Join 5,723 other smart owners and managers who learn about proven property management tactics.
Learn about property management tactics.

Rental Inspections Guide

by Brad Katronis

Property inspections should never be overlooked, as they are a vital component to attracting and maintaining qualified tenants. Here are the few inspection categories that we will review:

  1. Move-In
  2. Mid-Tenancy
  3. Drive By
  4. Pre Move-Out
  5. Final Move-Out

General Inspection Notes


Privacy and taking photos/videos during inspections

Taking photographs of a tenant’s rental unit is a collection of personal information. The purpose must be identified prior to or at the time of collection and tenant’s consent must be obtained. A reasonable effort must also be made to ensure that the individual understands how the information will be used. It is important that you do not use pictures on websites, such as your advertising links or on other public domains without the the tenants consent. Read this article about privacy concerns in the property management process.

Use a structured inspection guide

Follow a consistent guide or template each time to ensure you don’t miss certain items. A place to record notes for each room including the exterior, garage, yard, or other areas accessible by tenants. Along with notes on the condition, it is best practice to take complete and total pictures of the premises, with close ups of key areas that may have damage. Use a high resolution camera and good lighting to make sure you can see even the smallest details.

Here is the free Hemlane Inspections Guide

Inspections for a lease with friends and roommates

It’s recommended that you have all parties on the lease present during the move in and pre move-out inspections. When it comes to roommates and friends on a joint lease, it is common for one to blame another. Management is not responsible to assess who damaged what and divide the deposit amongst the tenants. Management is only responsible to return the full security deposit less the itemized deductions within the State’s guidelines.

Have a witness accompany you if possible

It’s a good idea to have a handyman or associate with you as a second set of eyes during the inspection. This may help you identify additional things you may have missed during the process.

Perform inspections on behalf of your rental property’s neighbors

For all inspections, you're not just looking for wear and tear to the property. You’re also looking for things which could impede the right of quiet enjoyment to any neighbors. For example, if your tenant lived in a tight space with other neighbors and had a drum set, this would severely affect the use of quiet enjoyment of neighbors in close proximity. In this case, you’ll want to give the tenant a notice to rectify the nuisance or find them in breach of contract for the nuisance.

Be as detailed as possible in documenting all information

You’ll need to be as detailed as possible and using photos is an easy and efficient way to document particular items. For example, instead of saying, “damage to carpet”, you could say, “damage to carpet in the northeast corner of the 2nd bedroom - see photo 4.”

Damage during Move-In & Move-Out

The two periods where a home is most prone to damage are when tenants are moving in and then moving out. It is the obvious reason that furniture and other large objects moving around can cause damage. Therefore, it’s important that your first inspection (move-in inspection) happens BEFORE the tenant gets possession, and the final inspection happens AFTER they give you the keys.


Move-In Inspection

The move in inspection is performed with the tenant right before they are given the keys and take possession. The purpose is for the tenant and the landlord to agree on pre-existing issues, ensuring that they are not deducted from the tenants damage deposit when they move out. ==An additional benefit of the move-in inspection is that the documentation process lets tenants know how clean the property is, which incentivizes them to keep the property just as clean during the duration of the tenancy==. By explicitly informing the tenant of how clean things are when they move in, they have a clear understanding of the standard that is expected when they return the unit.

Timing: The Move In Inspection must happen before you give possession of the unit. This ensures a clear understanding of the condition before the tenant moves their belongings into the rental. The most common time to do this is when you hand over the keys to the tenant. If the tenant insists on performing the inspection before the move in date, then you can perform the inspection but do not hand over the keys. There is huge liability with providing access to the property before the move in date. Believe us on this one.

During the move in inspection, it is very common for a tenant to start “nit-picking” any small cosmetic damage. Some examples include:

  1. Dents in the baseboards
  2. Drawers not sliding seamlessly
  3. Small scratches on the wall

Since rentals are turned over more frequently than for sale properties, it is not always expected to have a fresh coat of paint, new fixtures, etc. It is important to communicate the purpose of the move inspection:

  1. Appliances are working properly
  2. Safety has been checked (door locks, window latches, smoke detectors)
  3. Rental is ready for a tenant move in

Minor cosmetic issues will be noted on paper and with photos but may not necessarily be fixed. If you are an agent performing an inspection, do not agree to any upgrades or contract work unless you have approval from the owner.

