The landlord's essential guide to periodic property inspections
Suzy Hershman of NRLA partners my deposits shares the landlord's essential guide to property inspections.
Being a landlord can be an extremely rewarding job but it can also be a challenging one. There are many tasks that need doing and legal responsibilities to keep up to date with as well as being mindful of the duty of care you owe to your tenant.
Once the tenant has moved into your property, the best way to make them aware of their responsibilities and make sure they are following the rules set out in the tenancy agreement, is to set up regular property inspections.
NRLA deposit protection provider, mydeposits has created this guide to help landlords understand the importance of scheduled periodic inspections, explain how to stay within the law by meeting the statutory requirements and cover what should be checked during inspections.
The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 rightly states that landlords have a duty of care when it comes to meeting their existing responsibilities with regards to property standards and safety, and that their property is fit for human habitation at the beginning of the tenancy and throughout. There are certain things that landlords need to be mindful of in relation to the Act and other things that need careful inspection to save time and money later on.
This guide will cover:
- Why you should carry out regular inspections
- How often to inspect
- Your statutory and non-statutory legal responsibilities
- Which parts of the property need inspecting
- How to document the inspection
Why regular property inspections are vital
The primary purpose of an inspection is to assess the overall condition of both the interior and exterior of the property and record any repairs or maintenance that may be required. It’s also a way of maintaining a good relationship with the tenant and an opportunity to remind them of their responsibilities. They in turn can ask questions or can bring up any issues they might be experiencing with the property.
During the lockdowns and restrictions due to COVID-19, landlords and agents were unable to enter their rented properties, either at all or not as regularly as before. Where inspections did take place, they were often – by necessity - briefer than normal or virtual, covering just the basic requirements.
With most restrictions now lifted, access to the property is easier again, and it’s important to carry out regular checks as they will highlight any necessary maintenance and safety issues which can then be dealt with as soon as possible. Keeping your tenant safe, as well as avoiding unnecessary costs and complaints from them, is key but you won’t want to carry out these checks too often or unnecessarily, as it could put a strain on the relationship.
The industry generally considers carrying out periodic inspections at three, four or six monthly intervals, allowing for the changes in seasons and weather conditions which can sometimes cause or reveal issues.
Carrying out a periodic inspection will allow you to:
- thoroughly check and record the state of the property
- attend to any necessary maintenance or repairs
- make sure the tenant is looking after the property and offer any necessary advice
How often should inspections take place?
As well as the inspection at the beginning and end of the tenancy (check-in and check-out), regular checks throughout the year are useful for all tenants, new and old. Some landlords carry out the first inspection after one month, to satisfy themselves that all is well and this also helps build on the landlord, tenant relationship. Following that the frequency of the inspections should be no less than every three months, to avoid harassment. Make sure to check the terms of your landlord insurance before deciding on the frequency of your visits as not doing them regularly enough might invalidate any future claim you make.
It’s worth letting the tenant know, at the start, that you intend carrying out periodic inspections and how often. Some tenancy agreements even include a clause saying that periodic inspections will be carried out during the tenancy. This helps to manage everyone’s expectations. You could even agree on an inspection schedule with the tenant at the start of the tenancy. This lets the tenant know you are looking after their interests, as well as your own, and it won’t be a surprise when they happen.
It is a good idea to put any agreed or potential inspection dates into your calendar (digital or paper) as well as the renewal dates for any required certificates or licences.
Tip: Contact the tenant a couple of weeks after they have moved in to ask them how things are going. Experience shows that after that short amount of time they will have used most of the appliances and become aware of a few things in the property, which are not fully functional, but they decided not to bother you with. As well as helping them, it can also raise potential maintenance issues before they become bigger problems that you are unaware of. Really good examples are a dripping tap or a window that won’t open. Remember that a person’s experience of living in a property is quite a different one to that of those renting it out.
Giving notice of an inspection
If you haven’t agreed your periodic inspections in advance or feel the need to do a one-off inspection, then you need to give the tenant sufficient notice.
The 1988 Housing Act gives a tenant the right to live, undisturbed, in a property for an agreed amount of time and for an agreed amount of rent. It also allows landlords to enter the premises to view its ‘condition and state of repair’. What it does not do is permit landlords to simply turn up at the property unannounced and demand entry. A landlord must give the tenant at least 24 hours’ notice of an unscheduled inspection - ideally in writing - and it should only take place at a ‘reasonable time of the day’. Best practice is to give more than 24 hours where possible, even up to a week, which allows the tenant time to agree and get the property ready for inspection. If the tenant wants to be present, this time also means they can reorganise any other commitments, such as work.
