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A Real Estate Investor’s Guide to Rental Property Inspections

two people shaking hands after Signing rental agreement contract
Rental property inspections are a regular process of upkeep and management. Learn what’s needed (and how to outsource it) with our guide!

Maintaining and improving investment property is the name of the game for the nearly 10.6 million investor landlords out there. Following real estate investor tips goes far beyond just finding and buying that property, though.

Managing a rental property requires an understanding of landlord laws, tenant recruitment, and property maintenance. One facet of that is rental property inspections, which play a key role in ensuring your investment keeps its value over the years.

Here’s a rundown of the kinds of inspections you need to conduct as well as when and how to do them correctly.

Types of Rental Property Inspections

For anyone with a property to rent, inspection is an important part of the business. There are four basic types of inspections you need to have on your schedule. Each gives you a different view of the property and any repair or maintenance needs.


This is done at the time a new tenant takes residence. It’s a good idea to do it with the tenant, so you can discuss any general maintenance questions they have. This also lets the tenant inform you of anything they see that should be repaired before they actually move in.

A move-in inspection provides you with a baseline comparison to use for when the tenant moves out. Not only is a checklist a good idea to ensure you cover everything, but it’s required in Washington if you’re receiving a security deposit.

Use photos and/or video to go along with the checklist. Such documentation can prevent disagreements about the move-in condition of the property when you later inspect upon move-out.

Move Out

When your tenant moves out and before you return the security deposit, you should do a move-out inspection. Again, it’s a good idea to invite the tenant to walk through with you.

This inspection is for comparing the current condition against that at move-in. You’ll want to assess what is damage as opposed to normal wear and tear.

Using a move-out checklist will ensure you look at everything you’ll want to cover. In Washington, a checklist signed by the landlord and tenant is required.


There are times you might want to just swing by to take a look at the exterior of the property. These cursory inspections give you a chance to ensure the yard is being taken care of, and there are no city code violations. You might also be able to check for unauthorized pets.

This type of inspection doesn’t require any advance notice, but you don’t want to be doing it so often that you become a nuisance.


This type of landlord inspection is done during the time a tenant is occupying the property. You’re there to ensure everything is in proper working order and point out any issues that should be addressed by the tenant.

You do need to provide proper advance notice to enter the home. In Washington, that means 48 hours written notice.

Why Do Inspections

If you’ve bought this property as a long-term investment, keeping an eye on it just makes good business sense. You’ll also be able to watch for issues that can impact your tenants’ health and safety.

Routine property inspection allows you to deal proactively with issues. These could be those that impact the property’s value or any that relate to your responsibilities as a landlord.

The goal is to catch small issues before they become big ones. For example, this could mean fixing a dripping faucet that can lead to a big water bill or a small hole in a window screen that can allow pests into the house.

Regular inspection also sets a good example for your tenant. It shows you care about the property and expect them to do the same.

Inspection Schedule

How often you inspect a property depends on how close you live or how much you trust your tenants. Long-distance landlords can expect property inspection services to be a part of their package with a management company.

Whatever your schedule, make sure it is set and in the rental contract. It could be every quarter, six months, or even once a year. The schedule should be one that works for you, and frequency might depend on the property’s age and condition.

Your schedule needs to provide a balance between tenant privacy and keeping an eye on your property. More frequently than once a quarter can start to feel intrusive.

Conducting the Inspection

An inspection provides a good opportunity for tenant relations. You want to keep them happy to reduce turnover and head off disputes over damage or responsibilities.

Step one for any inspection is to follow the law regarding when you can enter the property to do an inspection. Washington law requires you to give tenants two days’ written notice. The notice should include the purpose, date and time, and contact information if the tenant needs to reschedule.

If possible, it’s a good idea to encourage your renter to be home. Walking through with them allows you to gently give notice of problems they are supposed to deal with and explain why you’re doing the inspection. Make sure you have them sign documentation that you did the inspection and follow-up with written communication if there are issues to be addressed.

A checklist ensures you’re covering everything you should. At a minimum, consider adding the following areas to your list.

  • Flooring and walls
  • Signs of water damage or leaks
  • Smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors
  • Air filters
  • Unauthorized pets and/or pet damage
  • Smoking
  • Pests
  • General state of the property

While photos are good for documenting, take care not to photograph personal items in the home. This includes people, pets, pictures, and valuable items like laptops and TVs.

Managing Your Rental Property

Regular rental property inspections provide several benefits. They can help you maintain the value of your property and cover certain aspects of your legal liability. They can also serve as a cornerstone toward keeping a healthy landlord-tenant relationship.

Most landlords own more than one property, which can make management tasks like inspections a bit of a chore. If you’re interested in having someone else deal with details, contact us to talk about our property management services in south Snohomish County and most of King County.