Use the same original over and over. Just have the tenant sign a copy and keep it with other important tenant documents.

Pay close attention to this as it is the topic of lots of debates and litigation. Make sure you’re on the right side of this and disclose, train, warn and follow up. This document is both a training piece and a CYA regarding the claims of mold, what they have to do and how to respond if they feel there is more than the normal moisture in the property.

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10. Mold, Mildew, Moisture Disclosure
Pay close attention to this as it is the topic of debates and litigation. Make sure you’re on the right side of this and disclose, train, warn and follow up. This document is both a training piece and a CYA regarding the claims of mold, what they have to do and how you’ll respond if they feel there is more than the normal moisture in the property.

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11. Mold Information and Prevention
This is a 3-page educational piece developed over the years to protect the owner from claims of mold and claims of health issues. Give it to your residents to prepare them to deal with issues of mold. It prevents them from claiming mold the last month they are there or because they want a way out of the lease without paying the early termination fees. You want to be able to tell the judge “we did everything we could to prepare the resident to address these issues before they moved in.” It puts the burden on them to report mold. Not 2 years after it’s discovered but within 2 days.

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12. Smoke Detector Release and Renters Insurance Disclosure
This two-sided document is CYA by introducing (and counting) the number of smoke detectors in the property and addressing renters insurance. You want to document that there are smoke detectors and remind them you provide them but they have charged batteries in them. It also reminds them the owner’s insurance doesn’t cover their personal belongings. We don’t require renters insurance but we do inform them of the need to get coverage. They sign this at move in, documenting the discussion so they can’t blame you if something happens to their contents.

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13. Utility Agreement and Property Visit Policy
Clearly state the fines they pay if utilities are off at move out or have a balance due with the utility company when they leave the property. Give them the utility company name and phone number to help them get service turned on before move in. Also, outline your property visit policy including surprise visits when there is cause to believe there is a problem.


Note: Any of these topics/documents can be inserted in the lease but it will have 2 affects.
1. It will get lost in all the other language and no one will read it.
2. It will spread your lease over too many pages. Fight document creep and give emphasis to those issues that you want to draw special attention to in a Housekeeping document.

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14. Move-in Checklist and Report Card
In our model the tenant signs a move-in inspection and this checklist. We want them to testify that the window locks work as do the door locks; the smoke detectors are working (they never check them); and how many keys and garage door openers they received. This has items on it we’ve missed up over the years and don’t want to miss them again. We do 40 move-ins per month and we’ll get it wrong if we don’t have this checklist. It keeps growing as we continue to learn and it will evolve as you evolve. This also serves as a report to the owner of any deferred maintenance that needs attention and documents both urgent and not so urgent needs.

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15. Dispute Resolution and Non-Disparaging Agreement
Knowing the move-out inspection (and subsequent charges for damages) causes conflict, we learned to address these disputes before they occur. We tried a Non-Disparaging Agreement and got a lot of pushback from tenants. Some felt it was their right to say bad things about a service provider (a property manager) if they don’t like their level of customer service and many stonewalled signing it at move in. It wasn’t until we revised it several times that we came up with a document they would sign without hesitation and would prevent them from destroying our reputation on the internet over move-out damages or slow maintenance responses while they lived in the property. This document alone moved our Better Business Score from a C- to an A+ once we implemented it in 2005. We have many past tenants that moved in before 2005 that still say nasty things about us and we still fight the online reputation battle but it’s almost over with this document in place. Get it signed at move in AND at lease renewal time and watch your public reputation improve.

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Buy Package # 2: Resident Sign Up Housekeeping Documents (5-15)
Buy Package #2: Resident Sign Up Housekeeping (make these a part of your lease packet) which includes documents 5-15. The price for buying each document individually would total $188.00, or you can purchase the complete package for $167.00 .

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Resident Sign Up Ancillary Documents

(use these as needed)

16. Roommate Agreement
When roommates move in together make sure you get them on a separate document outlining your requirements for roommates. Remind them you’ll only take one rent check (not three) and that you’ll only cut one check back to them after move out. Advise them you’ll never drop anyone off the lease whether they still live there or not. Roommates love each other when they move in but like other community living arrangements, often fall apart over time. Make sure there are plenty of fees. Roommates can be high maintenance so make sure you’re getting paid well to put up with them.