Entering the property in an emergency
While we hope it isn’t the case, in reality emergencies do happen. In these circumstances you can enter the property without giving notice or getting the tenant’s consent. These include where:
- there’s a fire or a smell of gas
- immediate remedial work is required to maintain the tenant’s safety or protect the structure of the property
- you suspect dangerous or criminal activity is going on.
Your common sense should dictate if you think something is an ‘emergency situation’.
Can my tenant refuse access to my property?
Assuming you have nothing written into the tenancy agreement, there’s no emergency, and you have no grounds to suspect illegal activity in the property, your tenant CAN legally refuse you access.
It may be that the date you’ve suggested isn’t convenient for them in which case a new date can be arranged. Alternatively, the tenant may claim illness, mental health issues or a viral pandemic as a reason for refusing access. If this is the case show willing and be as flexible as possible to accommodate them.
While it’s always best to try and maintain a positive relationship with your tenant throughout their tenancy, if you think the tenant has something to hide, ask more questions. Experience and instinct are both good indicators of something ‘feeling off’. Where necessary you can be more insistent, explaining your legal responsibility to them and the minimum 24 hours’ notice required, which should persuade them to allow access.
The ‘key’ to good tenant relations
Except in an emergency, as a landlord you have no right to enter the property without the tenant’s consent unless you are carrying out tasks agreed in the tenancy agreement such as gardening or cleaning. Entering the property without permission is illegal and doing so frequently can be seen as harassment.
A quick internet search shows situations where tenants have felt compelled to change the locks for their own safety, leaving the landlord no way of accessing the property. This is both illegal and can be a huge headache for landlords but is a grey area in law. Our advice is to never enter the property without prior consent from the tenant unless it’s completely necessary.
What you should look out for during the inspection
Once you have agreed a time and date, the inspection can go ahead.
As a landlord, it’s your duty to make sure your property is legally compliant and a safe place for your tenants to live. You or the agent will be looking to see if anything needs repairing or replacing, during the inspection, and whether there is anything that might represent a danger to the tenant. It’s also an opportunity to check that the tenant isn’t doing anything that is in breach of the tenancy agreement. Inspections are also a perfect opportunity to check in with your tenants, make sure they are happy and to discuss and resolve any potential issues they might have.
Though there will be some crossover, the inspection can be split into three distinct sections:
- Statutory inspection checks
- Property condition
- Tenancy breaches
Statutory inspection checks
There are three key health and safety areas where landlords must carry out statutory annual checks to fulfil their legal obligation and meet their duty of care to the tenant. These checks do save lives and they are the landlord’s responsibility not the agent’s:
- Give the tenant a copy of the gas safety certificate before they move in
- Have every gas appliance, boiler and flue checked by a Gas Safe registered engineer on an annual basis
- Give a copy of the gas safety certificate to your tenant within 28 days of the annual check being carried out
- Install and test a smoke alarm on each floor of the property as a minimum. Replace batteries when needed
- Supply and test a carbon monoxide alarm in each room that has a solid fuel burner or stove. Replace batteries if needed
- If the property is an HMO install fire alarms, fire extinguishers (tested) and fire blankets
- Make sure that escape routes are freely accessible and that the tenant knows where they are
- If there are fire doors make sure they have clear access and can be opened
- Check that all supplied furniture and furnishings are ‘fire safe’ products
- Have a registered electrician carry out a professional check every five years to get an Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR) or sooner if the most recent report recommends it
- Make the EICR available to every tenant before they move in and each time the tenancy changes hands
- Protect against potential electric shocks by checking the property has an adequate residual current device (RCD) installed
While it is not law, it is good practice for:
- all movable electrical items supplied to have an annual portable appliance test (PAT). Any items that aren’t in good condition or not fit for purpose should be replaced
- a registered electrician to carry out a visual inspection of the electrical system between tenancies, including checking all sockets and light fittings
Most tenants respect where they are living and will take good care of your property, but you may have a tenant who is less considerate for any number of reasons. They may well try to hide what’s going on, so look carefully during every inspection and take action to deal with anything you find, making sure you keep a written record of all communication.
Pre-arranging periodic inspections with the tenant at the start of the tenancy is a great way to reduce the potential risks of any illegal activity (although background checks before the tenancy starts will obviously help too!).