Items often overlooked

Here is what we notice are the most commonly overlooked items during the inspection:

  • Windows with and without screens
  • Prior door damage from pets
  • Drawing of the drapes, blinds, and curtains

Common items to compare against the Move-Out Inspection

In order to reclaim the damage deposit from your tenants for common cleaning, you want to make sure those items were noted upon move in. It’s recommended to clearly communicate and document the cleanliness of the rental upon move in, which provides expectations on the cleanliness expected during the move out.

  • Check electrical outlets are working properly (recommend using an electrical tester)
  • Comment on the cleanliness of the light fixtures (no dead bugs or dust)
  • Confirm the cabinets are clean inside and around the edges
  • Check the AC and furnace filters (expectation that they are new if new at move in)
  • Make sure showers and faucets aren’t leaking and drain properly
  • Inspect the blinds to see if they are clean, including across each horizontal section
  • View the baseboards and outlets to see if they were washed or have collected dust
  • Confirm the cleanliness of the area around and under the appliances
  • Check tiles, including the grout and seals, for mildew, scale, soap residue and grease

Attention to detail will attract better tenants, set the right expectations, and provide a more professional relationship on expectations with tenants. An unclean property can cause issues related to allergies and health hazards.


Mid-Tenancy Inspection

The most important reason for mid-tenancy inspections is to hold tenants accountable to the property rules and regulations. If residents know the management is checking up on them, then they are less likely to violate the lease.

Another equally important reason has nothing to do with the tenants’ accountability. Mid-tenancy inspections force you to view the condition of the property and to see if there are any structural or physical issues to be rectified before they become larger problems.

Frequency of inspections

A rental property is home to a tenant. Mid-tenancy nspections should always be performed within reason (not too frequent) and should not be invasive. It is recommended to check your State's and County's laws to confirm you are abiding by their rules for mid-tenancy inspections.

Tenants causing issue with inspections

Tenants may question mid-tenancy inspections. In their mind, it may be interpreted as a trust issue, where management is questioning their ability to follow the rules outlined in the contract. A truthful response is that the inspection serves to better understand the structural condition of the property. Management should assess the structural wear and tear to prevent major problems down the road, which could materialize into safety issues to the residents.

Things to inspect during mid-tenancy

Here are a couple of important things to look for during the inspection process.

  • Humidity hot spots: Humidity and moisture build up might only be noticeable when there is high usage which may not be the case when you are doing your other inspections (move in/move out etc) when usage may be at it’s lowest. This condensation will be most evident in the bathrooms and kitchens around late winter/early spring which could be caused by not keeping the house warm enough or from bathroom, dishwasher or dryer moisture not being properly ventilated. The main things you’ll want to look for include: moisture on windows or on the sill and black spots & mould around windows and doors.
  • Unauthorized occupants: This is a significant one, has someone moved into the property without notice? Anyone who moves in should have to go through a screening process and your contract amended. The most important thing you need to worry about is whether or not the person is dangerous or not? Someone with a criminal record could be a risk to neighbours, other tenants etc. You’ll also want to consider additional wear and tear and weather the number of occupants meets fire code.
  • Lack of care & cleanliness of the property: If upon inspection you are able to determine the property is not being sufficiently maintained, this would be a good time to inform your tenants that in the current state, they may not receive their full damage back.
  • Safety and wear & tear issues with the property: It’s important to inspect the property for maintenance items which if not proactively taken care of, could become more costly to fix in the future, or a safety & health hazard to your tenant(s).
  • Brush which is overgrowing that could damage buildings
  • Moisture/water leaks which could develop into mold
  • Wear and tear of stairs/railings etc
  • Bug/rodent infiltration
  • Security issues increasing the risk of break ins

Problems caused by tenants

If you find problems caused by the tenants, then you may want to consider the formal eviction process in order to mandate the tenant cure the breach of contract. The first step is typically posting a notice to perform the covenant (fix the breach in the contract). We work with third party legal resources to help you put together such notices, in hopes that the violation will be fixed after this notice is served. See our comprehensive guide to evictions for guidance on this.

