Inspections are one of the most important tools available to you as a property owner. These records, when created immediately before and after a tenant leases a property, can be used to defend yourself in the event of litigation and may be used to collect on damages should they occur. It is important, therefore, that you perform move-in and move-out inspections every time you lease, regardless of whom you are leasing to.
Timing is Everything
If you are unable to prove that damage occurred during a tenancy then you may be held liable for the repairs. Proving that specific damages occurred during a tenants stay requires documentation from the time of move-in and move-out in order to show that the damage in question was not incurred prior to their tenancy.
It is also important to document repairs made during their tenancy, why the repair was made and who paid for the materials and labor. This can save you later should a tenant claim that repairs were not made or that they made repairs themselves.
Every lease packet should contain a move-in/move-out checklist for inspections. If you are doing your inspections correctly they are fairly long and repetitive. A checklist helps to streamline the inspection process and is used to record notes about damages observed. There should be a separate sheet for every room in the house that includes any unusual features such as additional closets, built in book cases and other cosmetic and structural oddities.
Every inspector should be equipped with a wearable video camera, preferably head mounted, as well as a standard point and click model. Video and photographic evidence are a vital part of any inspection. The point and click camera will provide higher detail photos of damages or fixtures, while the mounted video camera will allow you to provide a broader scope visual representation of the state of the home.
The tenant should always be on site during these inspections. Never allow a tenant to move in without a joint inspection of the house. During this inspection you should take photos with the tenant in each room if you do not have a video camera available. If your video camera has audio record an agreement regarding the date and time between yourself and the tenant in order to establish a record.
What to Expect When you are Inspecting
Every room should be documented, from floor to ceiling. It may seem like a hassle, but protecting yourself and your investment is important. Explain to your tenant that this process is a way of protecting both of you and make sure that they are given a copy of the completed inspection after it has been made. You may also wish to provide them with digital copies of the photographs afterward. Your inspection is not a weapon, it is a business tool.
Basement - Check for signs of water damage on the ceiling or wet spots on the floor. The presence of water indicates damage to the plumbing system or damage on other floors. Inspect the breaker box for thrown switches and any laundry machines, furnaces or hot water heaters located in the basement. Inspect floor and sink drains in the area for standing water and check that any sewer access ports have not been tampered with. Inspect walls, floors, ceiling and lighting fixtures for damage.
Kitchen & Bathroom – Inspect and record the state of all plumbing fixtures and visible plumbing underneath sinks. Test faucets and drains, including shower heads and spray nozzles to ensure they are functional. Record all signs of water damage to the floors and walls and rock toilets to check for stability issues caused by unreported fluid damages. Ensure that all wall fixtures are firmly attached and that all molding, shelving and casing is present. Inspect the inside and outside of all cupboards and drawers for damage as well. Appliances should be unplugged and pulled away from the wall during your inspection, but ensure first that each appliance runs before you remove power. If there are any fire or carbon monoxide alarms in the area test, inspect and photograph all units then replace batteries at the time of inspection. Ensure that all lighting fixtures are firmly attached and functional.
Bedrooms, Livingrooms and Dining Rooms – Inspect flooring and walls for damage. Ensure that all molding and casing is firmly attached to the walls. Inspect lighting fixtures (take photos with fixtures off for best results) to ensure that they are functional and that they have not become detached. Inspect fire alarms and carbon monoxide alarms for functionality. Photograph and record any evidence of damage to these units and replace batteries at the time of inspection.
Garage – Inspect floors and structure for damages.
Outside – Inspect the exterior of the home for damages, including loose siding, graffiti, and holes. Check that gutters, soffit and other roof features have not been compromised by tenant activity. Walk along any fences on the property to ensure that they are stable. Inspect any external propane tanks to ensure that copper piping has not been removed.
The quality and breadth of your property inspections will play a direct roll in whether you are able to prove tenant liability should damage occur. Schedule several hours for each inspection to ensure you can dedicate the time you need to in order to protect your investment.