Posted over 1 year ago

Evaluating if Your Rental Meets Safety Standards (2021 Checklist)

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Property inspections are a crucial part of managing and protecting your rental investments. Regular inspections enable you to spot issues early on and address them before they cause long-term harm to the property, your tenants, or your maintenance budget.

But they also help you make sure you’re up to scratch when it comes to all the relevant safety standards rentals have to abide by. And that means they protect you legally as a landlord, too.

If you ask us, it’s good to have a four-pronged strategy for conducting inspections:

  1. 1. When tenants Move-In
  2. 2. When seasons change
  3. 3. When you drive by
  4. 4. When tenants Move-Out

From running a property management company for 20+ years and owning dozens of rental investment properties, we’ve worked out a system for doing inspections that make sure every base is covered and help us catch any problems before they snowball.

We’ve boiled all of that down into a practical checklist you can use during inspections to ensure that your rental abides by the safety standards.

  • Smoke Detectors

Smoke detectors are required in locations specified under IC 22-11-18 and the Michigan City Building Code. Make sure you check your local laws, as they will specify the following:

  • 1. Location of the detectors
  • 2. Installation (according to the manufacturer)
  • 3. Type of detector (many require carbon monoxide detectors as well)

When conducting an inspection, you can do the following:

  • 1. Use the test button of the device.
  • 2. Replace weak batteries with the required 5-year lithium-ion.

  • Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) Outlets

Since 1971, the National Electrical Code has required homes to have GFCI outlets in specific locations to lessen the risk of fires and shocks. GFCI outlets have to be installed within 6 feet of any water source, to prevent one of those “electrocuted in the tub by a hairdryer” type of scenarios.

If a non-GCFI outlet causes an accident, the damages may not be covered by insurance.

If you want to stay compliant, you need to install a GFCI breaker in the main panel, then locate and replace the first outlet on the circuit with a GFCI.

Technically, you can do this yourself, but you should check with your local building department to see if a permit is required. If so, you’ll need a licensed contractor (unless you’re doing the work yourself on your primary residence) - although, in reality, a lot of landlords do simple electrical work like this (lights, switches, etc.), and no one bats an eye.

  • Pest Infestations

While tenants need to keep the rental clean and free of mess, it’s the landlord’s responsibility to remove pest infestations from the property (if the infestation wasn’t caused by the tenants). Mice, rats, termites, ants, and cockroaches make a rental unsanitary, so yours will be considered uninhabitable if it’s filled with critters.

To keep your rental pest-free, do the following:

  • 1. Hire a local pest control company to remove active infestations.
  • 2. Treat the property for fleas, etc. during turnover if tenants have pets.
  • 3. Treat the property regularly for termites if it’s in a termite-prone area.
  • 4. Include the cost as part of the rent or as an additional Move-Out fee.

  • Stairways and Walkways

Minimize the risk of the stairway- and walkway-related injuries before they turn into a safety hazard. Concrete areas should not have wide cracks or uneven steps, and wood areas should not be rotten or otherwise deteriorated.

Here are some tips to help protect your tenants:

  • 1. Make sure you have graspable, secure handrails installed.
  • 2. Paint the stairs and walkways with a non-slip coating.
  • 3. Install good lighting in outdoor and darker areas for full visibility.
  • 4. Repair any damage or cracks.

  • Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Even if your local municipality doesn't require it, carbon monoxide detectors are generally recommended for safety purposes. We put them in even when it's not a city requirement, and they've come down in price so much that it's really cheap to do.

We expect sometime in the future it will become mandatory, anyway, so better to install them and cover your bases now than scramble to comply when the regulations pass.

  • Outdoor Railings

If your rental has a deck or balcony, make sure that the railings are 36 to 42 inches high. The minimum railing heights are defined in the International Residential Code or the International Building Code—make sure to check which one your local authority uses.

Wood will also deteriorate over time, so inspect the railings and do the following:

  • 1.Tighten loose fasteners.
  • 2. Replace rotting wood with new materials.
  • 3. Ensure that the railings can withstand the minimum force specified by the code.
  • Locks on Doors and Windows

Make sure that the locks on doors and windows are fully functional, as tenants might bring you to court should a break-in or burglary happen due to faulty locks.

You can keep the rental secure by following these tips:

  • 1. Exterior doors should have a lockset and deadbolt.
  • 2. Locks should be changed or re-keyed with every turnover.
  • 3. Discourage tenants from duplicating keys.
  • 4. Keep a log of the keys you do duplicate and hand out.
  • 5. Add alarm systems that are triggered by entry.


Remember that safety is a priority for rental homes. Complying with laws protects both your investment and your tenant.

Always conduct thorough inspections to ensure that your rental property initially & continues to meet all safety requirements. If you find any issues during an inspection, make sure to address them immediately.

You can also require your tenants to have renter’s insurance, which may help cover the cost of some of these issues should they arise.

If you’re a landlord in the Metro Detroit area, feel free to reach out for more tips. We’re more than willing to help bring your rental property up to code.

Image courtesy of Cottonbro