Some examples of these violations include:

  1. Pets when the lease states no pets in the property*
  2. Neighbor complaints related to noise violations
  3. Proper maintenance of the premise not being followed

*Please note that service animals are not considered pets, even though the tenant will need to disclose that he/she has a service animal. You can read more here.


Don’t forget to take photos

It’s important to document the condition of the property during the inspection, similar to your process during the move in. If you need to bring a lease violation to court, then photographs can help serve as evidence. However, remember that you want to avoid photos that violate privacy rights. Do not take photos of their personal family photos or other tenant belongings that can be considered an invasion of privacy.

See our article about privacy concerns in the property management process.


Drive and Walk-by Inspections

Drive by or walk around inspections are a useful tool to monitor the property condition and occupants. And, if you are transparent with the tenant on these types of inspections, then they had added incentives to adhere to your contract guidelines in terms of maintenance and upkeep. If you are not able to see anything from a drive by, then you may need to park and walk to a common area (not on the property) where you can get a view of the exterior visual inspection. It is important not to enter the tenant’s private property, as you would need to notify them of such inspection.

Things to inspect during the drive-by

As the inspector, you want to ask a couple of questions related to lease clauses, checking some of the following:

  • Are overgrown trees and brush visible, which could damage the exterior of the building or surrounding infrastructure?*
  • Are the trash bins being left out too long?
  • Are the tenants illegally parking?
  • Is there other damage to the house such as loose siding?
  • Have appropriate preparations been made for changing seasons and upcoming storms?
  • Are the gutters overflowing?
  • Is mail being collected?
  • Does the unit appear to have tenants preparing to move out without proper notification?
  • Are there unauthorized occupants living in the home?
  • Are there unauthorized pets?
  • Are there any safety and/or liability issues that can be seen?

*The lease should state who is responsible for landscaping and yardwork. We recommend that you make this the responsibility of a tenant.

Any problems? Give tenants a “courtesy notice”

If a major tenant infraction is discovered, it will be important to deal with it according to your state's rules & regulations. If it’s a minor offence, then a simple “courtesy notice” to inform your tenants of the drive-by inspection and minor infraction will hopefully be sufficient.


Pre-Move Out (Initial) Inspection

One of the most common disputes between tenants and management is the refund of the security deposit. Tenants often expect the rental to be in pristine condition upon move in and then leave the premise and forget that it should be in the same condition as move-in (minus normal wear and tear).

The pre-move out inspection is a recommended step to inform and set expectations to tenants on what could be withheld from the damage deposit. In essence, the pre move-out inspection is for management to provide an itemized list of damages. It is crucial that you let tenants know that this list is only a guide of what needs to be done, and if they rectify everything on the list then there could be no deductions from their deposit.

Difference between Pre Move-out and Final Inspection

The Pre Move-out Inspection can also be called an “Initial inspection.” The reason is that this is done before the final inspection. The final inspection occurs after the tenants have everything out of the premise.

Step 1: Give notice of a Pre Move-out Inspection

The landlord should first give notice two weeks before the end of the tenancy to notify the residents that a final move-out inspection will be performed and they can also request an initial move out inspection. If the tenant does not respond or does not want an initial inspection, then you have the right to forego it and only perform the final move-out inspection.

Common issues discovered during the initial move-out inspection

Here are a couple of frequent discoveries that management can request to be fixed before tenants have officially moved out of the rental:

  • Holes in the walls and doors
  • Damage to appliances that goes beyond reasonable wear & tear (for example, a fridge shelf ripped off)
  • Alterations to the property that were not authorized (for example, lighting fixtures changed)
  • Screens ripped or damaged
  • Closet doors broken
  • Carpets stained
  • Mirrors cracked
  • Stains & damage from pets
  • Cracked tiles from dropping heavy objects
  • Damage and issues associated with not winterization or preparing house for seasons changes

In addition, the pre move-out inspection is an excellent time to remind tenants on the cleanliness and state of the property during the move in inspection. A friendly reminder that it should be in the same condition, with only normal wear and tear, will prepare them to move out properly. In essence, you are “coaching” them on how to clean a unit.

