Avoiding Disaster - Inspections and Safety Regulations You Should Stay on Top of to Protect You and Your Tenant
Renters Warehouse Blog
As a landlord, you work hard to ensure that your rental is in good condition –and try to make repairs as issues arise. But even the most diligent landlords can miss things sometimes. Neglected maintenance tasks can quickly escalate into bigger problems, and costly repairs –not to mention, they’re often a great inconvenience for tenants –who have a right to enjoy a safe, functional home.
According to Nolo, Most landlords are required to provide a safe and livable home for their tenants.
The tenant’s right to a livable rental is known as the “implied warranty of habitability.” This refers to the legal doctrine that landlords are expected to provide their tenants with safe, functional living quarters –and keep their rental in good condition. This doesn’t have to be spoken or agreed upon formally, it’s something that’s implied when you rent your property out.
One of the best ways for landlords to ensure that they’re keeping current with their property and maintaining it to a good standard –is by performing routine inspections. These are walk-through inspections that should be done regularly –usually once a year. Inspections can help to alert you to signs that something’s wrong with your rental, allowing you to catch it before it becomes bigger –and leads to more serious problems.
Safety concerns aren’t always glaringly obvious. Sometimes simple things that you might not even notice can be more dangerous than the obvious concerns.
While different states have differing laws on what, exactly, it means to provide a safe and ‘habitable’ unit, most agree that a safe and livable home is done by ensuring the following:
- All floors, stairs, walls, and roofs are structurally sound, safe, and in clean condition
- All systems such as sewage, electrical, plumbing, heating, and ventilation are safe and operational
- Hot water and heating are in working order
- There are no known risks from toxins such as asbestos or mold
- That there are no signs of a pest infestation
Fortunately, most landlords work hard to stay on top of these areas, but having routine inspections can help you to ensure that you’re not missing anything. With this in mind, let’s take a look at some areas you’ll want to add to your inspection list so that you can spot potential problems or hazards that may be developing at your rental; before they escalate.
See also: How to be an incredible landlord
Interior Safety Inspections
An interior safety inspection should be done at least once a year to help ensure that everything is in proper working order and that your rental unit is in safe, habitable condition. Here are a few areas that you should add to your checklist.
Doors are important –both from a safety and security standpoint. A door that doesn’t open and close smoothly could be a potential hazard in the event of a fire evacuation. One that doesn’t lock could create an opportunity for a home intrusion. Check all doors to ensure that they still open, close, and latch properly.
While a complete electrical inspection doesn’t usually need to be done yearly, it’s a good idea to do a visual inspection of electrical outlets and light fixtures once a year. Turn all the light switches on and off to ensure they come on smoothly. If there is a delay, this could indicate faulty wiring. Check outlets to ensure that cover plates are securely in place and that there are no loose or exposed wires. Finally, if it’s been more than ten years since your electrical system was upgraded or installed, it may be an idea to think about upgrading it to help prevent hazards like electrical fires.
- Ceilings and Walls
It’s also a good idea to inspect ceilings and walls to determine if there is any water damage that needs to be addressed. Water damage is almost always a sign of a leak in the roof or in some cases, the plumbing. Handling this sooner rather than later can help you to prevent major issues like rot, crumbling drywall, and damaged insulation.
While you’re doing your inspection, keep the floor in mind as well. As you’re walking around, do you notice any soft spots? This can indicate rot or damage. Also, take note of damaged surfaces. A damaged or uneven floor or damage on the stairs could also be a tripping hazard and should be repaired.
- The HVAC System
Having your HVAC system inspected, cleaned, and serviced at least once a year can prolong the life of your system and help to prevent emergency callouts in the middle of winter.
- Washer and Dryer
If you include a washer and dryer in your rental, it is a good idea to add them to your inspection list. Make sure everything is in proper working order. Be sure to check the exhaust of the dryer and remove debris and lint that can build up over time and cause blockages and fires. Check the lint screen to make sure it’s being kept clean as well.
- Water Heater
Yearly inspections or safety tests on your hot water heater are important. Be sure to test the safety relief valve to ensure it is in proper working order. You should also check to make sure that the temperature is set below 120F to help prevent scalding or serious burns.
