Find out what landlords should inspect, how often to inspect, how long an inspection should take, and the legal aspects of entering a rental property.
What is the Purpose of a Rental Inspection?
A rental property is a large investment for the property owner. Regular inspections help to ensure:
- The property is safe, it doesn’t need repairs or have any serious damage.
- The tenant is following the rules of the lease and properly maintaining the property.
- The property is habitable and there is no evidence of major issues like mold, pests, rodents, or other vermin.
Types of Property Inspections
Landlords conduct rental inspections for various reasons including:
- Routine inspection – The landlord looks over all areas of the home to ensure the property is being properly maintained, confirm the lease rules are being followed, and identify any areas that require maintenance or repairs.
- Move-in Inspection – The landlord and tenant look at the current condition of the unit, discuss any tenant responsibilities, and complete a move-in checklist.
- Move-out inspection – The landlord and tenant can compare the move-in condition to the unit’s current condition. After completing the move-out checklist, the landlord can determine how much, if any, of the security deposit will be withheld for repairs.
- Drive-by Inspection – The landlord views the outside of the property to ensure it is being properly maintained per the lease rules, such as the lawn being mowed, trash disposed of properly, or no junked or excessive vehicles on the premises.
6 Steps to a Routine Rental Property Inspection
Here are the steps to conduct a routine rental property inspection:
- Create a Rental Inspection Checklist
- Notify the Tenant
- Conduct the Rental Property Inspection
- Provide a Report After the Inspection
- Schedule Needed Repairs or Maintenance
- Handle Lease Violations
1. Create a Rental Inspection Checklist
Landlords need a valid purpose for entering a rental. Creating a landlord property inspection checklist helps landlords stay focused and complete the necessary tasks during the inspection. It also creates documentation to avoid issues with tenants claiming they weren’t aware or responsible for certain damage.
During a routine rental inspection, landlords may look at:
- Overall condition of the property
- Overall cleanliness of the property
- Walls, floors, and ceilings
- Fire extinguishers
- Smoke alarms
- Carbon monoxide detectors
- Pest control issues
- Water leaks (sinks, faucets, toilets, roof, etc.)
- Running toilets
- Water damage
- Seals and locks on windows
- Seals and locks on doors
Landlords should share a copy of the checklist with the tenant before the inspection. This can help prepare the tenants so they know what the landlord is planning to look at to resolve any anxiety and keep things as professional as possible.
2. Notify the Tenant
All states require landlords to give tenants advance notice before entering the property. The method of notice can range from a phone call to certified mail as long as actual notice is given. It is important to let the tenant know when to expect the landlord and the purpose of the inspection.
In some states, like California, landlords can only enter the property during regular business hours 8 AM – 5 PM.
Notice Required by State
The amount of notice required to enter and inspect a property varies by state:
|24 hours (6 days for mailed notice)
|“Reasonable” notice (48 hours in specific cases)
|24 hours for repairs, “reasonable” notice otherwise
|“Reasonable” notice generally (48 hours in some specific cases)
|24 hours (by custom, not a strict legal requirement)
|“Reasonable” notice generally, 24 hours for property showings
|24 hours (but tenants can’t sue if a landlord fails to provide adequate notice)
|2 days (1 day for property showings)
Laws about advance notice usually apply regardless of the lease. In most cases, rental agreements can only extend rather than reduce minimum notice.
3. Conduct the Rental Property Inspection
Once the tenant has received the notice and the appropriate time has passed, the landlord can conduct the inspection. Landlords should:
- Enter the unit professionally
- Show the tenant appropriate identification
- Thoroughly check the interior, exterior, and shared spaces
- Document any issues or violations
4. Provide a Report After the Inspection
After the inspection, landlords should provide a copy of the inspection report to the tenant. It is important to let them know of any issues and explain any areas that need improvement.
5. Schedule Needed Repairs or Maintenance
All tenants have an implied warranty of habitability that requires landlords to follow basic health and safety requirements in the rental unit. If a landlord discovers an issue during the inspection, they must handle it based on local laws.
In New York, all multi-family rental properties built after 1947 must be “rat-proof.” Landlords must resolve any vermin issues according to local guidelines.
6. Handle Lease Violations
Property inspections can sometimes unveil certain lease violations. The violation could be small—such as painting without permission—or it could be more serious such, as an unauthorized occupant, or smoking in the unit.
Landlords may need to write a notice to inform the tenant of the observed violation. Each state has a guideline for when the tenant has to cure the violation or the landlord can begin the eviction process.
Regardless of the lease violation, landlords must still follow all applicable laws. Landlords cannot threaten the tenant or complete a self-help eviction such as changing the locks or removing the tenant’s belongings.
What Can a Landlord Look at During an Inspection?
