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Why Landlords Need to Conduct Annual Apartment Inspections

As a former property manager, I conducted annual apartment inspections.

Is this clutter, a fire hazard, or both?

Is this clutter, a fire hazard, or both?

Preventive Pest Control is Important

They may be cute pets in a cage, but if they get away, they are rodents infesting an apartment

They may be cute pets in a cage, but if they get away, they are rodents infesting an apartment

Is Your Rented Apartment Kept in Good Order?

If you are a homeowner, and do not conduct a walk-through inspection of your rentals once a year, my advice is, you are making a mistake. To rent a vacancy, and then never go back to check on how the tenant is treating the apartment, sometimes for years, could lead to thousands of dollars lost in renovations when the tenant moves out. Performing an annual walk-through inspection of a tenant’ apartment is as necessary as collecting the rent every month.

There are rental income owners who think that once the apartment is rented, it belongs to the tenant. After the lease is signed, most landlords only care about getting the rent on time every month.

There are homeowners who believe the ideal tenant doesn’t complain. He does necessary repairs at his apartment at his own expense. He pays your rent increases without asking any questions. A quiet, rent-paying tenant is a good tenant. To that point, the landlord doesn’t want to antagonize a good tenant, insult him, raise the rent, or do anything that would cause him to move out.

There are real estate investors who buy property just for its profit. Their goal is to keep expenses down, and income up each year. The more profit, the better the investment. As long as that is the proven tenure of the property, they will continue to do as little as possible to invest in the building.

This is a tunnel-vision view of real estate investment. The major asset in rental income property is in its care and maintenance. A well-managed piece of real estate has an on-going increased value.

Why Do Annual Apartment Inspections?

Whether you have rented an apartment or a single-family home, you need to see how your property is being maintained. An annual inspection tells whether your property has increased in value, or has been decimated by vandalism, theft, or a general lack of care. If you find damages during an apartment inspection, you can make the repair(s) and charge the tenant. You don’t have to wait until your tenant moves out. The point is to see if the apartment has been abused above the amount of the security deposit amount.

Market rent homeowners and property managers should never lease an apartment, and then never see the inside again until either the tenant moves out, or there is a major problem. I believe that is irresponsible behavior. The least you should do, is an annual inspection of your property and the status of your tenant’s maintenance of your investment. At the same time, too frequent inspections, such as every 60 days, could be considered harassment.

A myriad of events and damages can happen over the course of a lease period:

  • Your tenant could move out before the end of the lease, and rent the apartment to someone else. Who is living in your property? An inspection would tell;
  • Your apartment(s) could have an unknown bed bug, insect, or rodent infestation. It could be just one apartment. But by the time you inspect all of your units, the problem could have spread to the entire building. An annual or semi-annual inspection could deal with your potential pest control costs;
  • A problem tenant can pay the rent on time every month; yet devalue the worth of your house by thousands of dollars over the term of a lease. Their failure to maintain, if not improve, the value of your house will cost you. You don’t have to wait until the tenant moves out to check for vandalism, hoarding, illegal drug use, etc.;
  • Without annual inspections, you would never know that your tenant is living in your single-family house with 30 un-caged rabbits or cats, or hoarding several years worth of garbage on the floors;
  • You need to see if the tenant is keeping up the apartment so he or she can get their security deposit back when they move out. Remember, the security deposit is not rent. It is to cover any damages made on the premises during their tenancy, over and above wear and tear on the property;
  • Squatters could have taken over the unit after the tenant left without giving you notice;
  • The lawn, which is supposed to be maintained by the tenant, is overgrown with weeds, and the grass is yellow, with bare spots.
  • Exotic pets could be living in your building. Exotic pets include pythons, deadly snakes, scorpions, monkeys, ocelots, and alligators. The danger is if an exotic pet is lost, injures its owner or a visitor, or is released in the woods near the property. Your insurance liability is potentially enormous.
  • There is a list of dangerous or aggressive dogs by your property insurance company. You believe your tenant has one of them.

What do You Check?

You aren’t going into the apartment to be nosy. You don’t check furniture, dresser drawers, or personal property. You are checking the physical maintenance and repair needs of your property. You have the right to see how your apartment is being treated after giving written advance notice of your visit. Keep a copy of your letter in the tenant’s file folder.

Some maintenance items you need to check are:

  • A working carbon monoxide detector – does the battery work?
  • Working smoke detectors – Check to see if batteries are in each of them
  • Condition of the carpet – cigarette holes, ground in dirt, lack of vacuuming?
  • Pet maintenance – Is the litter box fresh? Are there animal feces on the floor?
  • Does the unit fire extinguisher need to be serviced?
  • Are there holes in the walls, ceilings or windows and screens?
  • Inspect the condition of your stove and refrigerator
  • Check for water leaks in the bathroom and kitchen
  • Unreported repairs or damage to the apartment

If you live in California, check the law on tenant apartment inspections. Look up the California Civil Code Section 1954 http://www.dca.ca.gov/publications/landlordbook/index.shtml, or consult with an attorney. There are specific conditions in this state that a landlord must follow regarding gaining entry into a tenant’s apartment.

Whether you do it yourself or hire a management company to do it, an annual inspection of every rented apartment is the best way to know the value of your investment. You want to ensure that your property is being utilized to its highest and best use. You want to see for yourself that the apartment is not being dragged down and destroyed by vandalism, unauthorized changes to the apartment, or damage over and above natural wear and tear.

Last, and most importantly, take pictures of the condition the unit before the tenant moves in, Take annual pictures of the condition of your unit. Take pictures of the condition of your property after your tenant moves out.

Once the tenants understand that the landlord will inspect their apartment once a year, they can anticipate and prepare for it. They will also take better care of the apartment if they know they will be charged for damages, or face an unreturned security deposit at the end of the lease.

Finally, before you begin any apartment inspection, make sure your lease includes a clause that gives you the right to inspect the apartment once a year with advance notice, or to investigate and repair emergency problems immediately. If your lease doesn’t have this clause, consult your attorney to add a lease addendum.

Final Thoughts

Getting the rent on time is important. So is the condition of the property. It does no good, if you get top dollar for rent, if you have to spend it all on repairs.

Exotic Pets

Is the pet kept in a cage, or is it a "free-range" iguana?

Is the pet kept in a cage, or is it a "free-range" iguana?

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Carolyn Gibson

Comments

Winston Rowe on September 04, 2016:

What a nice article, very informative and well written. I thought the part of good communication skills for tenant relationships was key.

Carolyn Gibson (author) from Boston on February 15, 2013:

Thank you. One cannot imagine the devastation a tenant can render to an apartment in only six months after move-in.

LA Elsen from Chicago, IL on February 14, 2013:

This is an important detail to being a landlord. Voted Up, Useful and interesting. Thanks for writing this hub.

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