What Can a Landlord Legally Look at During an Inspection?

What Can a Landlord Legally Look at During an Inspection?

Last Updated: January 23, 2024 by Jessica Menefee

Landlords are allowed to inspect most areas of a rental property, inside and out. They’ll look in every room and ensure that everything is in working order. Landlords are generally not allowed to look through private areas, such as a dresser or closet.

Why Do Landlords Have Inspections?

A rental property is a large investment for the property owner. Regular inspections help to ensure the following:

  • The tenant is following the lease rules and properly maintaining the property.
  • The property doesn’t need repair or have any serious damage.
  • There is no evidence of major issues like mold, pests, rodents, or other vermin.

Types of Property Inspections

Landlords need to complete 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, the lease rules are being followed, and identifies 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.
  • 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/excessive vehicles on the premises.
  • 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.

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What Should a Landlord Look at During an Inspection?

Landlords should look at all areas of the unit. This helps to ensure the property is in good condition, well maintained, no excessive damage has occurred, and the tenant is following the rules of the lease.

Interior of the Rental Unit

When looking at the interior of the rental unit, landlords should take note of:

  • Overall condition of the property – Landlords need to carefully inspect the walls, floors, and ceilings for any major damage or signs of a larger issue such as a water spot.
  • Habitability – Landlords must maintain a habitable unit (called the warranty of habitability). While each state has its own rules, landlords need to ensure common features including maintaining heat, hot water, plumbing, and utilities are working properly.
  • Safety concerns – The inspecting party needs to inspect and 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 – Landlords should examine the exterior components like the foundation, roof, and siding for any cracks or evidence of pest infestation. They should also check the gutters and chimney (if applicable) to ensure they are functioning properly.
  • Landscaping – Many tenants with yards are responsible for maintaining the landscaping of the property. This may include mowing and maintaining weeds, trees, or other plants. Landlords need to ensure tenants are properly maintaining the landscaping and it meets all HOA rules or community deeds and restrictions (if applicable).
  • Shared spaces – Some properties have shared fences, patios, decks, hallways, or staircases that also need to be inspected. Landlords should ensure nothing is broken or loose.

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Lease Violations

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. Pets are known to cause damage to rental units and without the proper security deposit, it can get expensive.
  • Unauthorized tenants – Tenants may move in a significant other or sublet a room or the entire property without the landlord’s permission. An unauthorized tenant can cause damage, increase utility costs, or worse. Landlords need to ensure that only authorized tenants are living on the premises.
  • Smoking -Landlords with a no-smoking policy need to inspect the walls, windows, and carpets carefully to ensure the rules are being followed as removing cigarette smell and smoke damage can cost upwards of $1,400.
  • Lease-specific rules – Most lease agreements have specific rules such as a noise policy or parking policy. Landlords can check the parking area or confirm with the tenant that the rules of the lease 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.

If you have a high-quality tenant who is following all lease rules, pays on time, and keeps the property in immaculate condition, it is a good idea to express your appreciation, consider suggesting a lease extension or renewal, and offer a rent concession. Maintaining a high-quality tenant is essential to the success of any rental business.

Landlord Inspection Checklist

Many landlords opt to use an inspection checklist to ensure they are consistent and thorough in their inspections, this may include:

  • Overall condition of the property
  • Overall cleanliness of the property
  • Walls, floors, and ceilings
  • Appliances
  • Fire extinguishers
  • Smoke alarms
  • Thermostat
  • Carbon monoxide detectors
  • Bug/Pest control check
  • Water leaks (sinks, faucets, toilets, roof, etc.)
  • Running toilets
  • Water damage
  • Seals and locks on windows
  • Seals and locks on doors
  • Evidence of pets (if no pet deposit or if not allowed)
  • Evidence of additional tenants not on the lease

If there is a significant problem, maintenance item, or repair issue, document the problem and notify the tenant of the plans for repair or replacement.

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What Can’t Landlords Look at During an Inspection?

As a rule, landlords should keep away from tenants’ personal belongings. While landlords can enter the bedrooms to look at the walls or ceilings, they should not look through the dresser drawers or other tenant belongings. Most areas consider the closet the tenant’s private space, so it’s best to steer clear unless there is an emergency.

Landlords also cannot change the lease or treatment of the tenant based on any of the private personal information discovered in the inspection, such as their employer or religion. This is a violation of the Fair Housing Act.


Each state has different guidelines on landlord limitations during an inspection. Be sure to check your local laws for the rules in your area.

Laws and Best Practices for Inspections

Landlords need to ensure they are following all laws during inspections. They should also follow best practices to maintain a positive landlord-tenant relationship including:

  • Listing Inspection Expectations in the Lease
  • Notifying the Tenant (include notice timeframes, i.e., mention a range of across states)
  • Respecting Tenants’ Right to Quiet Enjoyment
  • Providing a Checklist Before the Inspection
  • Providing a Report After the Inspection

Listing Inspection Expectations in the Lease

Landlords should add a “right to enter” clause in the lease that states that the landlord may enter the property with advance notice (according to state guidelines) to handle property maintenance and inspections. This can help avoid tenant issues as the landlord’s right to inspect the property won’t come as a surprise.

Notifying the Tenant

Landlords are required to provide a minimum notice to the tenant, between 12 hours (Wisconsin) and 6 days (for mailed notice, in California), before entering a rental property.

In most states, any actual notice is a sufficient method of notification. Any action that results in the tenant actually knowing about the landlord’s intent to enter is acceptable.

Respecting Tenants’ Right to Quiet Enjoyment

Landlords must keep in mind when completing an inspection that tenants have a right to quiet enjoyment on the rental property. This means that the tenant has a right to their privacy and the landlord cannot request frequent or unnecessary inspections of the tenant’s rental unit.

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Providing a Checklist Before the Inspection

Including a checklist in the lease paperwork or before the inspection allows the tenant a chance to prepare. A quality tenant will have cleaned the space to allow the landlord to easily check the areas for inspection.


Let’s say the checklist says that the landlord will inspect floors. When the landlord arrives, clothes, toys, and other items cover the majority of the floor. The landlord would be unable to conduct a thorough inspection of the space.

Providing a Report After the Inspection

Once the inspection is complete, the landlords should provide a report to the tenant that highlights any issues that need repair or maintenance. The report should also include any lease violations. The landlord can then discuss the repair or maintenance plan as well as how the violations (if any) will be handled.

Can Tenants Refuse a Rental Inspection?

Tenants cannot refuse to allow landlords to inspect the property. However, if the landlord schedules a time or day that is inconvenient to the tenant, the tenant can request to reschedule the inspection or offer the landlord permission to enter the unit without them present.

How Often Should Landlords Do a Rental Inspection?

Most landlords schedule rental inspections at least once per year, however, some may schedule inspections more frequently such as 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 to not disrupt the tenant’s privacy or right to quiet enjoyment

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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 and if the landlord discovers any serious damage that needs looking into.


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.