As a landlord, you are entrusting the use of your Seattle property to your tenants. After careful screening, you hope your renters keep your unit clean and follow the rules. It makes sense to conduct periodic surveys to protect your investment and make sure your tenants meet your expectations. Surveys can put your mind at ease by indicating that there are no ongoing issues such as property damage, dangerous conditions or lease violations. Regular surveys also benefit the tenants by turning up any repairs or other problems that need your attention.

So how often should you review the condition your rental property?

Know the Law

Just because you have the right to enter your property, it does not mean that you can show up unannounced any time you want to inspect the unit. You can consult with a local real estate attorney to learn about right of entry laws. While landlords are allowed to enter the rental property, there are some restrictions. The key is to be “reasonable.”

  • Landlord’s Rights

Laws for entering the premises vary from state to state. For Seattle properties in Washington State, the landlord’s right of entry is spelled out in the WA State Residential Landlord-Tenant Act 59.18.150. A landlord has the right to drive, bicycle or walk by the property at any time. With proper notice, a Landlord may enter the unit to inspect the premises and make repairs. You may also provide agreed upon services and allow contractors to see the unit. When the time comes to rent to another tenant or sell the property, you may show the unit to a prospective renter or purchaser.

  • Tenant’s Rights

Tenants have the right to “quiet enjoyment” of their dwelling. You must notify the tenants in advance when you intend to visit and provide them with contact information to change the time, unless there is an emergency. Many landlords inspect their property from one to three times annually. More than a reasonable number of inspections means that you need a good reason to enter. Landlord visits must occur during reasonable hours and last a reasonable amount of time.

What to Look For

Your surveys may turn up all kinds of problems, both minor and major. Encourage your tenant to be present so you can address any issues together.

Here are some things to look for to mitigate property damage, minimize loss of income and detect any lease violations.

  • Unauthorized Residents

A periodic visit with proper notice may turn up evidence of unauthorized people living in your rental unit. Unauthorized residents do not appear on the lease and have not been screened. Allowing unvetted strangers to have full access to your property and common areas can invite problems and pose a safety risk, especially if you have a unit in an apartment building. You may also discover an an unauthorized pet or evidence of a pet living in the unit as well.

  • Safety Hazards

Pay close attention if your tenants complain about safety concerns. You don’t want to be held liable if there are safety issues that need to be addressed. Make sure the carbon monoxide and smoke detectors are working properly. Look for blocked access to doors and windows, overloaded electrical outlets, and shaky stair rails. Wall heaters blocked by the Tenant’s furniture can also cause a problem, and may indicate that the heating system is not working properly. It is a good practice to use a checklist and note any concerns.

  • Needed Repairs

Some minor repairs, if left unchecked, can lead to major damage and a major expense for you. Look for leaky faucets, fixtures and toilets.  Check the condition of all the caulking around sinks and bathtubs.  Be sure to examine the roof. Inspect the water heater for puddles to prevent a flood if it breaks. Make sure the dryer is not clogged with lint, which can start a fire. You should also look for signs of pest infestation. Left untreated, pests can become a major problem.Encourage your tenants to report needed repairs in a timely manner.

  • Signs of Criminal Activity

Unfortunately, a visit to your property can turn up evidence of criminal activity taking place right in your rental unit. A common problem is drug manufacturing. You might notice an unusual smell, empty soda bottles and windows that are completely covered.

Working with your Tenant

It can make things easier if you discuss the inspection schedule with your tenants when they sign the lease. Although not necessary, you can put the schedule in the lease, in writing, so there are no misunderstandings. Emphasize that your inspections can benefit the tenants by allowing you to detect and make repairs. If you conduct an inspection and find a problem serious enough to start eviction proceedings, think before you confront the tenants in their home. A better idea is to leave the premises and contact your attorney to discuss the next steps.

Move-In and Move-Out

In the State of Washington, a Landlord must have a move-in condition report signed by the Tenant whenever collecting a Security Deposit. If your tenants are moving out it may, or may not, be appropriate to schedule an inspection around a month before the termination of the lease. This may give your tenants the opportunity to correct any issues prior to the disbursement of the Security Deposit.

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