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City Inspections

City Inspections of Rental Property

Dealing with city inspectors can sometimes be a very difficult experience. They can visit your rental property, and give you a laundry list of repairs to make, or a summons for something you may have not even done. City inspectors constantly give out violations for garbage left out on a non-collection day, or for improper maintenace of a lawn. Many stories can be told about dealings with city inspections that would make some owners not even want to own a rental.

So what can you do about it? Well the easy answer is to not allow the violations to occur. Keeping on top of your tenants and maintaining your property will avoid setting off flags that inspectors must investigate.

Here are some other suggestions to help you avoid city inspectors:

Don't get off to a bad start

City Inspectors are there for your benefit. They help to make sure that all properties are kept up to a standard, maintaining good living conditions and safety. If you keep your property in impeccable condition, and your neighbor's property is in shambles, you may want to call the city yourself to get them to fix it up. Let's face it; their dilapidated property is bringing down the value of your property. As a rental property owner, your objective is to maximize your total profit, including the appreciation value. If an inspector should stop by your place, work with him to understand his concerns and make all necessary repairs in a timely fashion. Don't give him a reason to look for other problems by getting off to a bad start.

Don't give them a reason to inspect your property

City inspectors often complete random inspections of rental properties to make sure they are up to code. But sometimes if they suspect there may be violations; your property can be inspected at any time. By maintaining a neat and clean exterior of your property, it will be less likely to prompt inquiries from the city. Make sure garbage is stored properly. Pick up any debris, bottles and cans that make your place look unkempt. Make sure the outside porches are neat and don't contain any inappropriate furniture such as a couch or refrigerator. Keep the exterior freshly painted and inconspicuous. Look at the other houses on your street and see if you property measures up to them.

Be good to your neighbors

Neighbors who live nearby your rental property may have a good reason to complain. They may not know you and if your tenants are misbehaving, it may prompt a call to the city. Perhaps the tenants failed to remove the garbage, or caused some damage at a party. These are calls that you don't want to get, but would be better off coming from a neighbor. Get to know your neighbors and let them know how to get in touch with you if needed. Try your best to meet any requests they have for your property to show that you are sincere about keeping your place in good order. You don't have to be best friends with them, but giving them the satisfaction that you are responsive to their concerns should help avoid calls to city inspectors.

Inspect your rental often

One of the simplest ways of avoiding a city inspection is to inspect your property often and make repairs before the inspector sees your property. As a side benefit, if your tenants see you making these inspections, they are likely to keep the place up better to avoid your giving them a hard time. A simple drive by once a week will alert you right away if there are problems on the outside, such as garbage, overgrown bushes/grass, or items on the porch that don't belong there. A more formal inspection of the inside can be held every month or two. Make sure you let your tenants know before hand to give them a chance to clean up. Also, you can make an informal inspection when you go to make repairs. Make sure your tenants know you are coming over to make the repairs and ask if you can look around to make sure everything is ok.

Make sure tenants are aware of violations from the city

If your tenants are new to the area, they are not likely to know all of the rules the city has for maintaining a property. If you expect your tenants to be responsible for some of this work such as taking out the garbage, then you must let them know the penalties if they do it wrong, or not at all. When you go over your lease with your tenants, let them know what the city rules are and the penalty if they are not obeyed. Also discuss any fine you may impose if you have to go out of your way such as to court, or to make repairs on damage they caused. Of course it is best to help your tenants meet the rules by staying on top of them in order to avoid violations with the city altogether.

Meet with the inspectors and discuss your issues

When you do get a summons from the city to make repairs, make sure you fully understand what is wrong, and what is expected of you. If you need to, call the inspector to clarify the violations. Then try to convince him how you will keep the property maintained going forward. If the inspector knows you, and knows that you try to keep your property maintained, you are less likely to be hassled about every little problem going forward. If you only do the bare minimum to keep your property maintained, the city will likely continuously inspect it in order to keep it up to standard.

Make your tenants pay for violations that are their fault

It is not practical to expect that you will be able to look after your rental property 24 hours a day. At some point, your tenants can cause some damage or violate a city ordinance without your knowing about it and you will end up paying for repairs and possibly city fines. When this happens, you want to make sure you submit that bill to your tenants to pay. But if you want to collect the money, don't just shove it in their face and think they will give you cash right there. Especially if you have multiple tenants and they have to collect the money or if one person is responsible for all of the damage or violation. Try to give them hints along the way that if there is cost associated for something they did, they may have to pay. Let them know when they sign the lease of their financial responsibilities for damage or violations. Agree to split any costs that may not be entirely the tenant's fault. If you see your tenants breaking city rules, let them know immediately of what they did wrong and that if the city fines you, the tenant will have to pay. It is best to reiterate these rules often and catch them before the city inspectors do. Remember, you want to try to keep your tenants around as long as possible so setting them straight early on will help avoid a lot of aggravation for everyone.

Make repairs timely

Inspections by the city are inevitable. When they go through your property, they are going to find repairs that need to be made and probably provide you with a list describing each item. Sometimes the description is vague and you may need to clarify it. If you get a notice from the city to make repairs, start working on them right away. While you will likely get a timeframe when all of the repairs are expected to be completed, it is important that you show progress is being made if they come back for another reason. In some cases, you may not be able to complete the repair within the time frame given. For example, you may be asked to scrape and paint an outside porch during the winter. When this happens, call the inspector and come to an agreement on a more reasonable time to complete the repair. The idea is to show the inspectors that you are a responsible landlord and give them less reason to come back to your house next time.

Here are some of the most common violations:

  • Did not shovel snow after snow storm
  • Scrape and paint house
  • Broken railings, doors & windows
  • Garbage not removed
  • Grass and shrubs must be trimmed
  • Recycling at curb on non collection day
  • Smoke alarms not working/ insufficient
  • Windows painted shut or not able to be opened
  • Exposed electrical wires
  • Insufficient space for number of tenants
  • Tenants living in attic or basement without approvals

For more advice, be sure to visit our Landlord Resources Page.