The ultimate guide to inspecting your property - Total Landlord Insurance

January 10, 2022
The ultimate guide to inspecting your property - Total Landlord Insurance

Read an interactive and user-friendly version of this guide below.

Let it and forget it, where you hand over the keys and watch the monthly rental income drop into your bank account for the next few months, or if you’re lucky, years, sounds like a great idea for a passive investment in theory.

But the reality is somewhat different. Prudent landlords safeguard their investments by having a regular tenancy inspection regime at the start of a tenancy, at periodic intervals during the tenancy and when a tenancy ends.

Regular inspections are also a requirement of most landlord insurance policies and buy to let mortgage agreements, so they make practical sense. With a new let you want to be assured that the tenants are looking after the property. So initially you need to keep a close eye on what’s going on. Later on as you develop trust and can see that everything is going smoothly and the property is being looked after, then you can relax your close monitoring a little.

A degree of sensitivity is needed when entering a tenant’s home to do inspections. Tenants can feel vulnerable, even threatened by having someone enter their home to inspect. Some may react aggressively, especially if openly criticised. That’s why it’s sometimes wise for landlords to use an independent third party to carry out inspections – an agent or an inventory clerk. Whether you choose to appoint a third party or carry out inspections yourself, it’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with what’s involved.

It’s also important to remember that if a landlord enters their rental property without permission they are putting themselves at risk of being accused of trespass and harassment – we’ll cover this in more detail shortly.

There’s a lot of information to take in here

  • Why should you do landlord inspections?
  • Landlord inspections – how often should you do them?
  • Inspecting by careful observation
  • Your relationship with your tenants
  • Cleaning services
  • What should you inspect? The inventory and checklists
  • What to look for during a property inspection both inside and outside the property
  • Tenants’ rights and accessing your rental property – can a landlord enter without permission in the UK?
  • What if the tenants refuse entry for a landlord inspection?
  • What are the statutory health and safety checks during a tenancy?
  • What are the landlords’ and tenants’ repairing responsibilities?
  • Dealing with issues that arise during the tenancy
  • Keeping records of inspections and communications with tenants

Why should you do landlord inspections?

By far the majority of residential tenants pay their rent on time and look after their rental property. But there’s a minority who don’t.

These tenants usually represent no more than around five per cent of renters, but that number is significant if you happen to get one of these tenants.

If you have ever had your rental abused by reckless tenants, you will know the distress it can cause when the situation is out of control because there’s no quick resolution – evicting bad tenants is a lengthy process.

You can protect yourself as much as possible by doing thorough due diligence through tenant referencing and carrying out tenant checks on all your prospective tenants, but it’s impossible to reduce the risk to zero.

That’s why you should do regular checks and inspections, especially with new tenants.

In the extreme, tenants have been known to carry out all sorts of activities that would horrify most landlords, from throwing wild parties, introducing pets without permission and subletting, through to operating a drug den, a prostitution racket or setting up a cannabis farm.

Landlord inspections - how often should you do them?

Regular landlord inspections are vital for making sure that your tenant is looking after the property and not breaching other terms of the tenancy agreement.

Most landlord insurance policies, including Hamilton Fraser Total Landlord Insurance, specify that an inspection should be carried out within a month of the tenant moving in and then every six months during tenancies. Weekly inspections are generally recommended when the property is vacant.

“Most landlord insurance policies, including ours, require tenants to inform their landlord if the property is going to be vacant for an extended period and you should make sure this is indicated in the tenancy agreement. We ask that, where the property is going to be vacant for between 30 and 90 days, you make sure that all security devices are kept in full and effective operation and arrange for weekly internal and external inspections to be carried out. We also ask that you keep written reports of these inspections, as well as rectifying any defects they reveal.” – Steve Barnes, Associate Director at Total Landlord Insurance

Inspecting by careful observation

With a new tenant, when you carry out your inspection within the first month, try to treat this as a personal visit to see how they are getting on.

This first inspection is an opportunity to make sure that they are aware of all the important things you went through with them when they moved in and which you ideally included in a welcome pack.

This will include things like where the fuses and stop taps are located and how to operate appliances and carry out smoke alarm checks.

You can use this visit as a way of developing communications and a good working relationship with your tenants, making sure they feel comfortable contacting you if they have a problem.

If the tenant does call you in for something, that’s a great opportunity to do a quick informal inspection without the tenant realising it is an inspection. If something’s gone wrong, say an electrical issue, you will likely have access to the whole property while you do your investigation and the tenant will be none the wiser.

Regular drive past observations are useful to catch a glimpse of what’s going on from the outside of the property. Another great way to monitor tenant behaviours is through neighbours.