Sometimes the signs can be obvious. Examples include drug use (which can be easy to spot through smell and the paraphernalia used) and, assuming you are allowed access into the property, cannabis farms are even more noticeable, as they usually involve significant damage and closed off rooms.
Tenants who sub-let
Your tenant might look to sub-let your property without your knowledge or permission. This may be because they are splitting the cost of the rent or making a profit from their sub-tenant. Sub-letting can lead to overcrowding which has legal implications, for example, if it becomes an HMO. Be alert to any signs that the property might be being sub-let:
- Are there too many beds for the number of tenants? If you rent to a single person does it look like a family are living there?
- Are tenants claiming the people staying there are just guests?
- Are there any signs that additional areas, such as sheds and outhouses, are being used (often referred to by the press as ‘beds in sheds’)?
Most tenancy agreements ban smoking as it can result in costly repairs which are time consuming. Smoking is not illegal and clauses in tenancy agreements won’t put all tenants off. If you are a non-smoker the smell of cigarettes is easy to detect, as it lingers and any attempts to disguise it or cover it with other strong smells is difficult. Even harder to hide are the nicotine stains on decoration and furnishings – or worse, burns. If you see signs of smoking, tell the tenant and remind them that they are ultimately responsible for returning the property in the same condition and standard of cleanliness as at the start of the tenancy. If they don’t, they will have to pay costs to make good.
Pets (See the case study below)
The government have updated their model tenancy agreement making it easier for landlords and tenants to include well-behaved pets in their tenancy. However, many landlords still object to having a pet and this is at their discretion, provided permission is not unreasonably withheld. Even if baskets, food bowls and leads etc are removed pet hair, scratched doors and furnishings, carpet damage, dug up grass and even the smell can be indicators that pets are living in the property. If there is evidence of a pet at the property you should discuss this with your tenant. In a block of flats, you will need to check if the headlease also bans pets in the property. Where this is the case, you will have to make it very clear to the tenant as it may be grounds for eviction.
Example case study – pet in the property
Deposit amount: £995 Amount disputed: £500
- The landlord claimed for cleaning and damage caused by a dog living in the property without permission
The tenant said:
- they accepted the dog was there when the agent visited the property
- the dog was only a temporary visitor, being looked after for a sick relative
- the carpet was not in good condition when they moved in
- the property was cleaned before they left, and no dog smells were left
The agent responded, saying:
- at the mid-term inspection numerous items were seen around the property which suggested a dog was living there
- the agent asked the tenant if they wanted permission from the landlord to allow an animal to live in the property permanently, but the tenant said they were only looking after the dog temporarily for their sick relative
- when a contractor visited the property 10 weeks later, they mentioned that the dog had been a real nuisance and the flat was in a mess
- another property visit was booked, and all connected items to the dog had been removed, although the carpet and other areas were in poor condition
- it was only on check-out that the inventory clerk found remnants of dog hair, the dog bowl, pet smells throughout and stains on the carpets
The landlord’s claims are for compensation towards replacing the carpet and for cleaning so that the property will be back to the same standard as recorded in the check-in report.
What evidence was provided?
- Tenancy agreement, check-in and check-out reports with photographs, mid-term inspection reports, quotes, invoices
What was decided and why?
- The mid-term inspection recorded signs of a pet, with the tenant’s comment that they were dog sitting for a sick relative
- The check-out report recorded stains on all carpets and pet hairs, as well as a smell
- The contractor who carried out work during the tenancy had emailed the agent with the invoice, and included a comment about the dog
- One of the invoices was for carpet cleaning, where an unsuccessful attempt was made to get rid of the stains and smell. The invoice included a report from the contractor that the likely cause was dog urine
- The adjudicator decided that the evidence was persuasive and the tenant was responsible for causing the damage and for costs towards both cleaning and replacement of the carpet
- The combined total of the costs for cleaning and replacement were £562. The adjudicator found it reasonable to award 75 per cent to the landlord taking into account reasonable wear and tear
- In relation to the cleaning, a comparison of the check-in and check-out reports satisfied the adjudicator that the property required cleaning throughout and that should include any additional cost to cover removing the pet smell
The landlord was claiming the cost of a full professional deep clean. However, as the property was not cleaned to a professional standard when the tenant moved in a small deduction (25 per cent) was made from the amount claimed, and an appropriate award made.
