Occupied inspections with photographs are a must if you plan to be a successful landlord. Information gleaned from occupied inspections help owners plan for future expenses and catch small concerns before they become big.
The documentation from inspections can save your tush in court. Judges tend to favor tenants over landlords in every state, especially when landlords don’t have documentation of damages.
Proof = Photos, invoices and other visual evidence of condition.
Occupied inspections aid owners as they investigate causes of damages found at the move-out inspection.
Photograph BEFORE tenants move in, DURING their occupancy, and IMMEDIATELY after move-out. Keep photos… forever.
See my tips below of what a professional property manager looks for at occupied inspections. If you have a property manager that doesn’t do them, you may find out the hard way how that impacts your interest.
DISCLAIMER – Most property managers are not contractors, HVAC techs, electricians, environmental hygienist, or termite inspectors. But we can identify many of those concerns with a visual inspection. We can generally tell owners when something just ain’t right.
Always take your camera. Photo generously, but be considerate. Tenants are highly likely to walk you around the home as you inspect. You want to show professional courtesy by respecting their privacy and not snapping anything that isn’t your concern such as information on their desk or computer and try not to photograph people (especially children) or their family photos. It can be creepy, even if you don’t mean it that way. Date stamp your photos whenever possible.
Feel free to photo animals – they are likely to be following you around as well.
Bonus Tip: Assume you are being watched and/or heard at every visit of an occupied home. It is commonplace and extremely affordable to monitor your home these days and many people do. Always conduct yourself with that in mind.
#1 Overall condition of the home & seasonal maintenance needs
- Visually check the inside and outside your home and all mechanical systems.
- Identify seasonal maintenance needs like pressure washing, roof cleaning, gutter cleaning, caulking inside and out, tree trimming needs, rotten wood, and much more.
#2 Upkeep of the landscaping
If the home has a yard, or even a deck area, you should have landscaping requirements in your lease. Ensure your tenant is meeting the agreed standards.
Be reasonable, you never know if you are catching your inspection following an illness, or surgery. Few people have their yard inspection-ready on a week day. You want to be vigilant, but not a jerk.
- Review plant beds. Weeds may be present, but shouldn’t be to your knee if regularly attended. Your lease should have specific requirements – don’t presume tenants will know what you expect.
- Check shrub height. Shrubs should be kept similar to the way they were delivered. Limbs and foliage that are touching the home should be cut back. This should be in your lease as a tenant responsibility.
- Tree limbs should not be on the roof, or other parts of the home. This typically falls to the owner to maintain and rightly so.
- The HVAC should have good clearance for the best air flow to the system. Ivy and other plants should not be encroaching on the home or systems.
- Trees and other shrubs that may be dead or sickly. You don’t want limbs falling on your tenants, their property or guests.
- Game trails caused by pets. Grass may need to be addressed at move-out if your tenant’s pet has caused damage. Check grass in areas where they go potty or run up and down battling the neighbor’s dog.
#3 Tenant-required maintenance & upkeep
Again, all maintenance required of the tenant should be clearly stated in the lease if you expect to enforce it. Tenants required to obtain regular professional services, should know who they must use or they will be using the cheapest option which may not be the best option. Choose reasonably-priced licensed and insured contractors and proven entities.
- Check cleanliness. Not messiness, mind you, but damage-causing behavior that should be rectified. Is the tenant’s failure to clean causing damage to the home? Home should be safe and sanitary.
- Damage to parking pads from cars in disrepair. There are products available to remove oil stains.
- Filters changed as needed.
- If carpet cleaning, fireplace inspection, and other scheduled maintenance is required of the tenant, ensure those services are done timely and the results are satisfactory.
#4 Lease Violations – Just to name a few
- Unauthorized occupants. AKA – People not on the lease but living in the home.
- Smoking in the home. Nicotine damages are lessened greatly if caught early and may exceed security deposit amounts if not noted in time.
- Evidence of damage-causing behaviors. Examples: Tire treads on lawn, gross lack of cleaning, items stored improperly, unapproved changes to the home, equipment being improperly used.
- Unauthorized pets at the home. Pet damages and odors. Only approved pets should be at the home. If you agreed to a Chihuahua, and you see a Rottweiler, take note. Pet damages are never permissible for an authorized pet or unauthorized. Strong odors caused by pets are reflective of damage – typically to the flooring. Visible or invisible damage, should be notated. Check out the HVAC damage below caused by a 15 pound dog urinating on the system in the same place for several months.
Bonus Tip: Where I usually find pet food evidence of an unauthorized pet – under appliances. Most people rarely clean under appliances and frankly food gets under there. Drop down and take a peek. Also note pet care items for pets not on the lease. Example – Cat food, or a litter box for a home that only has a dog listed on the lease.
Bonus Bonus Tip: You can also find out about pets living in your home from the comfort of your home. Most people have their furry friends front and center of their social media posts. I know I do.
#5 Occupancy matches the lease
- Tenant input during your visit can sometimes divulge who is currently living at the home. Example: My girlfriend says the stove and has been acting up for several weeks now. If said girlfriend is not on the lease, now is the time to ask if she is living at the home.
#6 Check up your contractors and recent repairs
- Ensure vendors are doing quality work and repairs promised were actually performed. If repairs were not done properly, the sooner you notify your vendor, the better.
- If your newly repaired items improve the look of the home, you should photograph for future marketing campaigns.
#7 HVAC Filters, vents & equipment
- A trail of dust on ceilings near HVAC vents are an indicator that the HVAC filter isn’t getting changed enough, or the system could use a cleaning.
- Check the units inside and outside to ensure they are not encroached on by belongings or foliage. These systems need to be able to easily pull air into the system.
#8 Items to review again at the move-out
- Look for visible damages throughout the home. Notate them to refer to at move-out. You can’t always address damages before move-out. You don’t want to forget, especially if action has been taken to disguise something that was visible months earlier.
- Odors that may be associated with pet damages or smoking should be documented and addressed. Always address any smoking issues immediately to reduce damages to the home.
#9 Updating & photography needs – Plan for turnover early
- Determine if the carpet will last after the current tenant moves and the paint is too worn/scuffed to appeal to future occupants. If your home is not marketable, vacancy loss will exacerbate the cost of turnover.
- Homes with heavy dating like brass fixtures, beige appliances, stained trim, wallpaper, non-neutral paint colors, all affect rent prices achieved.
- If the home needs updated marketing photos, such as in-season exterior shots, inspections are a great time to take them. Let your tenant know that you would like to come on a day when the landscaping is freshly addressed so you can snap new pictures for future listings.
- Take photos of the community features if you don’t have them for the next marketing period. Community pools, signage, tennis courts, play grounds, waterways, trails, nearby attractions, clubhouses, and more!
#10 Condo & HOA rules are being followed
Hopefully you were wise enough to give them a copy and have them sign an addendum where they formally agreed to be responsible to obey all of the community rules. If tenants cause fines to be levied by the COA or HOA, your lease should include financial responsibilty.
After inspections, get with your tenant promptly to address any concerns that they should rectify in writing. Ensure they received the communication and keep your written records and all photos taken and the date taken.
While that certainly isn’t a full list of things to review at your inspections, it’s a good guideline. Check back for more tips on property manage matters!
Mary – PROperty Manager for Stephanie Clark Property Management