Exterior Safety Inspections
Exterior safety inspections should also be done yearly. Keeping an eye out on the exterior of your rental can help ensure that everything is structurally sound and able to keep the elements out.
If your roof is getting on in years (think, 20 years, in most cases), then you’ll want to consider having it replaced, or at least inspected annually. A leaky or damaged roof can cause extensive damage –so it’s worth having a professional out to check the roof routinely. It’s also a good idea to let your tenants know that they should inform you immediately if they notice signs of damp or stains on the ceiling or walls. Signs that a roof should be replaced include: buckling shingles, granules in the gutters, or cracked or damaged flashing.
Check all windows to ensure they open and close and lock. This is important for fire safety, and home security as well. If you have windows on a second story you might want to consider secure window screens.
Another area that’s worth inspecting is the landscaping. Be sure to inspect walkways and trees for potential safety hazards, like overhanging branches or precarious-looking trees. Tripping hazards like uneven pathways or loose paving stones should also be repaired to help prevent tripping or slip and falls in winter.
Winter Safety Inspections
There are some inspections and maintenance items that are best done before winter, to ensure your property is ready for the cold weather ahead. Here are a few areas you should consider adding to your season safety inspection.
- Fireplace – If your rental has a fireplace, you should be sure to have it cleaned and inspected before winter. This can help prevent chimney fires caused by creosote buildup and will help prevent smoke from backing up into the house –and posing a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Gutters – Generally, a home’s gutters are cleaned and inspected in the fall to help prepare them for the deluge of rain and runoff that comes during the winter. Ensuring the gutters are attached, clear, and that the downspouts are pointed away from the house will help to keep the water flowing the right way –preventing water from standing and freezing, causing icicles or frozen ponds of water.
- Smoke Alarms / CO2 Alarms – Smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms should be inspected and tested seasonally. Make sure your tenants haven’t disabled or removed these alarms and replace the batteries as well.
- Pest Control – Seasonal pest control should be performed to help you keep on top of any pest issues. Being prompt with pest control measures is the best way to combat them. It’s a good idea to hire a pest control management company to inspect and treat your property annually.
How to Perform a Rental Inspection
There is legislation in place to protect renters’ rights when it comes to home inspections. These vary by state, so you’ll want to make sure you’re aware of the rules in your state before you arrange an inspection.
It may also be a good idea to consult with an attorney to see if there are any landlord-tenant laws in your state that you should be aware of. Here’s a look at some tips for doing inspections in a way that’ll keep your tenant happy –and you in compliance with the law.
- Give prior notice - Landlords are required to give tenants notice first before they stop by. State law varies when it comes to the amount of notice that you’re required to give but in most cases, you’ll want to give at least 24 hours of notice to tenants before stopping by.
- Try to encourage your tenant to be at home - It’s a good idea to try to arrange to come by at a time when your tenant will be home. This will allow you to talk to tenants about any needed repairs or issues that they may have noticed, and will also give you a chance to discuss any damages that they might need to repair as well. It’s a good idea to document any damages that stand out to you.
- Explain why you’re doing the inspection - Telling your tenant why you’re doing an inspection can help to put their mind at ease. It can be stressful having your landlord walk through your home, so even a simple explanation like, “I like to perform an annual inspection on each of my properties, it allows me to check for signs of small problems that I can address before they get out of hand and become worse,” can help your tenants to feel better.
- Stay professional - Finally, don’t engage in confrontation. Try to stay professional at all times. Even if you notice damage at your rental or feel upset with your tenants for complaining about some issues, try to stay calm. Always look to get any problems or issues addressed in writing instead of verbally.
As a landlord, safety should be your first priority –and for most landlords, this is already the case. By performing inspections and keeping up with maintenance and repairs, you can help to stave off serious safety issues, protecting your tenants –and yourself, not to mention helping you to keep your investment in good condition for the years ahead.
Looking for help renting out your property faster? At Renters Warehouse, we have a fast tenant placement time of 11-17 days on average. Get started by claiming your FREE rental price analysis –and see how much you could be getting for your rental.
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