Landlords can look at all areas of the unit (except the tenant’s personal belongings) to ensure the property is in good condition, no excessive damage has occurred, and the tenant is following the rules of the lease.
The landlord is responsible for ensuring each area is safe, habitable, and maintained appropriately to help protect their investment.
Interior of the Rental Unit
When looking at the interior of the rental unit, landlords can inspect:
- Overall condition of the property – Determine if there are any signs of damage on the walls, floors, countertops, or windows.
- Overall cleanliness of the property – Check to see that the carpets, cabinets, and other fixtures are being cleaned and maintained. Normal wear and tear is expected.
- Habitability – Landlords need to ensure common features including maintaining heat, hot water, plumbing, and utilities are working properly.
- Safety concerns – Identify any areas that pose a threat to tenant safety, such as an expired fire extinguisher, exposed wires, or a disconnected smoke detector.
Exterior of the Rental Unit
When looking at the exterior of the rental unit, landlords should take note of:
- Building structure – Check all exterior components including the foundation, roof, siding, gutters, and chimney (if applicable) to ensure the proper function or discover any burgeoning issues.
- Landscaping – Landlords need to ensure tenants are properly landscaping in a way that meets all HOA rules or community deeds and restrictions (if applicable). This may include mowing, weeding, and trimming plants and trees.
- Shared spaces – Landlords should ensure nothing is broken or loose on shared fences, patios, decks, hallways, or staircases.
Throughout the inspection, landlords should be watching for any lease violations, including:
- Unauthorized pets – If the lease doesn’t allow for pets or the tenant did not pay a pet deposit, this can be a serious violation.
- Unauthorized tenants – Landlords need to ensure that only authorized tenants are living on the premises. Tenants who move in a significant other or sublet the property generally must notify landlords.
- Smoking – Landlords with a no-smoking policy need to inspect the walls, windows, and carpets carefully to ensure the rules are being followed. Removing cigarette smell and smoke damage can cost upwards of $1,400 (and sometimes a lot more).
- Lease-specific rules – Most lease agreements have specific rules such as a noise or parking policy. Landlords can check the parking area and confirm with the tenant that these rules are being followed.
- Rent payments – Landlords can also use the inspection time to look over the tenant’s payment history and ensure the tenant is making payments on time. If they aren’t, you can discuss a solution, give them a late rent notice, and discuss the next steps.
What Can’t Landlords Look at During an Inspection?
Landlords need to remain professional, respect the tenant’s privacy, and stick to the purpose of the inspection. They should not:
- Look through tenants’ personal belongings, open drawers, or inspect closets.
- Make comments on the tenant’s personal life.
- Handle any of the tenant’s documents, such as moving the tenant’s mail.
Landlords must be cautious to not say or do anything during the inspection that can be misconstrued as discrimination or violating the tenant’s rights. For example, let’s say a landlord tells the tenant they like a religious portrait in their home and mentions they go to church down the street. If the landlord opts not to resign the lease, the tenant could claim it is due to religious discrimination.
How Often Should Landlords Do a Routine Inspection?
Most landlords schedule rental inspections at least once per year, but some may schedule inspections quarterly or semi-annually. At a minimum, landlords should complete a mid-lease inspection to determine if the renter is a candidate to extend the lease. Without an inspection, it is hard to tell if the tenant is maintaining the property.
No state regulates the frequency of landlord inspections. As a rule, landlords should always act professionally about inspections by:
- Giving the tenant advance notice
- Having a clear purpose for the inspection
- Being mindful not to disrupt the tenant’s privacy or right to quiet enjoyment
How Long Does a Property Inspection Take?
A landlord property inspection typically takes between 30 minutes and 1 hour. However, this can depend on the size of the home, condition, type of inspection, and other factors.
If a landlord notices a water spot on the ceiling during the inspection, it may require them to get into the attic to see how significant the damage is.
Do Landlords Need Permission to Enter a Rental Property?
Landlords generally don’t need permission other than to give advance notice to a tenant. A tenant can work with a landlord to schedule a better time, but generally a landlord has permission to enter when proper notice is given.
Can a Landlord Enter Without the Tenant Present?
Each state has varying rules on whether landlords are allowed to enter without the tenant present. However, typically, if the landlord has permission to enter and has given the proper notice, they can enter the unit.
If the tenant is not there, it is still important to touch base with them about any findings. Landlords should sent a written report afterwards, and discuss any serious issues with the tenant verbally to ensure they understand.
Should I Hire a Rental Property Inspector or DIY?
Some landlords hire rental property inspectors because they:
- Know what to look for
- Follow local and state guidelines
- Handle tenants professionally
However, their knowledge and experience come at a cost. Hiring a rental property inspector may be worth it if you own multiple properties or have limited time.