The idea of owning an investment property that brings in a consistent flow of income is a dream for many.
And it comes with huge potential benefits provided you manage your properties properly.
But owning and managing property comes with its own set of unique responsibilities. One of those being regular inspections.
Rental property inspections are an important part of property management.
That’s because the property is the investment, so maintaining the condition of the property is critical.
You can’t do that without regularly checking up on the unit and making sure that:
- Your tenants are respecting the property and following lease guidelines, and
- You are jumping on issues as they arise instead of waiting and letting them get worse
It’s for that reason that you’re likely wondering how rental property inspections work, including:
- Why they’re important
- How to do a rental property inspection
- Should you hire a property management company to handle your inspections?
- And tools for helping you complete your inspections
So, we’ll be helping you do all of that and more below.
For those new to property management, let’s start by talking about what exactly a rental property inspection is.
What is a rental property inspection?
A rental property inspection is conducted by a landlord or property manager for the purpose of assessing the condition of a property or individual unit.
Inspections are performed by scheduling a visit to the unit or property with the tenant, typically with the tenant present during the inspection.
Side note: It helps to have the tenant present not only so that they can let you know about any issues with the unit, but also so that you can let them know to keep an eye on potential future issues you see.
You should already be doing inspections both before and after a tenant moves in/out.
However, some landlords overlook the importance of regular inspections throughout a tenant’s lease.
As a landlord– or property manager performing inspections on behalf of the landlord– you have the right to perform inspections regularly.
You’ll want to check with your local state and city laws, however, as you typically need to inform your tenant in advance when you’ll be doing an inspection.
However, it’s your right to perform regular inspections whether the tenant likes it or not.
Why are rental property inspections important?
We touched on this a moment ago, but it’s important to hammer home this point:
The property is the investment. So, if the condition of the property diminishes, the value of your investment diminishes with it.
That’s part of why property inspections are so important.
Regular property inspections allow you to catch things like plumbing and electrical issues before they become major problems that cost you thousands.
Think of it as an accountant manager at an investment firm or an accountant managing the finances of a business.
Your greatest financial asset is the property itself, so regular management of that property allows you to ensure not only that cash flow (cash in) is strong but also cash out and the overall financial health.
Plus, focusing on maintaining the condition of the property means your tenants are more comfortable and see that you care about keeping up the quality of their living conditions.
That leads to happier, long-term tenants.
4 Types of rental property inspections
There are a few different ways you can do inspections.
It’s important to understand these different “types” of inspections to make the most of regular checks on your properties and units.
Let’s break each down:
1. Move-in (walkthroughs)
Walkthrough or move-in inspections are probably the most common type of inspection (though they shouldn’t be your most frequent).
This type of inspection is performed just before a new tenant moves into their new home, right after they sign and complete their lease.
Typically, for this type of inspection and most others, a checklist is used to record information as you comb through each room and check items such as:
- HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning)
- Electrical outlets and appliances
- Flooring, paint, walls, and ceilings
- Windows and doors
- And anything else relevant
A copy of that checklist is then kept with the lease as a record of the condition the property was in before the tenant moved in.
As you might expect, a move-out inspection is performed just before or right after a tenant moves out of a unit and should have the tenant present.
The purpose of this inspection is to confirm the condition of the unit and any damages which will need to be paid for.
You’ll need to record these items so that you can rightfully claim them from the tenant’s security deposit, so don’t forget to be thorough.
If you don’t, the tenant can always claim said damages weren’t their fault and you’ll be left out to dry paying for damages that you shouldn’t have to.
Keep in mind that you’ll need to have done your move-in inspection for the unit and kept tidy records to be able to have something to compare against.
3. Bi-annual / Quarterly
This is where we get into the inspections that some landlords don’t do… but they really should.
It’s easy to fall into the habit of inspecting your units pre-move-in then sitting back and relaxing.
After all, it’s an alluring idea that all you need to do is move your new tenant in then collect rent each month (and do it automatically, with DoorLoop).
But the reality is that you or the company you hire needs to actively manage the property if you want to maximize and– for that matter– maintain your investment.
To that end, you’ll want to schedule at least bi-annual inspections for all of your units.
Some prefer to do quarterly inspections, but that’s completely up to you.
So long as you’re inspecting your property and units regularly, you’ll be able to stay on top of potential issues.
In addition, it will communicate to your tenants that you’re serious about maintaining the condition of the property, further encouraging them to do just that.
Also: sometimes, tenants can give you a hard time about frequent inspections.
The best way to overcome this objection is to simply state it upfront clearly, so they know what to expect and agree to it before even moving in.
