Rental property owners and managers are responsible for providing safe and healthy conditions for their tenants. Rental property safety includes keeping tenants safe from physical harm from insecure or damaged structures, reducing the threat of criminal intruders that could harm or threaten your tenants, and providing a property that does not negatively affect a tenant’s health.
Landlords and property managers can provide safe conditions for their renters by performing a few basic safety and maintenance procedures before and after a lease term. Safety checks will help you address risk issues before they cause additional property damage or hurt a tenant.
Not only is it a good idea to provide a safe home to your tenants, but it is also the law. According to the legal team at Nolo, most state laws require a landlord to provide a safe and livable home by ensuring that:
- Structural elements of the building are secure and intact, including floors, stairs, walls, and roofs
- Common areas, like hallways and stairways, are in a safe and clean condition
- Electrical, plumbing, heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems and elevators are operating safely
- Hot water heaters and heating systems work appropriately at reasonable times
- Known environmental toxins, like lead paint dust, asbestos, and mold, are managed appropriately
- The threat of foreseeable criminal intrusions are reasonably reduced
- Infestations of rodents and other vermin are exterminated.
Regular inspections of your property will help keep your tenants safe and prevent further property damage by identifying small problems before they become expensive repairs.
Interior Safety Check
- Doors – Both interior and exterior doors need to open and close properly. If a door doesn’t close securely, your tenant could be at risk for an intrusion. If a door doesn’t open smoothly it could be a fire evacuation hazard.
- Lights – Turn every light switch on and off. Do they come on smoothly? A delayed response could indicate faulty wiring, which can spark a fire.
- Outlets – Check all wall outlets to make sure they work appropriately and that the cover panels are secure. Black, scorched, or dangling wires are also hints of bad wiring.
- Ceilings – Look for any water stains, cracks or sags in the ceiling that could be an indication of a water leak or damaged roof that needs to be addressed immediately before it causes additional property damage or collapses on a tenant.
- Walls – Check all the base of walls and look for any cracks or holes that could let vermin or other pests find a home in the walls. Walls are susceptible to water damaged and should be examined for cracks and water stains.
- Floors – Sloping floors can indicate structural damage or foundation problems and should be repaired or replaced immediately. Stains and soft spots in the flooring can also reveal rot or water damage.
- Fireplace – A good old fashion chimney sweep will remove any debris that has built up during the fireplace’s warm weather hiatus. A clogged chimney runs the risk of igniting a chimney fire or poses a potential health risk for your tenants if the ventilation system is blocked.
Appliance Safety Check
- Smoke and CO Alarms – Even if you require tenants to maintain the smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarm systems, you should make it a habit to double-check they are working properly every time you inspected the property or perform routine maintenance. A passive tenant will easily forget to change the batteries, or worse, some tenants will remove them altogether.
- HVAC System – Have your heating system inspected, serviced, and cleaned at least once a year. Proper maintenance can extend the life of your furnace, postponing an expensive replacement. Remind your tenants to change air filters regularly, and provide them with extra filters to make sure it gets done – this is an inexpensive maintenance task that can prevent major HVAC problems.
- Washer/Dryer – Lint and debris can build up over time in dryer vents, which can damage the appliance and even cause fires. While the dryer is running, check that the exhaust is coming out. If there isn’t much exhaust, check for blockages and clear them as well as you can. You may need a professional. Also may also need to vacuum the lint from the hose at the dryer.
- Stove/Oven – Make sure each heating element works properly if electric and that gas lines are clear and burners ignite appropriately for gas stoves.
- Refrigerator – Make sure the refrigerator maintains an appropriate and accurate temperature to keep food safely stored. Check any other supplied kitchen appliances to make sure they are functioning (dishwasher, garbage disposal, etc.)
- Water Heater – Check the temperature to make sure it is set below 120° F to prevent scalding. Test safety relief valve once a year to ensure proper operation and flush the system to remove sediment buildup which can cause a system failure.
- Plumbing – Check water supply and pressure on all sinks and showers: Does water flow properly? Flush the toilet to make sure it drains and refills properly without leaking any water.
Exterior Safety Check
- Walkways and Stairwells – Make sure all railings are secure and anti-slip or caution guards are in place. It is a good idea to routinely do this before winter seasons bring wet and icy weather. Walkways and common areas should also be well-lit and free of obstacles or debris.
- Lights – Ensure you provide good exterior lighting at every front door and around the property to improve visibility and deter criminal activity.
- Landscape – Trim bushes and exterior plants to reduce possible hiding spots for criminals.
- Windows- Make sure all the windows close securely and have working locks. Consider installing window pins to keep windows from opening too wide.
- Roof Inspection: Check for missing or lose shingles. A slightly damaged roof can lead to water exposure which causes deterioration of insulation, wood, and drywall, making electrical, plumbing, and HVAC systems vulnerable. Due to the importance of your roof, have a licensed, certified roofing professional check the condition of your roof.
Schedule regular safety inspections at least once a year, and again in between lease terms to provide safe conditions for your tenants. Give your tenants an easy way to submit maintenance requests to you so you can address health and safety concerns appropriately. Take maintenance requests seriously and respond to them quickly to prevent costly repairs – fixing a leaky sink is much more affordable than replacing the floor due to water damage. Some states even allow tenants to withhold rent or sue a landlord if a property repair that affects a tenant’s health or safety is not handled in a timely manner.
Make sure to keep excellent records of your safety inspections, including notes with dates and pictures. Inspection reports and paperwork help you keep track of the condition of your property, and can also serve as legal documents if anything happens to your rental home. Keep inspection reports and maintenance files stored electronically in your property management software account, which should provide unlimited cloud-based storage options linked directly to a property or a tenant for easy access and reference.
This article was originally published in August 2017 and has since been updated.