- Mid-term inspections are a great way of making sure the property is being looked after and recording anything out of the ordinary which can, if necessary, be followed up
- A contractor working in the property may see things that are not detailed in the mid-term inspection and may be able to confirm any suspicions, such as a pet in the property without permission
Recording the property’s condition
A property visit is typically an overview inspection of all areas. As the property is still occupied, it cannot be as thorough as a check-in or check-out inspection. What you need to produce is a report which records:
- any obvious signs of property damage
- any changes in the condition of each item on your checklist compared to the previous inspection
- damage that the tenant should have reported as they may be responsible for some of the costs to remedy the problem if it has got worse
- photographs of any obvious deterioration
You can then arrange for any work needed to be carried out. Bear in mind that rental properties tend to suffer from higher levels of wear and tear – which is not the tenant’s responsibility.
Damp and mould
Condensation is the most common form of damp in rented properties and occurs when excess moisture in the air comes into contact with a cold surface, such as a window. It can lead to mould growth and tends to be worse in winter.
Flaking paint, mould spores, dark patches and an unpleasant musty smell may indicate a problem. Damp is less common in modern homes than it is in older properties.
Mould is not just unsightly but can represent a serious health hazard, so check bathrooms and external walls for mould and mildew. It can be caused by the tenant not using ventilation or heating properly – again discuss this with the tenant and find solutions.
Penetrating damp is caused by water coming through external walls because of leaking gutters or pipes, old or bad pointing, blocked drains or through the roof. It can also happen when there is an internal leak or plumbing problem. It will need to be dealt with before it becomes a larger problem.
Check all taps and plumbing for leaks and drips and fix these before they develop into serious issues. Burst pipes for instance can cause huge amounts of water to flood into the property very quickly.
Check gutters for signs of wear and tear as blockages can cause leaks and water damage. Gutters should ideally be cleaned out at least once a year.
It’s good practice to carry out a visual inspection of the roof to look for broken or missing tiles and roof damage as well as any attic space that’s reasonably accessible.
From bed bugs and fleas, to cockroaches and moths, infestations can be distressing, inconvenient and difficult to eradicate without the proper approach.
Depending on the pest, both property and health can be at risk, so it’s almost always best to employ a pest control expert, not least with wasps and bees!
Ask the tenant to tell you about any possible infestation as soon as they notice it.
Blocked drains not only smell but can also cause damp issues when water is allowed to pool outside. Tenants should report problems as soon as they notice them, and not wait for a periodic inspection. Although drains are the landlord’s statutory responsibility, tenants will be responsible for blockages they have caused. If a drain is blocked, have it cleared and find out what’s causing the blockage. Most drain blockages are caused by fat, grease, hair and objects such as wet wipes and sanitary products. Where the tenant is responsible for these, talk to the tenant about their habits and discuss preventative measures.
Most tenants will keep the property clean. While a landlord cannot tell a tenant how to live in the property, where you believe the standard of cleanliness is unreasonable, you can suggest how it could be improved. If the lack of cleanliness is causing damage to the property, you will need to address it promptly. An example of this is staining on sanitaryware in the bathroom.
Inspections and a landlord’s duty of care
As well as protecting your investment through regular inspections, you owe a duty of care to your tenant to make sure, as far as reasonably possible, that a property is safe at all times. The importance of a thorough inspection was highlighted in the following decision:
Rogerson v Bolsover District Council (Court of Appeal 2019)
The tenant, Mrs Rogerson, suffered serious injury when a corroded inspection cover in her garden collapsed when she stood on it while mowing the lawn, resulting in her partly falling into the sewage drain. She sued her landlord for personal injury, loss of earnings and damages.
The question for the courts to decide was, could a landlord be held liable in such circumstances, not least as the ownership and liability for repair of the drain cover was with the water company?
Even though the landlord had carried out an inspection prior to the letting, and again a few months before the accident, the court said that the landlord had failed to take reasonable care as the defect could easily have been discovered and that their duty of care to inspect a property included garden areas.
The Court of Appeal found that responsibility did rest with the landlord and the tenant’s damages claim was allowed.
Periodic inspections are really important to help maintain the property and the relationship with your tenant. Good communication throughout the tenancy can even highlight issues before an inspection is scheduled and make them easier to resolve.
It’s always good to talk - you may find your tenant more likely to consider renewing the tenancy at the end of the fixed term if things have gone well.
NRLA members get a 30 per cent discount on the deposit protection fee when they protect a deposit with the mydeposits insurance-based scheme in England and Wales.