The Core of a Rental Inspection Checklist

Laurie Mega
Laurie Mega | 8 min. read

Published on May 8, 2020

Inspections are an integral part of the property management process. Doing a thorough inspection is more than just checking for damage from time to time. It’s about keeping your properties fresh and up-to-date for incoming residents, making sure essential repairs are done to infrastructure, and ensuring properties are properly sanitized before new residents move in. All of this ensures your properties stay competitive with similar properties and give your residents the best rental experience. 

And this year’s inspections are likely going to be quite a bit different than in years past.

We’ve put together some resources to help you better understand what an inspection includes and how you should be conducting them.

Inspection Regulations

Many leases include a clause on when and how owners and property managers can enter a unit. In fact, many states require that clause, and list the specific situations in which you can access a unit.

That usually includes inspecting the property and making repairs. When you create a lease, make sure to check your state’s regulations on inspections before including any wording in the lease itself.

Remember, for every inspection you should notify your resident that you’re coming. While your lease agreement may include language that allows you to enter their unit for inspections, repairs, or for a showing when the lease is up, you still shouldn’t go in without letting them know first.

According to legal help site NOLO, there are 14 states that have no laws on when and for what reason you can enter a rental unit (Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, West Virginia, and Wyoming).

Even so, you know how important it is to build a good relationship with your residents. Giving them a heads up that you’ll be entering their home to make sure it’s in good shape for their benefit and yours will keep that relationship intact.

Move-In Inspection

Why Do You Need One?

If you live in one of the following states, according to NOLO, you must provide a written statement on the condition of a resident’s unit at move-in:

  • Arizona
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • North Dakota
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

Even for property managers who don’t live in one of these states, a move-in checklist provides a thorough report of the state of a unit at the time of move-in. It’s also a baseline you can use to gauge the condition of a unit when a resident moves out. 

It gives your resident a record of the state of their new home, so they can address any immediate issues and feel confident they won’t be charged for anything they didn’t do.

What Should Be on a Move-In Checklist?

A move-in checklist should include individual sections for all indoor and outdoor spaces that belong to the unit. Bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, outdoor patios, even front entryways should be accounted for. Each section should list specific features, furnishings, and appliances that are provided by the property owner. 

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides a move-in/move-out inspection checklist. You can also use templates provided by an online inspection app that allow you to create checklists on the go.

When and How Should You Do a Move-In Inspection?

A move-in inspection should be done as soon as a new resident moves in. Property managers should walk through the unit with residents to look for damage to anything on the list. 

NOLO recommends writing down damage in detail. For instance, instead of writing “damaged fridge,” write “large dent on right-hand refrigerator door.”

Make sure to attach images to each item on the list, as well. The bottom line is, the more thorough your inspection, the better you can repair all the damage needed, and the more confident your resident will feel about their new home.

Once you’ve finished the inspection, give a copy of the report to your resident, or share it through your resident portal.

Move-Out Inspection

Why Do You Need a Move-Out Checklist?

The flipside of a move-in inspection is the move-out inspection. The move-out inspection lets you catalog any damaged or worn parts of the unit that need repairing before the next resident moves in. 

What Should Be on a Move-Out Checklist?

You should use the same checklist you used at move-in to do your move-out inspection. Go over all the same elements in all the same rooms and record the shape they’re in.

In some cases, you’re doing this to determine if there’s any serious damage the resident is responsible for. In other cases, you’re taking note of normal wear and tear that needs repairing before your next resident moves in.

That might include repainting slightly scuffed or faded walls, replacing older appliances, or ripping up worn carpet. These are things that are considered normal wear and tear, and are not the responsibility of the resident.

If there were large holes in the wall, broken appliances, or pet stains on the carpet, however, the resident moving out should pay for those. The difference is that normal wear and tear comes from everyday use, and would happen no matter who lived there.

Pro Tip: This is also a good time to take a look at HVAC filters for replacement and hood vents to give them a proper cleaning. And check smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, as well as extinguishers.

When and How Should You Do a Move-Out Inspection?

It’s best to have your resident present during a move-out inspection, right before their move-out date. Then you both can go over the checklist together once more. 

That said, if you live in a state where stay-at-home advisories are still in effect, schedule a time to enter the unit when your residents won’t be home. If you want them there, you could have them join on Zoom or another video conferencing app. It’s also a good idea to follow the CDC guidelines for preventing the spread of sickness.

Walk through the same checklist you used when they moved in. Write down any repairs you have to do in detail and note whether or not it’s considered normal wear and tear.

Take pictures and have the original pictures from the move-in inspection handy. Talk over each notation with your resident to come to an agreement on each of the repairs. Then, send them a copy of the inspection report.

If you’re doing a move-out inspection after they’re gone, make sure you send a copy of the checklist to them once you’ve completed it.

Quarterly or Seasonal Inspections

Why Do You Need Regular Inspections?

Regular inspections of your properties should go deeper than scuffed walls and broken bathroom tiles. First of all, they are likely a part of the contracted service that you provide to your owners that keeps their properties in good shape and residents safe per your local regulations. Basically, you are looking under the hood to see that the infrastructure and systems of the unit are in good condition—so checking the status of systems like plumbing, heating, and electric is essential. 

You are really trying to avoid any larger issues from taking you by surprise. These inspections are more for the exterior or common areas of the building, rather than the individual units, especially when social distancing rules apply. 

They’ll also help you prepare for the season to come. For winter, check pipes and outdoor spigots for proper insulation. Install storm windows. And make sure thermostats are working properly.

In spring, you can check for damage to roofs and outdoor facing from storms. You can go over those pipes again to look for cracks.

What Should Be On It?

A more thorough inspection of the property can look something like a home inspector’s checklist. The International Association of Certified Home Inspectors provides one that’s a little more involved, but does include the elements you should be looking at.

When and How Should You Do a Seasonal or Quarterly Inspection?

Again, this is something you can schedule quarterly, at the transition of seasons, or at any other regular period of time that makes sense for your properties.

Go through your inspection list one item at a time. Start by walking around outside the property to check for issues. Then, move through entryways and common areas. Finally, walk through units.

Check off the things that are in decent shape and make detailed notes of the things that need fixing. You can then send your report to the property owner so they have a clear understanding of the repair work that needs to happen.

Handling Multiple Inspections

Making sure you’re conducting thorough and consistent inspections on all your properties can be tricky. But there are tools that can help you keep it all organized.

If you don’t feel like printing off multiple inspection sheets, consider an app like Happy Inspector (a Buildium partner), which allows you to complete inspections with your phone or tablet using their templates or your own checklist.

It also syncs with Buildium, so your unit information is automatically loaded and inspections are saved to your account.

Inspections help keep your rental units safe, up-to-date, competitive, and comfortable for your residents. Most people think of them as simply a way to catalog damage done by residents, but they’re so much more than that. Think of them as a running inventory of your properties, keeping you on top of repairs and improvements, so you can build a strong reputation for reliability and trustworthiness with both residents and owners.

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Laurie Mega

Laurie Mega has planned, written, and edited content on a variety of subjects. Her work has been published by, The Economist, Philips Lifeline, and FamilyEducation, among others. She lives in the Greater Boston Area with her husband and two boys.

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