As a long-time landlord, a fundamental part of my job involves conducting inspections of my rental properties. While this task isn’t the most exciting aspect of managing a rental, it’s absolutely critical if you plan to stay in this business for the long run and retain your tenants.
In this guide, I’ll share my tips for how to do a rental inspection, which areas need your attention, and some background on the laws you must follow before entering a tenant-occupied property.
Using a rental inspection checklist
When performing an inspection, keeping detailed records is crucial. Before starting, I recommend creating a checklist of the items you need to examine. During the inspection, jot down your findings, such as worn-out parts that need replacement or appliances that don’t work. Here’s a comprehensive checklist you can use for any routine or secondary inspection:
Proper documentation is necessary for two reasons. The first is to stay up to date with your maintenance duties. This helps you get ahead of any issues immediately and prevent pricey repairs down the road.
The second is for insurance purposes. If you file an insurance claim for any severe damage to your property (such as a fire), your documents will prove that you were onsite doing regular inspections.
Types of rental inspections
There are four types of inspections I recommend doing to keep your rental in top shape: move-in, routine, secondary, and move-out.
This is an inspection that you do alongside your tenant when they first move in. Assess the property’s condition and document existing damage and areas of concern. The details are then compiled in a report, which you and your tenant will sign and date.
You can use the move-in inspection report to show that the property was in good shape before the new tenant arrived. The tenant can also use it to prove they’re not accountable for any damage that occurred before they moved in.
In many jurisdictions, a move-in inspection is mandatory. But even if it’s not, I strongly recommend doing one. It can help minimize the risk of potential disputes.
A routine inspection is one that you perform on a regular basis, ideally with your tenant. With two annual check-ins, you’ll be at the property often enough to resolve any issues before they worsen.
Though residential tenancy laws don’t require routine inspections, a good rule of thumb is to schedule them at least twice a year, usually during the spring and fall. Use our handy rental inspection checklist to record your findings.
In addition to your routine inspections, it’s worthwhile to drop by the property occasionally and scan the outside for potential issues. You can document any visible signs of damage with this rental inspection checklist, which has a section dedicated to the exterior of your property.
Unlike a routine inspection, you won’t have to enter the property. Remember to be discreet and don’t disturb your renters.
When your tenant moves out, do a walk-through of your rental with them. Use the same checklist that you used for the move-in inspection. This will help you identify damage that the renter may have caused. If it’s severe enough, you may have to withhold their security deposit to cover the cost of repairs.
A move-out inspection also allows you to assess the property’s overall state. You may need to invest time and money in upgrades, replacements, and renovation before inviting a new tenant to make it their new home.
Rental property inspection guidelines to know
Doing a rental inspection isn’t as simple as knocking on your tenant’s door and asking to be let in. Yes, it’s your property, but your tenants have certain legal rights that restrict how and when you may enter the premises. As a landlord, it’s your obligation to comply with these laws (which vary from state to state).
When a notice of entry is required
The most important law to be aware of relates to notice of entry. In many jurisdictions, you must notify tenants at least 24 hours before entering the property. This notice must be in writing, describe the nature of your visit, and provide the date and time you’ll arrive. You must also sign this notice.
In addition, you may only enter the property during a specific time frame during the day and at no time on holidays. There may also be restrictions on how often you can perform an inspection, such as once per month in British Columbia.
When a notice of entry isn’t required
But what if your state has relaxed laws regarding property inspections? For example, Texas has no specific rule for how much notice to give tenants before entering a rental.
In such cases, give your tenant more notice rather than less—at least 24 hours, ideally more. Be considerate of their privacy and the time they’re giving up. In my experience, it takes about 25-30 minutes to inspect a rental unit that’s 1,000 square feet or less. With this in mind, provide as much information to your renter as possible about how long the upcoming inspection will take.
More rental inspection resources
To learn more about your region’s laws regarding entering occupied rentals, visit the following links:
Pro tips to inspect your rental property
Following a steady routine, using a checklist, and tracking your progress are key elements of a successful rental inspection. But you can make each property checkup even more efficient by applying the following tips:
Ask your tenant to help with inspections
Does your rental inspection checklist feel like it’s a mile long? If so, the good news is that you don’t need to inspect every nook and cranny yourself. You can lessen your workload by asking your tenant to complete simple, everyday tasks.
For instance, ask them to inspect the furnace periodically and change the filter when necessary. You can even deliver a spare box of filters to the property to make the task a breeze for them.
Of course, if you want to go down this road, don’t simply hand over a bunch of chores to your tenant and trust that everything will be fine. As the saying goes, “trust but verify.” Check up on them during your routine inspections to ensure they’re doing the work they agreed to do (taking before and after photos can help). If things go well, delegate further inspection duties to them over time.
Document your inspections using a variety of formats
Don’t rely solely on pen and paper to document your inspections. While physical records work fine overall, they can easily get lost or damaged. Digital records are better; you can store them safely on the cloud or an external hard drive and make multiple copies with the click of a mouse.
Photos and videos are an excellent way to document the state of your rental over time. They’re also a more compelling way to collect and present evidence, particularly if you become involved in a legal spat over property damage. For example, if your furnace breaks down, you can provide the manufacturer with photos showing that you’ve done your part to keep it running within the warranty’s standards, such as routinely replacing the filter.
Communicate effectively with your tenants
I strongly encourage you to invite your tenant to accompany you during routine inspections. That way, they’ll understand the process better and learn some helpful maintenance tips. By looking for areas to fix or improve together, your tenant won’t view an inspection as invasive but as a collaborative effort to keep the property in good order.
A rental inspection also lets you check in on your renters to see if they’re happy with the condition of the property. Since you’re not the one living there, you may accidentally overlook something critical. Ask them if any issues need attention, such as a malfunctioning appliance or a clogged pipe.
If you show your tenants that you’re approachable, cooperative, and always ready to resolve problems in a timely manner, you’ll make them feel comfortable reporting issues that affect the property. They may also actively work with you to fix them.
Our final thoughts
Conducting inspections is one of the most important things you can do as a landlord to keep your investment in top shape. It’s the best way to remedy issues that require critical repairs and ensure your tenant is covering their maintenance duties.
When it comes to inspections, proper planning and execution are key. Visit the property regularly and stay organized by bringing a checklist of what to examine. Meticulously document your findings and take photos and video evidence where necessary. Have your tenant accompany you during the inspection and allow them to ask questions and voice their concerns.
Mac's Pro Tip
Once you know how to inspect your rental inside out, the next step is to address any problems you’ve discovered. For valuable tips, check out this guide on handling maintenance issues in your rental.