One of the most important tasks of a property management company is scheduling and conducting regular property inspections. Most new, inexperienced rental property investors are unaware of the types and levels of damage just one tenant can inflict in a short period of time.

It’s important for property owners never to assume that as long as a tenant’s rent is paid on time and no complaints are filed that all is well with your investment. Your property management company should be well aware of your expectations, and fully knowledgeable regarding the necessity of regularly scheduled inspections to catch problems early before costly repairs become necessary. Routine inspections are also an effective way to deter bad tenant habits.

If you’re a property owner looking at prospective property management companies, below are some questions you should ask about how the PM company handles inspections on properties they’re currently managing:

Move-In Inspections

While inspections are typically performed upon tenant move-out in multifamily as well as single-family rental properties, the property manager should perform a detailed inspection that includes taking digital photos before a new tenant moves in. The new tenant should accompany the manager on the inspection and sign off on paperwork confirming the report of the property’s condition in each room as well as photos taken, which may be needed for evidence in court later on. This pre-move-in documentation is essential to resolving potential disputes later on over what damage took place during the tenant’s period of residency.

Frequency of Interior Inspections and Tenant Notifications

At a minimum, property managers should inspect each rental unit annually, although once every six months is preferable.  The property manager conducting the inspection should have a checklist that includes items related to appliances, A/C filters, furnace, water heater, locks, electrical, smoke detectors, and plumbing to look for any potential problems.

Do not use a management company that only performs inspections between vacancies. Tenancies can last for many years, which makes leaving inspections for in-between vacancies unacceptable.  Check your state laws to verify how much notice you’re required to give tenants prior to an inspection. Most states require 24-48 hours’ notice.

Frequency of Exterior Property Inspections

Exterior property inspections are commonly conducted monthly or quarterly. The more frequent, the better. It’s important for property owners to ask property managers if their exterior inspections are drive-by, during which the person conducting the inspection does not get out of their car. This method is acceptable, provided a full, on-foot exterior inspection is performed regularly as well.

How Often Are Inspection Reports Sent to the Property Owner?

As the property owner, you should decide how frequently you expect to see inspection reports. Before hiring a property management company, ask to see a sample copy of the inspection reports you can expect to receive to make sure they meet your standards.

Are Inspections Conducted When a Repair Request Has Been Made?

Any time a major repair request has been made it’s an excellent opportunity for the property manager to inspect specific areas of the property. Ideally, the property management company should conduct inspections upon entering a unit for a repair call. It’s best for the property manager to notify both the tenant and the property owner when they plan to conduct an inspection and to take photos of any additional issues that are discovered in the unit. This way, issues can be resolved and repairs completed before a newly-discovered problem gets worse.

How are Pest-Related Inspections Handled?

In the event of a pest control issue, the property management company should conduct an inspection of the area affected. Ask the property management company whether this is a service that they offer in the event of a serious infestation and, if so, what the potential cost would be. Pests infestations should never be left unattended as they can quickly spread and become a nuisance to multiple tenants. Additionally, depending on the state in which the property is located, they may also violate certain health codes. The property management company should be fully knowledgeable regarding your local and state health codes, including recent changes to the law, to ensure that your property is up to code in terms of pest control.

How are End of Lease Inspections Conducted?

End of lease inspections are among the most important routine inspections that property management companies perform. Property owners should receive a copy of each end of lease inspection as they’re conducted to compare to the move-in inspection report. The property manager conducting the end of lease inspection should take photos of any damage to the property and create a clear, itemized list of damages for which the tenant will be held responsible. Once this is completed, if the tenant is liable for any damage the amount to repair it should be deducted from their security deposit.

These inspection steps are essential to protecting the property owner, the property management company, and the tenant. The general rule of thumb is, the more specific each inspection report is, the better. Photos are invaluable for recording the original condition of a property and the property’s condition after a tenant’s residency ends. Having clear inspection lists is also essential since your tenant will be able to sign off on individual items, guaranteeing transparency. Be sure to look for a property management company that prioritizes clear and efficient inspection schedules and procedures, which will help improve your tenant retention rates.

Final note: Tenant marketing and retention are among the most valuable benefits that property management companies offer. You may be able to find more than one property management company that appears to be operationally perfect, but if their track record for attracting new tenants and retaining existing tenants is dicey, they will struggle to bring in rental revenues. Make sure to verify a property management company’s retention and vacancy history before choosing one for your investment property.