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Routine Inspections - What They Are and Why They Matter

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Landlords far and wide understand the importance of rental inspections

Inspections are a good way to assess the condition of your rental property. They allow you to catch problems while they’re small, helping you to stave off extensive damage. They can also set a good precedent for tenants: showing them that you care enough about the property to check in on it from time to time.

As a landlord, there are a few different types of inspections that you’ll want to do. 

These are:

In this article, we’ll be talking about routine inspections –the kind that you’ll want to perform at least once a year. Not only will these inspections help you to keep an eye out for potential repairs issues, but they’re also an excellent chance to check in with your tenants, to see how everything is going for them and find out if there are any maintenance issues that they may have noticed. If you keep your eyes open, they can also be a good opportunity for you to spot anything that might be amiss, including lease violations.

Read on to see why you’ll want to start conducting these inspections and see how you can ensure that you’re going about it in the right way. 

See: How to Be an Excellent Landlord

Why Rental Inspections Matter

So why are routine, annual inspections so important? A routine inspection is more than just a quick walk-through. It’s an evaluation of your property that can help to alert you to potential problems at your rental. You could find maintenance issues that have been overlooked and discover repairs that need to be made. 

Addressing issues early on can often help to stave off additional problems. For example, discovering a faint yet sizable brown patch on the ceiling could indicate that there’s a slow leak in the roof. If left unchecked, this could result in a great deal of damage, including destroyed insulation and drywall. Eventually, this could lead to water damage and rot in structural beams as well. It’s never pleasant to discover that there are repairs issues that need to be addressed at your property, but it’s much better to find the problems sooner so that you can address them early on. 

As a landlord, it’s your job to ensure that you’re providing a safe, habitable home for your tenants. Annual inspections are a great way to ensure that you’re upholding your end of the bargain. This is known as an “implied warranty of habitability,” and in most states, it’s something that’s required.

Let’s look at a few things that a routine inspection can help you to spot:

  • Safety Hazards

An inspection can help to alert you, and your tenants, of potential safety issues in the rental. An inspection involves checking smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, checking for fire hazards, making sure all of the appliances are functioning properly, and doing a visual electrical inspection as well.

  • Maintenance Issues

Tenants should be reporting any maintenance issues that they notice throughout the year. And landlords should be performing routine maintenance on the property. But sometimes things get forgotten or fall through the cracks. An annual inspection is a good opportunity to walk through the property and take note of any potential issues that may have been overlooked. Signs of a leaking roof, pest infestations, or damaged pipes should all be mitigated as soon as possible to help stave off more costly future repairs. Being proactive with maintenance is always the best option. It might require an initial outlay, but it can help to save you from costly repairs.  

  • Potential Lease Violations 

Finally, an inspection is a good opportunity to keep your eyes open for potential lease violations. Consider what things have been outlined in your tenant’s lease and ensure that they are following it. Be on the lookout for pets, signs of smoking, or indications that the property is being sublet. 

  • Pets: If you have a strict no-pet policy, you should keep your eyes open for evidence of pets. Chewed or clawed furniture, damaged doors, or suspicious smells could all be tell-tale signs that animals are present.

  • Smoking: Smoking can cause a great deal of damage to a rental. If you’ve prohibited smoking in your rental, then you’ll want to ensure that your tenants aren’t smoking indoors. Look for tobacco smells and yellow nicotine stains, they are easy to spot.

  • Unauthorized Occupants: Unauthorized occupants can be problematic in rental homes. Tenants who are subletting rooms or having guests stay for an extended period of time could be in violation of the lease. Only named (and screened) occupants should be allowed to occupy the rental. Warning signs are tenants who withhold access to some rooms, or a lot of people coming and going at the property.

Note: It’s important that you don’t go into the inspection specifically to look for lease violations. Instead, simply be aware and keep your eyes open for any potential issues. If your tenants have violated the lease, it’s important that you document any signs of damage or violations, and follow up with a written notice of violation, not just a verbal warning. 

What to Inspect During a Yearly Inspection

Here are a few areas that you should be sure to inspect while performing your yearly inspection. 

Interior Inspection

  • Doors – Check the doors to make sure they open and close properly. Make sure the locks are working on the exterior doors as well. 

  • Ceilings – Look for signs of water damage. Any brown stains, cracks, or sagging areas are a certain sign that there’s a leak or damaged roof that should be addressed promptly.

  • Walls – Check the base of the walls and look for holes that could indicate rodents have been chewing. It’s also a good idea to check the walls for signs of water damage or dampness.

  • Floors – Are the floors solid or spongy? Spongy floors could indicate rot or water damage.