Step 2: Create itemized list of damages

If there are any damages which would result in a deduction from the security deposit, then the pre move-out inspection is a good time to start this process. You will want to present to your tenants and provide adequate time for them to remedy and repair.

Step 3: Remind tenants on the upcoming final inspection

By the time you enter the final move-out inspection, your tenants should have fixed the damages that you initially listed. And most importantly, the tenants should clean the property to the condition upon move in before the final move out inspection is performed. The end of the pre move-out inspection is a good time to provide this polite reminder on professional cleaning.


Final Move-Out Inspection

If you followed the steps through this article, hopefully there are no surprises! The rental should appear in the same condition as upon move in, minus wear and tear. However, if the tenants have caused additional damages, then you have followed a solid process to make sure they are aware of the deductions from their security deposit.

Tenants’ presence during the move-out inspection

Tenants will often want to be present during the move-out inspection. The reason is that many tenants feel entitled to receive their full security deposit and want to confirm it during the final move-out inspection. If the tenants are present, it is important that you do not confirm or deny any speculation about how much of the security deposit is returned. At this point, you just do not know what will be returned, because management needs to carefully review the photographs and rental inspection checklist before coming to any conclusion. If a tenant asks for you to confirm that the full deposit will be sent back, you should respond that you will have the security deposit less any damages back to the tenant within the State’s specified time period.

Additional deductions

The final move-out inspection list may vary from the pre move-out inspection list, and it is important to make the tenants aware of this point. The pre move-out inspection is a good time to review what could be deducted. However, the final move-out inspection may show a completely different list of deductions. The movers could have damaged the property while transferring heavy items or the tenants could have stopped taking care of the property during their final days.

Carpets

It’s good practice to require tenants to clean the carpets before they leave. And, the tenants should use professional carpet cleaners, because the portable machines, or machines you can rent at a store, are far less effective and powerful than a professional grade machine. Also, tenants are often exhausted from the move and therefore will not perform as good of a job to remove dirt and allergens for the next tenants.

At this point, you have your State’s listed days to EITHER:

Complete repairs and send itemized list of completed work

After the final move-out inspection, management should get bids (keeping all receipts and estimates) on the repairs and cleaning. The bids, receipts, and itemization list should be consolidated into one document for the tenants to view, along with the return of the deposit amount. Based on your State’s laws, you may not have all of the work completed before the time you need to return the security deposit. If the work has not been completed by the time the deposit is due, attach the bids to the itemization document. These estimates will soon become receipts that you can share at a later point if the tenants have further questions.

OR

Send back the full refund

If the rental does not require any repairs, you can send back the full security deposit.

Returning the deposit to the correct tenants

If there is any balance to the security deposit, it must be returned to the tenants within the State’s specified time period. It is recommended that the deposit is only sent back to one tenant, and then the tenants decide how to divide it amongst themselves. Before you return the deposit, the tenants and co-signers should inform you in writing on the one person who will receive the returned balance. If you do not have this in writing, and return the deposit to a single tenant, you could be put in a difficult and complicated roommate situation.

Returning the deposit mid-lease

In the situation of roommates on a lease, the rental may have have a “tenant turnover” mid-lease. In other words, one tenant is leaving but another qualified tenant will take his/her spot on the lease. In this situation, management should not get involved in returning the security deposit during a roommate change. Since landlords and managers are not in the rental everyday, there is no way for management to determine whether any current damages are a result of the tenant who is vacating the property. It is recommended to require the tenants to negotiate the return of the deposit to the tenant moving out and for management to hold the full deposit until all tenants vacate.

Disagreements

If there are any disagreements, you will want to try mediation with your tenants and arrive at a compromise. If your tenants still do not agree with the deductions, then you may need to go to a small-claims court for resolution on the dispute of the security deposit return. Nonetheless, this guide should mitigate this risk altogether.


Security deposit returns are one of the most frequent landlord court cases. You can avoid having to go to a small claims court by following a professional process.

Photo cred: Kristine Weilert