As a landlord or a property manager, you’re responsible for making sure your rental property stays in good condition before, during, and after a tenant’s stay there. You need to repair major systems when they break down, perform routine maintenance, and make sure no damage comes to the property.
Rental property inspections are an important way to find out about and address these needs as they come up.
There are a few do’s and don’ts property managers need to know about before they dive into the inspection process. Read on to learn more about how to conduct a rental property inspection and when it should be done.
What Is a Rental Property Inspection?
Before we dive into the details of how to do a rental property inspection, let’s talk about what it is and why you should conduct one. During a rental property inspection, you take a look at the inside and outside of your property and make sure everything is in good working order.
Not only can this be a great way to make sure tenants aren’t damaging your property, but it’s also important for routine maintenance.
Your tenant also has a right to inspect your rental property, particularly at the time of move-in. This gives them a chance to make sure there aren’t any problems with or damage to the property before they move in. In most cases, it’s a good idea for you or your property manager to be present during move-in inspections.
Why They’re Important
We mentioned that inspections can be a great way to make sure tenants aren’t damaging your property. No matter how good your tenant screening process is, a few bad apples may slip through from time to time. You need to know about any damage as soon as possible so you can address it and prevent continuing expenses.
Rental property inspections are also important for keeping your property well-maintained. You won’t know that the bushes need to be trimmed and the window screens need to be replaced unless you take a look at the property.
You may also notice signs that a major system is about to go out so you can prepare to replace that when the time comes.
There are four primary types of rental property inspections: move-in inspections, move-out inspections, routine inspections, and drive-by inspections.
As you might guess from the name, move-in inspections happen when a new tenant moves into the property. Although your tenant has the right to conduct their own move-in inspection, we’ll be focusing on the landlord side.
During a move-in inspection, your primary focus should be making sure that there is no existing damage to the property. As we’ll discuss in a moment, most damage from previous tenants should have been caught during your move-out inspection.
The move-in inspection is your chance to make sure those problems got resolved and to take stock of the property before the new tenant moves in.
A move-out inspection happens the day or two after a previous tenant vacates the property. This will be an important part of your security deposit assessment process since it will be your chance to see what damage, if any, was done to the property during that tenant’s stay.
You can use that information to figure out how much of the previous tenant’s security deposit they’ll be getting back.
During a move-out inspection, you’ll want to look for any new damage that the tenant might have caused. This may include broken windows or doors, dented walls, stained carpet, and so on. Make arrangements to fix these problems before your next tenant is scheduled to move in.
A routine inspection happens during a tenant’s stay at your property. As we’ll discuss more later, you’ll need to give your tenants notice before you conduct these inspections. The purpose of these inspections is two-fold: to look for damage and to assess maintenance needs.
During your routine inspection, it’s a good idea to keep an eye out for any damage or breaches of the lease. However, your primary focus should be checking the major systems of the apartment to make sure none of them are close to failing.
Ask your tenants about the HVAC and water heater function, make sure the fridge and freezer are in good working order, and make sure air filters are getting changed as needed.
A drive-by inspection is the quickest of the four rental property inspections. You won’t have to notify your tenants about these inspections, because they likely won’t even know they’re happening. A drive-by inspection simply involves going by and taking a quick look at the outside of the property to make sure everything is in good working order.
During a drive-by inspection, you’ll want to focus on maintenance needs on the outside of the house. How is the landscaping looking, and do you see any signs of ants, wasps, or other pests that need to be dealt with? Look for screens that are ripped or fraying, gutters that may be sagging, roof damage, and poor sidewalk condition.
Give Prior Notice
When you’re getting ready to conduct a routine inspection, it’s important that you give your tenants prior notice. It may be tempting to spring surprise inspections, especially on tenants who you suspect may be breaking the lease. But you may be legally obligated to provide advance notice, and in any case, it fosters a better landlord-tenant relationship.
Check with your lawyer about what you’re required to do in terms of providing your tenants with notice of inspections. It’s a good idea to send written notice at least twenty-four hours ahead of time, and a week’s notice isn’t unreasonable. You may also want to confirm with your tenant that they received the notice before you show up for the inspection.
Encourage Your Tenant to Be Present
If possible, it’s a good idea to encourage your tenant to be present for move-in, move-out, and routine inspections. For one thing, this can help to build trust, since your tenants will be able to see that you aren’t digging through their personal belongings.
