Landlord Home Inspections: How Thorough Should they Be?


Most investors and a fair number of retail home buyers would never consider purchasing a property without a thorough home inspection. This is your opportunity to uncover problems and negotiate their resolution with the seller prior to closing the deal. The proper escape clause in your purchase contract also allows you to walk away from a potentially bad deal without penalty. But do you do careful inspections of your rental properties?

Most landlords will do a periodic walk-through of their rentals, perhaps prior to lease renewal or on some other schedule. But how meticulous are those inspections? Do you just want to see that the tenant is taking care of the place, or are you looking for signs of trouble? I have to confess that I was in the former category and it almost cost me dearly.

The Perfect Tenant

Many investors have had the tenant who must have been a direct descendent of Satan himself. The type that is always late with the rent, complains about everything, and is an all-around pain in the butt. The kind of renter you can’t wait to get rid of and look for any opportunity to evict. But every so often you get the dream tenants. Those are the ones that always pay on time, take care of little problems themselves, and never call you for anything. Exactly the renter you want – or is it?

I’ve had one of those tenants leasing a highly profitable rental for the past four years. The only call I had ever received from him was let me know he had made a mistake. He was practically hyperventilating when he told me he had forgotten to put a stamp on the envelope with his rent check and it was returned to him. He re-sent it immediately (still postmarked within the grace period), it was the only time he didn’t pay when the rent was due.

Like all my properties, I did walk-throughs to check it out periodically. The house was always taken care of and I never found problems of any kind. Then one day I did get a call about a problem. The tenant was actually apologetic when he told me that the circuit breaker kept tripping and he had no power. I assumed it was no big deal and called my electrician to take care of it. The next day the electrician called to tell me I had a major problem. Several receptacles were actually sparking and breakers that should have tripped didn’t. Why did this happen? The dream tenant didn’t want to bother me and tried to fix the problem himself. The electrician said that the way the breaker box was jerry-rigged could have caused a major fire – he was actually surprised that it hadn’t.

Lesson Learned

Since my tenant was not the assertive type he was afraid to bother me. I was all too eager to think everything was fine based on a perfunctory walk-through. The truth is I had gotten lazy. As an experienced, hands-on rehabber I would have spotted the problem had I bothered to check the electrical panel. The problem as not one that had just happened, rather it was one that occurred some time before but the tenant had tried to fix it himself. From that point on all my property inspections have included checks of electrical and plumbing systems. If there is any sign of trouble I’ll call in an expert. I remember hearing something once about an ounce of prevention; I’ll remember that from now on.

Trust not too much to appearances. – Virgil

Photo: R. Warren

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  1. Dude.. that is like up there in the top ten commandments of landlording: “thou shall not let tenants perform their own repairs”.

    Not only is it spelled out in my lease agreements which were promulgated by the Texas Real Estate Commission but it is just common sense for two basic reasons:
    a) Tenants do crappy repairs and can create liability issues for you (as you found out)
    b) Tenants start to find things to fix so that they can get a rent credit

    I make it quite clear to my tenants that all repairs need to go through me however minor. Getting lazy and letting the tenant do your job will only cause you pain in the long run.

    • Richard Warren on

      This had nothing to do with letting a tenant do their own repairs, they aren’t allowed to and it is clearly spelled out in the lease. It was not known that a repair was needed or that there was a problem. This was about becoming too casual on periodic inspections. If the previous inspection had been more thourough, and it certainly is now, the problem would have been spotted. What the tenant should have done was call when there was a problem, not try to fix it himself.

      • Oh I see. So you were being sarcastic when you said “But every so often you get the dream tenants. Those are the ones that always pay on time, take care of little problems themselves, and never call you for anything”.

        Sorry but that set the tone in my head and I didn’t pick up that the thrust of this article was about inspections. So how often do you recommend that inspections be performed?

        • Richard Warren on

          They should be done at least on lease renewal but I prefer to drop in several times during the course of the year and often with very little notice.

  2. I disagree a lot. I dont drop in unexpectedly on tenants, they feel a gotcha. They know going in what I expect. I dangke thte possibilty of getting100% of their deposit back. They often do cause I tall them I expect a rent ready house back. They give mr a 60 day notice so I get plenty of time to market it and for them to get to work on clean up. I tell them at the notice what I expect, then about 3-4 weeks before m/o i give them what they need to get all their deposit back. It works out bout 80% of the time they get it all back and bout 80% of the time I have 0 days vacant and 0 days lost rent.
    They get a feeling of ownership, king of the castle unmolested by my intusions and I get a clean house back.
    BTW, my tenants stay an average of 6.5 years

  3. Can a landlord do a preventative maintenance inspection if the tenant is notified first? We have a tenant we have rented to for two years and want to do an inspection but she is fighting us on it. What are our rights as landlords?

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