No News isn't always Good News - Rental Property Inspections

9 Replies

Hello BP, just posted this to my website and thought this might be helpful for some of you out there. 

Tenants will not always let you know:
While many tenants are notorious for requesting maintenance on every little minor item they can get their eyes on. The real culprit may be the tenant that you never hear from. No news is not always good news, you may be renting to a tenant who will not report an issue with the home. Perhaps they are used to living in bad conditions, they assume that they are responsible for the repair but cannot afford it, have been renting from slumlords for so long that this is the norm for them, or they just don't like the confrontational feeling they get when requesting a service call. Whatever the reason for not reporting problems, it may end up costing you a small fortune in the future or in extreme cases you may end up in court for hazardous living conditions.

Security Deposits may not be enough:
Security deposits are ideal for covering the cost of rental ready services such as minor repairs and cleaning but will most likely not be enough to cover major damage caused by negligence. Not only will you need to spend money beyond the security deposit for correcting the damage but you will also have to consider the time it will take to have the damage repaired. In more extreme cases correcting the problem can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

How to protect yourself or your client?
To avoid being struck by this silent property killer you will want to consider scheduling quarterly or even bi annual property inspections. These simple inspections can be performed by a property manager, owner, or your handyman service provider. If you find that a hazardous condition such as mold infestation is present you will want to contact a certified inspector or a company who is property licensed to handle the removal / remediation of such conditions.

Often times when we are dispatched to service a tenant occupied unit we find that other problems are present that the owner or property management company may want to address. Many tenants will not bother to report problems that they feel are insignificant because they just don't know better or do not care. Be sure that your tenants understand what their responsibilities are with regard to home maintenance and that they should not hesitate to let you know if something needs repair. A simple service call, or visit from a landlord to fix the problem could be all you need to prevent a serious problem with a costly repair bill.

@Daniel Mawyin ,

I inherited just such a tenant...

I purchased a rental property last year that had a tenant in place who the previous landlord described as a very good, quiet tenant.  He said he never called him to complain about anything the entire 8 years he lived there.

There were plenty of things wrong,  but the tenant never complained.  Luckily we caught all of these issues during the inspection,  so the offer price was adjusted to cover the costs...

The oven had not worked for 4 years.  The dishwasher was broken for 6 years.  The tenant had an electric dryer,  but only a gas hookup was available in the upstairs laundry room;  He has his dryer in the basement plugged into a 220 outlet, and has been venting it directly into the basement during his entire tenancy.  The master bath toilet "wobbled".  turns out the flange was completely rusted out,  and I needed to replace the subfloor beneath the toilet.

I addressed all these issues,  and the tenant was very happy.  I told him we would be doing quarterly inspections on all the mechanicals in the house.

Perfect example of due diligence. Glad you got your property in good health and I think its great that you will be performing quarterly inspections. It's a small price to pay to avoid big problems in the future.

I ran a service call on a rental a couple weeks back for a non working garbage disposal. The owner had just purchased the property with the new tenants already in place. While there i asked if there were any other issues and uncovered a wobbly toilet that had no washers in place to hold it down properly,  a bathroom sink that had a bad leak coming from the pop up drain assembly with a bucket under it to catch the water, a toilet with a bad fill valve and flapper which caused the water to constantly run, and a non working garage door opener which had never been wired. Tenants reported that most of these items were this way for over 2 years. The previous owner told them it was their house and that they could do whatever they needed to. Cost of repairs totaled about 300.00 a small price to pay for what could have turned into multiple large ticket repairs. 

iMO, a major downside to charging tenants for service calls.

Little easy fixes are great opportunities to do inspections and I'd much rather deal with them than major expensive repairs.

I agree with @Max T. I have read where some landlords charge the tenant for the repair, or tell them if the cost is under $XX it is their responsibility. I think the impetus behind this is to avoid the lightbulb change requests. But too often it turns into nothing getting fixed. It is your property, you should fix it.

I have a friend with a rental. He goes there every Saturday to mow the lawn, and goes inside the unit once a month to change the furnace filter. A nice, innocuous way to check out what is going on inside. 

I, too, agree with @Max T. .  Making the tenant pay for repairs under XX amount or the first XX amount of any repair is a recipe for disaster.  I had a tenant once who had a tub leak with water dripping into the dining room.  He didn't call me until the ceiling collapsed because he thought he would have to pay the plumber (based on a prior rental).  Needless to say...I was shocked.  We have to educate our tenants from day one to contact us immediately with any repair issues.  And we have to inspect because those "silent" (great!) tenants can be your worst nightmare.  I had a hoarder once who never called - guess why?

@Max T. great input, dealing with the small stuff directly is an awesome way to access your unit for an impromptu inspection and catching a small problem before it develops into a big one.

@Mindy Jensen agreed, charging a tenant for all or even xx amounts of service calls / repairs will likely cause you to not hear from them when a problem needs to be addressed. I love the example of the monthly visit to change the furnace filter, a great low cost way to keep a close eye on your property while making your tenants feel valued at the same time.

@Cheryl C. perfect example of no news being bad news and great advice about educating tenants. Sounds like an expensive repair bill. Do you recall the reason for the leak? 

@Daniel Mawyin , it was just a drainpipe leak (old plumbing).

It's great that newer LL's can learn from the mistakes of some of us older ones.  I have 30yrs of education from the "school of hard knocks".  I wish this site around 30yrs ago!  I'd of saved a fortune!

btw - I inspect new tenants at 3 months.  That way I can nip bad things in the bud.  Setting expectations and following up on them is essential.

Doesn't mean we shouldn't be charging them for damages due to negligence!

(broken windows, clogged toilets/sinks sometimes, damaged walls, etc...)

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