But it can also give you a better sense of what’s actually happening since you’ll be able to talk to them about any problems you do find.
It is important to note that, if you find out or suspect that your tenant is damaging your property or violating the lease, this is not the time to confront them about it.
These incidents can be upsetting, and you may not handle things perfectly in the heat of the moment. Instead, write down any problems you notice and send a note to your tenant later on through the proper channels.
Explain Why the Inspection Is Happening
When you send your tenant notice of an inspection, it’s a good idea to let them know why it’s happening. As we mentioned, maintaining a good landlord-tenant relationship is helpful, and surprise inspections can feel suspicious to tenants who don’t know the reason behind them.
Letting your tenants know the reason for the inspection can also help them better prepare the space to accommodate your inspection.
Start by letting your tenants know at the beginning of your lease agreement that there will be routine inspections and why they happen. During these inspections, let them know if there’s anything in particular you’ll be looking at: HVAC systems, hot water heaters, kitchens, bathrooms, and so on.
This is also a good opportunity to let them know about any preparations you need them to make before the inspection.
Don’t Photograph Personal Items
While routine inspections are a normal part of property management, they can make tenants feel very vulnerable. Someone they don’t know well is coming into their personal space and – to many tenants’ minds – judging them on what they find. As a landlord or property manager, it’s a good idea to ease this worry.
Taking photos may be important for documenting damage or maintenance problems, but avoid taking pictures of tenants’ personal items. This should include personal décor, pets, clothing, or other identifying items.
If your tenant is present and a personal item of theirs is in the way of your photo, ask if they would mind moving it for you to protect their privacy.
Inspect Doors and Windows
During move-in and move-out inspections, it’s a good idea to start with a look at the doors and windows. Check the doors for peeling paint, damaged door frames, broken peepholes, and loose hinges. It’s also a good idea to make sure all doors latch properly and that the ones with locks on them can lock and unlock correctly.
Start your inspection of the windows outside, looking at the screens and window frames to make sure there isn’t any damage. Check for glass that’s broken or cracked, and make sure all window sills and blinds are in good shape. You’ll also need to make sure all windows can open, close, and latch as designed.
Check the Electrical Systems
With the doors and windows out of the way, it will be time to turn your attention to the electrical systems. Start by making sure all outlet covers are in place and aren’t cracked or damaged. Then use a proximity tester or corded device to make sure all outlets are still functional, and check breakers for any outlets that don’t work.
Next, you’ll need to take a look at lights, fans, and other hard-wired electrical elements in the apartment. Look for any broken light fixtures, and make sure all switches and lights work as they’re supposed to. Make note of any bulbs that appear burned out, especially during a move-out inspection, so you can have them replaced.
Check Ceilings and Floors
As you move through the apartment during move-in, move-out, and routine inspections, keep an eye on the ceilings and floors. On the ceiling, look for any signs of water damage, including mildew or mold in the bathrooms and water stains. If you find these, take a picture so you can monitor how they change over time and then get the roof inspected.
It’s also a good idea to look for any damage to the flooring, including scratches, stains, or tears. On wood or laminate floors, keep an eye out around furniture legs for gouges or scratches, as well as warping or cracking. On carpet, watch for stains, tears, or normal wear that indicates the carpet will need to be replaced soon.
Examine the Kitchen
The kitchen should be one of your biggest areas of focus during your inspections. Start by testing the smoke alarm and making sure its batteries are good and it’s still functional. Then check the refrigerator and freezer to make sure they’re cooling appropriately and that any ice makers or water dispensers are working.
Next, turn on the oven and all the stove burners and make sure they’re heating up appropriately. Run the microwave for a short cycle to make sure it’s working normally, and run a quick rinse cycle on the dishwasher to make sure it’s functional and not leaking. While those are running, run water in the sink to check for leaks and make sure the disposal is working properly.
Find More Tools for Property Managers
Conducting rental property inspections is a normal part of the job for property managers and landlords. Let your tenants know when and why these inspections are happening, and encourage them to be there during the inspection. Keep an eye out for damage or maintenance issues, and test major systems to make sure they’re in good working order.
If you’d like to find more tools for property managers, check out the rest of our site at RentSafe. We are the tenant screening platform that gets vacancies filled faster. Check out our property manager solutions today and start screening tenants the easy way.