It’s in the neighbours’ interests that your tenants are well behaved, so developing trusting relationships with them is a great way to monitor comings and goings.

Your relationship with your tenants

Some landlords like to develop close relationships with their tenants, even seeing them as friendships. But too much familiarity can create problems when it comes to having to issue warnings or when rent increases become due. It’s a good idea to retain some professional distance by keeping the landlord-tenant relationship on a purely business footing, but treating tenants in a friendly way and giving them the respect and care they are entitled to.

Make sure you tell your tenants that you will be doing regular landlord inspections at the start of the tenancy and that they will receive a landlord inspection notice. Give them plenty of notice in writing when an inspection is due so they have time to tidy up and make work arrangements if they want to be present. Try to be accommodating with the timing of visits.

It’s a common law principle implied in every tenancy that tenants are entitled to what’s termed “quiet enjoyment” which in practice means giving them the space to enjoy the property as their own and not interfering with their lives or in any way harassing them.

Tenant harassment is in fact a criminal offence under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977. Landlords need to be careful about getting into a situation where they could be accused of harassment.

Landlord-tenant relationships are often a finely balanced affair and it sometimes takes careful handling and good people skills to keep things running smoothly. That’s why some landlords prefer to bring in a neutral third party on inspections – a professional letting agent or inventory clerk – to keep the relationship independent and at arm’s length.

Cleaning services

Some landlords like to provide a regular cleaning service, absorbing the cost in the rent. This can be a great way to maintain the property in a good state internally, it keeps the tenants “on their toes” without appearing too intrusive and in most cases tenants love the service.

With a trusted cleaner or cleaning service company, landlords can be more relaxed about the need for regular inspections as the cleaner will be instructed to report any breakages, repair issues or abuse of the rental property.

What should you inspect? The inventory and checklists

There are perhaps three reasons for doing a landlord property inspection:

  1. To check on the general state of the property to make sure no damage is being done beyond acceptable wear and tear or when the property is vacant
  2. To make sure there are no safety hazards inside or outside of the property that could cause injury, for example a frayed stair carpet or a raised path flag
  3. To check that safety measures are in place and working, such as smoke and carbon monoxide alarms

Having a landlord inspection checklist and a good inventory record is a great way to provide evidence and to make sure that you don’t forget anything important when carrying out the inspection, particularly legal requirements which include:

  • Testing smoke and carbon monoxide alarms to make sure they are fit for purpose
  • Making sure all heating, water and electricity supplies are working properly
  • Making sure that all fire exit routes are accessible and clear of obstructions

As well as checking that the property is legally compliant, the inspection should include a general check against the stated condition in the inventory – a good inventory will contain time and date stamped photographs and detailed descriptions of the condition of floor coverings, furnishings and fittings – and a quick assessment of how the tenants are treating everything.

The inventory gives the benchmark against which your checks are to be carried out and this, along with your inspection records, would form the basis of any claim against the tenant’s protected deposit, should there be a need in future.

Landlords should bear in mind too that over time there will inevitably be some deterioration in the condition of some items such as floor coverings and general décor in particular, known as allowable ‘wear and tear’.

The longer the tenant is in residence the more leeway you need to allow in your assessment for general wear and tear and this will be taken into account if there is to be a claim against the tenant’s deposit at the end of the tenancy.

You can find out more about wear and tear in mydeposits guide, Fair wear and tear – what is it and how is it applied? which also includes a downloadable wear and tear checklist to help calculate reasonable costs when a tenant has moved out leaving damage or deterioration.

As well as the general state of the internals, perhaps a more important aspect of the inspection is the safety of the accommodation for the tenants.

Finally, checking the outside of the property and surroundings is a vital part of the inspection. As a landlord you are responsible for providing accommodation that meets legal requirements for health and safety both internally and externally. For example, checking for paths and driveways that could cause slips and trips.

Most insurance policies, including Total Landlord Insurance, also require landlords to check the roof of their rental property to make sure that it is in good working order with no loose tiles or damp dripping through.

What to look for during a property inspection both inside and outside the property

When you do your inspection, as well as observing the general state of cleaning and maintenance, you should be keeping a close eye out for anything that might cause a health and safety issue.

