Rental Property Inspections That Work

View part 1 here, for information on…

  • What is unreasonable behavior from a tenant
  • What to do when you notice serious tenant damage

This question can vary dramatically depending on the situation. One thing is certain, you usually have a pretty good idea what type of tenant you’re dealing with after just 3 months of renting to them. In our opinion the first inspection is always the most important, assuming you’ve given them a month or so to get settled. It’s not a bad idea to get into a rental property in that crucial first quarter by any stretch. We at MoveZen used to mandate quarterly inspections for all of our properties but found that in most cases we were inspecting homes over and over and finding them in phenomenal condition. Good tenants would get irritated, and we realized that this was extremely inefficient. We made a small policy change that has served us extremely well. Now we inspect according to what we call our red flag list. What we mean by this is that when a tenant changes behavior much at all, we begin to get concerned. Experience has shown us that often (not always) the early signs of a tenant beginning to break down and fail at their responsibilities are easily identified. The following behaviors are what move tenants to the top of our radar, and put them first in line for inspections.

  • Red Flag Behavior
  • Bouncing rent checks
  • HOA complaints
  • Not keeping up with the yard
  • Failure to keep appointments with contractors
  • Never reporting maintenance
  • Consistent late payments
  • Checks coming from unusual parties
  • Strange people reporting maintenance or coming in to pay
  • Roommate changes

While it’s not a guarantee of problems, and we don’t suggest that landlords begin to seriously worry if they notice any of these habits in their renter, staying keenly aware of these tiny shifts in behavior can save you a ton of headaches if you simply take that opportunity to exercise your right as a landlord, and view your home. As we mention on our website, MoveZen takes pride in seeing problems so far down the road most people wouldn’t even consider it to be an issue. If you get in front of problems, you can often preserve your property and relationship with your tenant.

Property Inspections are Most Valuable Early After Move-In, or If You Hear of a Life Change Such as Divorce, Job Loss, etc

We still will inspect any property up to quarterly when the homeowner requests it, but our advice is typically to focus mainly on the first inspection after about 3 months, and if everything looks great, give the tenant some space for a couple of quarters. At least assuming their behavior doesn’t seem to change much. If it does, they immediately go to the red flag list, and we then focus more attention and resources on them and their rental property.

A landlord plans a winning rental renovation

We only try to limit intrusions for our great tenants though. We at MoveZen are big believers that once you identify there is a real problem, one of the best possible things you can do is show power and force at every opportunity. If you do an inspection and find that your tenant is seriously slipping when it comes to caring for the home, you should bluntly make it clear how the situation will play out going forward. You should submit to the tenant a formal notice with the following, but keep it short and sweet…

Clear instructions on what you demand they address, and information for an affordable contractor that they can contact
A clear schedule of future inspections. You know they are causing problems so there is no need to sneak around, identify the issues and attack the problems head on rather than playing the gotcha game. If they know you’re coming back, they’ll be on their toes, and it’ll help preserve your home

Consequences for failure to remedy the violations noted

We find that sneaking around the property can quickly alienate good tenants, and doesn’t serve a great purpose in most cases. If on a scheduled inspection (legally you should always give 24 hours notice) you are happy with the condition of the property, it probably doesn’t benefit you greatly to involve yourself in their day to day living. If you aren’t happy, then attacking problems head-on is substantially better than passive aggressive sneaky tactics. The one exception would be if you are specifically seeking to remove your tenant from the property. In those cases the more evidence you can build, the better. Just make sure you don’t violate any laws, or find yourself in a physical altercation with the tenant.

If you would like to enter the property more often than quarterly, assuming the tenant is consistently proving to be responsible, it could really strain relations even if they don’t immediately show it. However, one pretense that could keep the relationship from being strained is to install a complimentary HVAC air filter bi-monthly or so. This serves the dual purpose of making sure the AC is properly maintained, as well as giving you a reasonable explanation for more frequent inspections. The point though is is that often, private landlords in particular, can really impose on good tenants to the point of making them feel uncomfortable, and more likely to move. Once you’ve identified that you made the right choice for tenant, give them a little space and consider using our red flags as a guide going forward.

Let Your Contractors Be Your Eyes & Ears In the Field

Another great tool many managers and homeowners fail to utilize are your contractors! Many landlords and managers never consider that a few conversations with your commonly used contractors can lead to valuable insights. After all, your tried and true handyman may enter the home more than you, they’ll typically be treated with little suspicion or concern, and are often welcomed as they are coming to fix issues for the tenant. If you explain to your contractor what you are looking for such as undocumented pets, damage to the property, or failure to change air filters, most will prove an excellent source of feedback while also saving you time and preserving good tenant relations.

a landlord performs basic cleaning on their pet friendly rental home

Finally, if your tenant is truly being unreasonable and attempts to bar you from entering the home, this act must be met with extreme concern and aggressive action. In North Carolina, unless your lease specifically states otherwise (unlikely), landlords are reasonably allowed to enter their home. The following circumstances are typically considered reasonable…

  • You give 24 hour notice
  • The viewing times are normal hours ie 9AM to 6PM
  • The frequency of inspections aren’t so numerous as to upset the tenants right to quiet enjoyment (unless dealing with a specific situation, most likely once a month is the most you should enter from a legal perspective, but that is likely to upset the social aspect of the relationship)
  • Since it’s clear the situation is contentious by this point, you should take steps to protect yourself legally, and possibly physically, with the following methods…
  • Make sure all inspection notices are sent in writing using a method you can reasonably expect the tenant to receive. Mail is always acceptable and usually best even if used as a supplement to email.
  • If meeting with a tenant, it may be a good idea to state from the beginning that you are recording the meeting.
  • Always take a lot of photos or video of anything you consider to be breach of the lease
  • Bring an unbiased respected 3rd party if possible
  • For really bad situations, exercise your right to have the police escort you to the property for a meeting
  • Be consistent. If you state you are going to inspect, show up prepared. If you demand action from your tenant, see that it’s accomplished or proceed to penalize. If you bluff and the tenant calls it, you will find it very tough to get their respect back
  • In our final installment for this series, we’ll address why your manager may be hesitant to report every little issue to you, and how to get results and handle minor issues with class.

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