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17. Hot Tub Exhibit to Lease
Tenants think it’s a toy but owners know they require some maintenance. Tenants will let water levels get too low, burn out motors, let the water turn green, turn them into fish ponds, and use them as a place to store trash.

The last thing you want is to suggest to a tenant the hot tub will stay hot or keep working. Disclose your lack of knowledge with hot tub maintenance and your general unfamiliarity with how they work. Put the entire burden on them and warn them about the dangers of it getting too hot and someone getting burned. You may even require they get renter’s insurance with you (and the owner) as additional insured. See our document on the owner sign up documents for the other side of the hot tub issue.

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18. Personal Property Schedule
When the owner leaves behind their lawn furniture, pool table, tractor, or counter top microwave you need a form to list everything and language that has the tenant promising to leave it behind when they vacate. There is little you can do to protect the owner from this stuff walking away but the owner wants you to make an effort. This document fulfills that duty to the owner and hopefully the tenant will remember what isn’t theirs and leave it behind.

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19. Move me in even though the property is not ready for occupancy
Occasionally the house is not clean enough, repairs have not been completed, utilities aren’t on, carpets didn’t get cleaned or the handy man (or owner) didn’t clean up their mess. You have 2 options: don’t move in today and give some time to correct the problem or move in today but don’t hold it against us. This document takes all the air out of them by saying they shouldn’t take the property now but try again in a couple of days so you can correct the issue. Many can’t wait and will press to take it “as is”. There’s a downside to letting them do so. This document says they need it today and agree to not hold it against you. This document allow tenants to take a property that is not ready.

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20. Military Exhibit
When you know the tenant is in the military, or works for a military support company, and qualifies for a military out clause in their lease, you want to make sure they don’t take advantage of the Servicemember’s Civil Relief Act. They have requirements to fulfill and just saying they’re being transferred and you can’t hold them to the lease doesn’t cut it. This document lays out the rules for military release of tenancy without your giving up your rights.

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21. Guarantee of Payment (Cosigner Agreement)
For one reason or another we often ask for the tenant to find someone to stand with them on the lease. You’re looking out for your owner and adding security to the lease. When there is a co-signor you need a document for them to sign promising to pay what the tenant left owing when they vacate. This is their personal guarantee for the tenant’s obligations under the lease. We get co-signors on about 20% of our leases and it works like a charm. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Let our mistakes make it easier for you. You can figure this out on your own, develop a document and tweak it over time, or have it today.

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22. Security System Disclaimer
When a tenant previews a property and sees a security system it is reasonable that they expect it to be up and running when they move in, and that it is included in the rent. You need to dispel that expectation and protect yourself from the liabilities of what happens if it fails. This is a CYA document letting the tenant know that it is their responsibility to deal with the monitoring system and the cost belongs to them. You are not making any representations as to its reliability, its functionality or its cost and they agree to hold you harmless if the system does not function properly.

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23. Security Deposit Promissory Note
We tried many times to add a special stipulation for security deposit installments but couldn’t get judges to enforce it. The note was the answer as judges understand promissory notes.

We often get more than one month’s rent as a security deposit. Depending on their credit, we will agree to take installments on a portion of that deposit. We did it poorly for many years and struggled with getting judges to enforce our documents. We finally went to our attorney and paid to get it right. Now we are able to enforce this document and evict for failure to pay as agreed. It’s not 100% but we are successful 85% of the time. Taking installments on the deposit probably needs the owner’s approval depending on your model.

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24. Audit Checklist
When you think a file is complete let a staff person fill out a checklist of documents that need to be in the file. Change this to fit your system but be sure to have one.

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Buy Package # 3: Resident Sign Up Ancillary Documents (16-24)
The price for buying each document individually would total $131.00, or you can purchase the complete package for $116.00 (Subscribers get an additional 20% off).

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Buy Package # 4: All the Resident Sign Up Documents (Packages 1-3) which includes documents 1-24
The price for buying each document individually would total $400.00, or you can purchase the complete package for $295.00 (Subscribers get an additional 20% off).

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"Robert has been a trainer at Georgia Real Estate Investors Association (GaREIA) for at least 20 years. He is one of my favorite speakers because his teaching is practical, informative, and specific. I always get great comments from those who attend.”
Karen Yaap, Executive Director, Georgia Real Estate Investors Association (GaREIA), Atlanta, GA

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