There’s lots that can go wrong both inside and outside a property that tenants might not bother to report. For example:

  • General cleaning – are the floor coverings, soft furnishings, curtains etc. generally being kept in a clean and safe condition without wear and tear in excess of what should be expected?
  • Is there any damage to furniture, appliances, kitchen units and worktops that is beyond allowable wear and tear?
  • Are the gas appliances in good working order with no evidence of gas leaks?
  • Are stairs, stair runners and rails in good condition?
  • Are there any signs of water leaks, dripping taps and blocked drains?
  • Are windows, frames, doors, window locks and door locks safe and secure?
  • Is the attic space accessible and well insulated with no excessive storage of heavy items?
  • Are there any signs of condensation, dampness and mould in the property?
  • Is there evidence of good rubbish management, recycling and no excessive piling up?
  • Are there any signs of insect / rodent infestations?
  • Is the electrical consumer unit with trip fuses in good order?
  • Are the stop taps for water and gas easily accessible and free to operate?
  • Are the smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in working order with new batteries if applicable?
  • Are the drives and paths free from slippery and uneven surfaces that could cause slips and trips?
  • Are the garden and any outbuildings such as the garage or shed in good order?
  • Are any tools provided accounted for and in safe condition?
  • Are the roof, gutters, downspouts, windows, doors and drains in good condition?

Tenants’ rights and accessing your rental property - can a landlord enter without permission in the UK?

It’s an irony that in English (and Welsh) tenancy laws, on the one hand landlords are under a statutory duty to maintain a residential rental property in a safe condition with services in working order, but on the other hand they have no automatic right of access.

Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 gives landlords a right of access to carry out these obligations, as does the 1988 Housing Act, yet the centuries old common law covenant of “quiet enjoyment” and the principle of “exclusive possession” give tenants the right to exclude everyone, including the landlord. These principles are implied in any tenancy, regardless of whether they are written into the agreement.

The Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 says that in addition to access for repairs, the landlord also has a right to view the condition of a property. The landlord, or someone acting as their agent, can gain access to the property at a “reasonable time of the day” but only after giving the tenant a minimum of 24 hours’ notice in writing.

Most residential tenancy agreements will have written into them the (contractual) landlord’s right of access for four specific reasons: (1) for regular inspections, (2) for repairs and maintenance, (3) for statutory checks (gas and electric) and (4) for viewings towards the end of the tenancy.

Although the Act states that tenants are entitled to at least 24 hours’ notice in writing, clearly this would be unreasonably short notice and it’s best to give at least a week’s notice. To maximise transparency it is also preferable that tenants are present for inspections – you don’t want to be accused of taking things, moving or breaking anything or soiling carpets, and in any case an inspection is an opportunity for your tenants to communicate any issues to you in person.

Agreeing times which are convenient for your tenants, for example outside normal working hours (although obviously this would not be possible for repair work), is a good idea. Remember to always document everything in writing: appointment times, the results of the inspection and any follow-up work needed.

What if the tenants refuse entry for a landlord inspection?

Whilst the majority of tenants are reasonable and will allow access for any of these reasons, in compliance with their tenancy agreement, in some situations landlords will experience difficulties gaining access, even for critical safety issues such as the statutory gas checks and electrical checks.

Generally, around two-thirds of tenants are happy with landlord inspections and will cooperate fully. Of the remaining third, some will only allow visits while they are present, while others may refuse outright. Remember, any landlord who enters a property without permission is putting themselves at risk of legal action by the tenant.

Landlords who find themselves in this situation have the option of applying to the courts for an injunction – a court order forcing access. But the cost, delay and uncertainty of success going down this route is often a major barrier, and in any case this sort of tenant would likely deny access every time it is needed. So most landlords would rather apply for a possession order and have done with it.

Given that a landlord could be open to prosecution when denied access for essential repairs and critical safety checks, the local authority should be made aware of the situation. Since this is the authority that would ultimately prosecute the landlord for a criminal offence, it’s important that the issue is recorded formally so that the local authority can see that the landlord or agent is doing everything possible to comply with the law.

Emergencies – in a genuine emergency, a landlord can legitimately and legally gain immediate access to a rental property. Emergency access should obviously be used on very rare occasions involving, for example, fire, flood, a smell of gas or dangerous structural damage.

Entering without permission – a landlord entering a property without permission under any other circumstances, and without a court order, is leaving themselves open to an accusation of the offence of trespass and harassment.

Changing the locks – the tenant’s right of quiet enjoyment means that they can legally change the locks and there’s not a great deal anyone can do about it. The tenant is otherwise under no obligation to give a set of keys to the landlord, unless it is specifically stated in the tenancy agreement.

Landlord having keys – often it is in the tenant’s interests for the landlord to have a key for emergencies. For example, if tenants lock themselves out, if they agree to inspections without the landlord or agent being present and for repairs and safety checks.

Harassment – if you try to use force or other means of coercion to gain access to your rental property, or you visit too frequently, perhaps at unsocial hours, you could be accused of harassment.