  • Lights – Switch each light switch on and off. Do they come on smoothly? Or is there a delayed response or a flicker? This could indicate faulty wiring –and a potential fire risk.

  • Outlets – Do a visual inspection of the wall outlets to see if the cover panels are still secure. Black or scorched wall outlets could be a sign of electrical problems.  

Appliance Inspection

  • The HVAC System – Make sure the HVAC system is working. Talk to your tenants to see if they’ve noticed any issues with it. Now is a great time to have the HVAC system serviced and cleaned as well. This can help to extend its life. You’ll also want to make sure your tenants have a good stock of filters, as these should be replaced monthly.

  • Smoke and CO2 Alarms – Even if it’s the tenant’s responsibility to maintain working smoke alarms and CO2 alarms, it’s still a good idea to check to make sure they’re working and replace the batteries during your inspection.

  • Plumbing – Turn the faucets on and check the pressure on all sinks and showers. Make sure the sink and shower are draining. Run the water, and check under the sinks to look for signs of leaks. Flush the toilet as well and make sure it refills properly with no leaks. 

  • Kitchen Appliances – Check to make sure the oven is working properly. Make sure the refrigerator is maintaining a good temperature, and check that any other supplied appliances –including the dishwasher and garbage disposal, are functioning as well. 

  • The Washer/Dryer – Excessive lint build-up can lead to a damaged dryer, or even present a fire hazard. Check that there’s exhaust coming out of the dryer, if there’s not much, this could indicate a blockage in the dryer hose.

  • Water Heater – Check the temperature for the water heater. In most cases, you’ll want to make sure it’s set to below 120° F. Test the safety relief valve once a year as well.

Exterior Inspection

  • Walkways – Check the railings to make sure they’re secure. Make sure the walkways are clear of obstacles that could present tripping hazards.

  • Exterior Lights – Make sure the exterior lights are working. This is important for visibility.

  • Windows – Make sure the windows are able to open and close securely and lock. 

  • The Roof – Do a visual inspection from the ground. Are there missing shingles? Even a slightly damaged roof can lead to water damage. If the roof looks like it might need some maintenance, it may be time to call a professional roofer in.

How to Perform a Yearly Inspection

While you could just walk through with a notebook, jotting down anything that catches your eye, it’s much better to go into the inspection with a clear plan of what you’re going to inspect. You’ll also want to ensure that you follow the inspection up with the necessary repairs and maintenance.

In a nutshell, here’s what you should do when preparing for –and conducting a routine inspection:

  • Check local and state law first

Make sure you check local and state law to see how much notice you’ll need to give your tenants first. In most cases, this is 24 hours. Make sure you give your tenants adequate notice before you stop by. 

  • Communicate with your tenants 

Talk with your tenants. Try to arrange for the inspection to take place while they’re there. This will give you a good chance to talk with them to see if they’ve noticed any issues with the rental or if they have any areas of concern that they would like you to be aware of. 

  • Write a list

Before you perform your inspection, it’s a good idea to make a list of everything that you’ll want to inspect before you go, to ensure that nothing gets overlooked. 

  • Document the condition of the property, taking note of anything that needs to be addressed

If you notice any damage that is the tenant’s responsibility to repair, be sure to have your tenant sign and date your findings. Issues that tenants are responsible for would be any damage that they caused –either intentionally or accidentally. Normal wear and tear, however, is not the tenant’s responsibility. Make sure you document all of your findings in a rental inspection report.

  • Take pictures 

Be sure to take pictures while you’re there. You can photograph areas of concern, and document the condition of appliances or other features in the home. It’s good practice to try to leave people out of the photos that you take. Tenants, framed photos of their children, and any valuables or personal belongings –like laptops, should be kept out.

  • Follow up

Follow the inspection up by performing the necessary repairs. If the tenant is responsible for any damage, then you’ll want to follow up with them to ensure that they follow the repairs through as well.

Inspections aren’t the most exciting task, but they’re vitally important. They can be a great way to stay on top of problems at your rental, and a good opportunity to address small issues –before they become bigger. They’re an ideal chance for you to touch base with your tenants, ensuring that they’re happy in the rental and that everything is going well with the property.

You should also keep in mind that if you are a long-distance landlord or simply don’t have time to check in on your rental from time to time, then you may want to consider outsourcing this job to a property manager. A good property manager will be able to help you arrange for maintenance and repairs at your rental, and will be happy to conduct walk-through inspections when you request them. Peace of mind is priceless. And regular inspections can help to put your mind at ease. 

See: 15 Tips to Winter-Proof Your Rental Property

Are you looking for help managing your rentals? Find out how a property manager can help you to save time while ensuring that your rental is managed professionally. See how stress-free rental investing can be.

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