When To Perform Property Inspections and What to Look For
As a landlord in Boston, property inspections are inevitable. While they aren’t always the most comfortable experience, they are necessary to ensure renter safety, lease compliance, and a smooth transition when tenants move in or move out.
But when can you perform a rental inspection? It is important to understand the process before you just walk into your tenants apartment. In some cases, it is illegal to walk in to property without following some guidelines.
It is absolutely critical that renters and landlords agree on the grounds of a property inspection and in what cases a property inspection can occur. This needs to be put in writing on the lease agreement, and discussed with the tenant prior to signing. It is very common for landlords to set up quarterly or twice yearly walk throughs to discuss damages if any versus wear and tear. There are also largely overlooked items such as pointing out obvious things to keep the lease in compliance such as making sure bikes are not left in common hallways which could cause a safety hazard in the event of fire. While there are literally hundreds of things to point out; a good property manager or experienced owner is very valuable in helping tenants know what are overall best tenant practices for the health and safety of everyone that resides in the building.
Now that you’ve agreed with your tenant on when and why you can perform an inspection, let’s take a look at what you should inspect!
Here are a few common types of property inspections performed by a landlord:
When a new tenant moves in, it’s wise to document any property issues and take pictures of the current condition of the unit. Make sure these pictures have timestamps. This can go a long way in protecting you when it comes time for a tenant to move out. Take pictures of the flooring/carpet, interior walls, cabinetry, appliances, fixtures and windows. One of the most common complaints from landlords is that tenants make small dents on refrigerators and it is costly to replace those doors. It is always a good idea to let tenants know that real dents are not considered wear and tear.
Don’t rush through your inspections. Be sure to take a picture of anything you see that could be damaged by the tenant during their lease. Without these, you’ll have a hard time getting the money needed for repairs when the tenant moves out. You’ll need solid proof of the condition of the damaged goods prior to the move in.
The landlord is allowed to perform multiple property inspections with reasonable notice provided to the tenant. Here’s where those pictures you took will come in handy. If anything appears out of order, you can use these pictures to compare the unit’s condition when the tenant moved in. This is invaluable when it comes to resolving disputes, or in worst case scenarios, proving your case in the court of law. Be sure to communicate this inspection when the tenant moves in. That way they come to expect the move-out inspection, and they may be more careful to take care of the apartment. During routine rental inspections many tenants will often admit they have caused some damage. When they talk with you it is often better to work together and get it resolved quickly. It’s always a good idea to have one tenants available for the rental inspection as it builds trust and it is harder to avoid telling the truth when both parties are staring at the damage. At that point the conversation shifts to how to Remedy the issue and get the best pricing possible.
Routine Maintenance Checks
If you plan on conducting routine maintenance checks of your rental unit, make sure this is agreed upon at the beginning of the lease and is in writing. Not all tenants will be comfortable with this, and you may lose a few prospective tenants who may not want to be bothered by this. But overall hold your ground because it is the best path. Be Leary of any tenants that are not open to having inspections. You might want to think what could they be hiding? Boston is a highly competitive city with an extremely low vacancy rate, so it’s ok to hold out for tenants that will take care of your property.
During your inspection make sure to check for any potential safety or fire hazards in the units. Test all of the fire alarms, smoke detectors, and carbon monoxide detectors in the apartment. Check the ceilings, walls and attic for any signs of mold, mildew or water leaks coming in to the home. Test all of the appliances and check the bathroom fixtures to ensure everything is working and sealed properly.
Checking for Unauthorized Tenants or Other Lease Violations
As a landlord in Massachusetts, you do have the ability to obtain a court order for an inspection if you have reasonable evidence that a tenant is violating the lease agreement. One of the most common lease violations is unauthorized tenants living on the premises. Boston has one of the highest sub-letting or roommate turnover percentages in the country because of the vast amount of colleges and co-ops that are par for the course during this period of time in a persons life. In a nutshell, students are highly mobile and transient during college for many reasons too numerous to list. What is important is that you work with your tenants so that all parties come out on top.
Unauthorized tenants are occupants of the rental who live there without legal tenancy. Your rental contract should specify who is entitled to live on the property as well as how long houseguests may stay. This will help eliminate any uncertainty or confusion. Common unauthorized tenants include:
- significant others that have moved in
- overstaying family members
- unauthorized subletting
Even if you define in your lease that you may perform an inspection with reasonable evidence of a lease violation, you will still need a plan on how to handle it in a winning manner.
Outsource it to the Property Management Pros
With Boston real estate and tenant laws often being vague, conflicting and outdated, it is important you formulate a plan of success. Many landlords develop a knowledgeable team on their side to prevent any potential headaches. Landlords often have enough to deal with on a daily and monthly basis that sometimes they find it much easier to outsource the more cumbersome tasks such as property inspections to the experts in property management.
Never be afraid to ask for help. Being a landlord can be a tough business. Join landlord groups or work with real estate companies that have rented thousands of properties. The leading real estate offices with extensive real estate experience often have a huge knowledge base that you can tap into that makes the biggest world of difference.