Under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 landlords must not do anything which could be deemed harassment, which is a serious criminal offence.

What are the statutory health and safety checks during a tenancy?

In a rental property health and safety issues are monitored by the local authority using the housing health and safety rating system (HHSRS). This is a risk-based evaluation tool to help local authorities identify and protect against potential risks and hazards to health and safety from any deficiencies identified in dwellings. Landlords should be aware of this when carrying out an inspection to help them identify any unacceptable safety hazards and make sure they know how to rent a safe home.

HHSRS identifies 29 safety hazards that could cause harm, from damp, mould growth and excess cold to structural collapse and falling elements.

Gas and electrical checks – properties where there is a gas supply and gas appliances must have annual gas service and gas safety checks carried out by a qualified Gas Safe registered heating engineer. It is also now a requirement in England and Wales to have five yearly electrical checks – a landlord electrical inspection – carried out by a “qualified and competent person” to ensure that the system complies with The Electrical Safety Standards in the Private Rented Sector (England) Regulations 2020.

Flues, chimneys and solid fuel appliances – should be inspected and cleaned regularly and a smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) alarm provided.

What are the landlords’ and tenants’ repairing responsibilities?

One of the attractions of renting for tenants is the freedom from repairs and unexpected bills, so landlords should not be resentful about doing repairs when necessary, and after all, regular maintenance preserves the value of your investment.

As a landlord you are responsible for most repairs in the property. This includes health and safety issues and repairs to, for example, electrical wiring, gas pipes, boilers, heating and hot water, chimneys and ventilation, sinks, baths, toilets, pipes and drains and any common areas including entrance halls and stairways. Also, the structure and exterior of the building including walls, stairs and bannisters, roof, external doors and windows, paths, driveways and any outbuildings.

Painting and decorating outside is also the landlord’s responsibility. As are any appliances supplied such as fridges and washing machines.

Legislation now sets time limits on how long a tenant should wait for repairs to be completed. Landlords must respond to requests and fix major problems within two weeks if they pose a threat to a tenant’s health and security, for example a broken boiler in the depths of winter. If a landlord fails to do this then the tenant can report the matter to their local authority, to start enforcement action.

Tenants also have obligations for keeping the property safe and in a good state of repair by reporting any items in need of attention in a timely manner. They are responsible for looking after the home by using it in a “tenant like” way, providing access for repair work to be done, and they have a duty of care to their visitors.

“Tenant like” is an implied term in any residential tenancy and generally means the tenant does minor repairs themselves, such as changing fuses and light bulbs, as well as keeping the home reasonably clean, not causing damage to the property and not blocking drains.

The tenancy agreement may also set out some specific information detailing the tenant’s responsibilities for repairs, for example, some landlords may specify in the tenancy agreement that the tenant is responsible for internal decorations.

However, it is not possible for landlords to avoid any of their statutory repairing or health and safety obligations by having terms in the agreement that would pass them on to their tenant.

Dealing with issues that arise during the tenancy

Where there are obvious signs that the tenant is falling down on standards of care, the tenant should be informed both verbally and in writing without delay.

This might be general neglect causing excessive damage or deterioration to the property or to the fittings, furnishings and appliances beyond what would be deemed normal wear and tear.

The same goes for care and neglect of gardens, outside buildings, tools supplied etc. – all obligations on the tenant which are normally covered by clauses in the tenancy agreement.

The tenant should be reminded that neglect of these responsibilities could lead to a claim against the tenancy deposit, or even in excess of the deposit, should there still be an issue when the final check-out inspection is made.

In extreme cases the landlord could request to reinstate damage mid-term and apply for an interim claim against the deposit.

Where issues with maintenance and repairs are identified, these should be documented and tackled at the earliest opportunity with access times and durations for tradespeople negotiated with the tenant.

Keeping records of inspections and communication with tenants

As well as the usual landlord’s accounting records, all landlords should keep a diary of contacts with their tenants, keeping track of what has been said and arranged at various stages throughout the tenancy.

This can be through notes, emails, letters and inspection reports – communications through all channels provides excellent evidence should there be any disputes in the future.

During a residential tenancy, regular landlord inspections should help you:

  1. Make sure that tenants are looking after your property
  2. Make sure repair issues are picked up early before they can escalate into something more serious
  3. Be sure you are complying with health and safety regulations by identifying and dealing with any safety hazards

If you carry out regular landlord inspections and diligently follow the guidance given in this guide, not only will you be protecting your property asset and keeping your tenants safe, you will also have the peace of mind that you are operating on the right side of the law.

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