Another less common but still useful type of inspection is often called a drive-by inspection.
This is less of a formal inspection and more of a quick check, often for things you wouldn’t be able to jot down on an inspection checklist.
This type of inspection focuses on checking the outside of the unit and doesn’t typically require advance notice so long as you’re not visiting the tenant or planning to enter the premises.
It’s important, however, to keep in mind to not violate the tenant’s privacy in any way while doing this type of quick inspection.
How to do a rental inspection
Now that you know a bit more about the types of inspections you can perform, let’s talk about how to actually do a rental inspection.
Let’s take it step-by-step:
1. Review local laws and the lease agreement
Both your local state and city laws and the lease agreement in place are important to know, particularly when it comes to scheduling a property inspection.
Typically, you’ll need to give your tenant a specific amount of advance notice when scheduling the inspection based on your local laws.
That’s often 24-72 hours, but it all depends on the laws in place in your area. So, don’t assume and instead make sure to review your local policies.
It’s also important to make sure you’re always following the lease agreement, whether it’s yours or your client’s lease if you’re a property manager.
You don’t want to breach your lease agreement in any way while scheduling or performing your inspection only to have a tenant complain or file a suit against you, as rare as it may be for that to happen.
2. Schedule the tenant to be there during the inspection
Next, make sure to inform the tenant that they should be there during the inspection.
This isn’t necessary, but it is suggested. Especially if you’re only doing annual or bi-annual inspections, as you’ll want them to walk you through any issues they might be having.
If you’re doing more frequent quarterly inspections, it’s really not required they be there. So, you can give them a choice if you don’t feel it’s necessary.
On a related note: make sure it’s clear to them why you’re doing the inspection in the first place.
If you did this when you signed the lease with them, then they’ll already understand the purpose of the inspections.
If not, take the time now to explain that your goal is simply to maintain the condition of the property and that you’d like to check to make sure there aren’t any problems with the unit.
3. Document everything with a checklist
A checklist is your best friend during regular inspections, as it allows you to do two things:
- Keep track of everything you need to check during your inspection so you don’t forget anything, and
- Helps you document the inspection itself for your records
With a good checklist in hand, you’re easily guided through the inspection process from beginning to end.
But more important than that is documentation.
Documentation is everything when it comes to inspections, as you need recorded documentation of the condition of the unit during an inspection in case there is ever a dispute.
It doesn’t happen often, but if a tenant tries to claim they weren’t aware of such-and-such damage at the time of moving out, you’ll need documentation to prove it to get the amount you’re owed from their security deposit.
Need a good checklist? Download DoorLoop’s apartment maintenance checklist for a ready-made checklist template you can use for your next inspection.
4. Take photos
Even if you just take quick snaps with your smartphone, it’s important to document everything both in writing and with photos.
Photos are especially powerful as it’s easy to lie on paper, but virtually impossible to fake an image– and during an inspection which your tenant is on record having attended.
This is all stuff you never want to have to use, but it is stuff you need to cover yourself in the event of a difficult tenant.
How often should you inspect your rental property?
How often you inspect your properties is up to you. However, landlords and property managers typically prefer to perform inspections:
- Bi-annually, or
Both methods generally offer frequent enough inspections to catch problems before they become major issues and generally keep tabs on everything.
Another common option is to check more frequently for newer tenants and less often for those that have been with you for a while.
The longer a tenant has been with you, the more likely they are to know your expectations and have proven their ability to keep up the unit to your liking.
Should you hire a rental property inspector?
Whether you should hire a property inspector is a question mostly of whether you should hire a property manager or not.
Typically, if you hire a full-service property manager or property management company, they’ll handle everything regarding the day-to-day management of the property.
That usually includes regular inspections, though you can hire a property manager to only handle certain specific tasks.
Hiring a property manager comes with certain pros and cons, namely:
- Pro: Save time and headache managing tenants, and often results in more efficient management of your properties.
- Con: It will cost you, typically in the form of a percentage of your rental income.
If you’re at a point where you have several properties and you need help managing them so you can focus more on investing, it may be time for a property manager.
If you’re not or your profit margin can’t justify the additional expense, it may be a good idea to wait.
Free rental property inspection checklist
Having regular inspections is critical to maintaining the long-term health of your properties.
The better you are at staying on top of regular inspections, the more likely you’ll be to catch issues before they become costly repairs and the better you’ll cover yourself in the event of a problem tenant.
Don’t forget to pick up our rental maintenance checklist, a convenient checklist template you can use to complete your next inspection quickly and easily: