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Landlord Inspections: The Do’s and Don’ts of Apartment Inspections

By: Davina Ward
April 24, 2020

Maybe you’re suspicious one of your tenants is breaking the lease’s pet policy. Maybe you just haven’t checked in with them for a while.

If so, you may ask yourself: can a landlord do random inspections? Well, the answer isn’t an easy yes or no.

As a landlord, you can drive by, walk by, or bicycle by your property anytime. But you cannot walk into the property unannounced. We’re here to walk you through the do’s and don’ts of landlord inspections.

Apartment inspections need to be performed for a variety of reasons. Let’s take a look at those situations in which you can legally enter and inspect an apartment.

Maintenance and Repairs

Your tenant might ask you to service or repair something. Typically, landlords are only permitted to enter the premises during “reasonable hours.” That varies from state-to-state.

Any time between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. is usually considered reasonable. Those hours are within normal business operating hours.

However, when a repair is specifically requested by the tenant, you can enter and perform the necessary service at any hour that is mutually agreed upon.

In a scenario where the tenant has not requested maintenance or repair, but you still need to perform it, give them 24-48 (dependent on state and local law) hours’ notice of your arrival. Additionally, make sure to come at a time that falls within the scope of “reasonable hours.”

Decorations, Alterations, or Improvements

Can landlords do random inspections to address the aesthetic? As a landlord, you have the right to make aesthetic changes as you see fit. This is different from maintenance or repairs. That’s because it’s not something that you need to do to maintain the unit’s habitability.

For example, you might want to repaint the front porch or install new light fixtures. In these cases, stick to the “reasonable hours” rule. Make sure to give your tenant proper notice.

Showings

You have the right to show the unit to prospective tenants. Again, be sure to notify your tenants in advance. This gives them the opportunity to ensure that they’re out of the apartment during showings or give the unit a good once-over, if necessary.

Keep in mind, with millions of Americans working from home due to COVID-19, it may be difficult to schedule a showing during the workday. If that’s the case, you’ll need to work with your tenants to schedule a time that works for them without disturbing their work. You could also “show” prospective tenants your available units via 3D apartment tours.

Lease Violations

Though you may have done your due diligence, there’s always the chance that you may have a tenant that is egregiously committing lease violations. Whether you suspect there’s an illegal subletter on the premises or that your tenant has willfully ignored your no-pet policy, you have a right to check it out.

As it goes for all instances in which you may want to enter the unit, give notice. If you find that your tenant is committing lease violations, you may need to serve a notice to quit.

Move-in/Move-Out

It’s essential for landlords to conduct move-out inspections to assess the damage, if any, that the last tenant is responsible for. Your findings will dictate how much of a tenant’s security deposit you’ll refund back to them.

Upon move-in, inspections enable landlords to confirm the condition of their unit. Then, they can make any necessary repairs before their new tenant officially moves in.

Extenuating Circumstances

While the previous reasons to perform an apartment inspection were very clear, there are also extenuating circumstances in which an inspection can be legally performed. These include:

  • Court Orders: If you’ve obtained a legal order granting you permission to inspect one of your units, then you can legally perform the inspection. Typically, the order may stipulate a specific date and time that you can perform the inspection.
  • Tenant Abandonment: Keep in mind that the requirements to be considered “abandonment of a property” are different state by state. If a unit has been abandoned, you’ll need to remove any remaining possessions. Be sure to document the abandonment.
  • Tenant Violation of Health/Safety Codes: Not only does this put the tenant and others at risk, but it can also lead to significant damage to your property in the form of a pest infestation.
  • In Case of an Emergency: For example, a fire, gas leak, water leak, burst pipes, or an extreme weather event that may threaten the safety of your tenant gives you license to make necessary repairs as quickly as possible.

Do’s of Landlord Inspections:

Give Proper Notice of Any and All Inspections (24-48 hours)

Also keep in mind that, even after giving notice, you can only enter a tenant’s unit during “reasonable hours.” Typically, though this varies by state, a time between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. is considered to be within the scope of “reasonable hours.”

It’s even better to give even earlier notice than the recommended time frame. That’s the case especially in cases of routine inspections that you’ve scheduled in advance.

There are real legal consequences for failing to give notice. Those include arrest, fines, and legal action being taken against you.

Avoid this by giving written notice, leaving a note on the door or in the mailbox, or sending notice via email. Those methods are sufficient and serve as proof that you adhered to the law.

Schedule Property Inspections a Few Times Throughout the Lease Term

There’s no magic number for this. It’ll depend on the length of the lease (we recommend no more than quarterly for a year lease).

What’s the rationale behind scheduled, incremental inspections throughout the duration of a lease? Well, it ensures that maintenance and safety standards are up to date without being excessive.

Remember: Purpose, Professionalism, and Tenant Privacy

If you must enter a tenant’s home to perform an inspection, consider purpose, professionalism, and tenant privacy. State your purpose upon your arrival, give proper notice as a professional courtesy, and respect your tenant’s privacy by ensuring that you don’t overstep.

Document All Routine Inspections in the Lease Agreement

If you have a policy that allows for inspections over a set interval of time, then you need to document that in the lease agreement.

It’s imperative to discuss these provisions when you’re face-to-face with the tenant at signing. This way, everyone knows what to expect ahead of time. It’s much better than having tenants, who haven’t read through the lease, be caught off guard by your routine inspections.

Be Smart and Reasonable

Just because the law is on your side, doesn’t mean you should completely disregard the importance of a good tenant-landlord relationship. If you’re continuously notifying your tenant that you’ll be stopping by, it’s likely to frustrate your tenant over time. If you’d like to increase your rate of renewed leases, limit your inspections.

Don’ts of Landlord Inspections

Breach a Tenant’s Right to Quiet Enjoyment

The right to quiet enjoyment is legally protected. For tenants, this means that they can peacefully enjoy their homes, bar entry from landlords, and that the landlord is responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the property. Entering the apartment without permission or not giving notice would breach this right.

Show Up Unexpectedly

Outside of an emergency or extenuating circumstance, you need to give tenants proper notice. If your state has a statute that describes a specific notice period that you must give to tenants before entering their homes, then you must always adhere to it.

Remember that a tenant may refuse entry to a landlord that has not given appropriate notification. Additionally, avoid requesting inspections outside of reasonable hours: typically, 9-5.

Ignore State and Local Law

Laws regarding apartment inspections vary in different states, so it’s imperative to be up-to-date with your knowledge of current inspection law. For example, Alabama requires a two-day notice. Connecticut requires reasonable notice. New York has no statue on a state level.

Give a Vague Notice

When you are letting your tenant know you’ll be coming by, stipulate a date and time. Don’t leave the “when” up in the air. Be sure to state your purpose for entering.

Are you coming by for a showing? Are you repairing something? Or is it a regular inspection? Fill your tenant in on the details for your upcoming visit.

Final Thoughts

As a landlord, you’re ultimately responsible for the upkeep and condition of your property, even when you’re renting it out. Though you’ve gone through the process of thoroughly screening all tenants, there’s always a chance that your tenants may not keep their apartment in top-notch condition. That’s where landlord inspections come in.

Whether your tenants don’t report a leak which ends up causing extensive damage or you simply want to perform a routine check-in, you have a legal right to inspect your property.

However, you must comply with the law when you do. Typically, this means giving proper notice and not entering a unit without permission from your current tenants, except in emergency circumstances.

Can landlords do random inspections? The answer is yes if you follow the above advice and adhere to local laws, your lease, and best practices.

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