When you picture the word “home,” you probably instantly flash to images of happy times and feelings of sanctuary and comfort. It’s the one place you feel free, safe from the dangers that lurk in the world outside the windows. It’s the one place that nothing bad can happen. Rather, it should be. The sad reality is home accidents occur commonly, and many homes contain risks such as weak floors, mold, lead paint or faulty wiring.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that many accidents and safety concerns can be prevented. As a landlord, there’s really no reason to dread the ring of a phone and the news that there’s a problem. Instead, perform regular safety and maintenance checks, replacing and repairing items that need attention.
For repairs beyond your comfort level, keep the number of a trusted handyman or hire a professional for electrical and plumbing repairs. When you keep your rentals in peak condition, your tenants feel safer and you feel peace of mind. You also save by preventing larger repairs caused by neglect.
Rental Home Maintenance and Safety Checklist
Keep a toolbox and items dedicated to inspecting and repairing your rental property:
- Ladder (to allow easy access to your roof, if you have the courage to get on it)
- Binoculars (if you don’t)
- Flashlight (for peering into dark nooks and crannies)
- Notebook and pen or pencil (to take notes of concerns or draw diagrams)
- Tape measure (in case you need to measure for replacement parts)
- Hammer (yes, you may get to pound things)
- Nails (keep an assortment in a coffee can or similar container)
- Screwdrivers (Phillips and flat head)
- Screws (add to the nail container)
- Pliers (use as needed)
- Wrench (for loose pipes or other objects)
- Utility knife (always handy in a pinch)
- Duct tape (a temporary fix for almost anything)
- Gloves (boots may also be useful)
Inspecting the Property Grounds
- Scan the entire property, from the street and from several angles in the yard. Look for problem areas such as inadequate lighting or tree branches that hang dangerously close to power lines or touch the roof. Trees should be cut back to several feet from the roof to prevent rotting the surface. Exterior lights should function properly and light the entry areas.
- Inspect the driveway, sidewalk and other finished walkways. Are there cracks in the pavement or concrete? Are the surfaces smooth and even? Walking across even slight irregularities can be challenging for older or disabled individuals. Add pea stone or another base to dirt or gravel driveways with bare or muddy spots where water collects due to improper sloping.
- Look at the lawn. Does it slope away from the house to drain water properly? Fill holes, depressions and low slopes with fill dirt and grade the soil if necessary.
- Take a close look at property fences. Are they stable and in good repair? Free of rot?
- Ensure that wood piles, trash bins and recycling cans are well removed from the home perimeter. Termites, ants, roaches and mice, among other creatures, find such items attractive homes complete with all-you-can-eat buffets.
- Enter outbuildings such as sheds and barns. Test the doors for stability. Look at the interior to find structural damage or evidence of pests. Scan the roof for dark or wet spots, which are proof of moisture and leakage. Check any special features, such as lighting or windows, to make sure they are in good working order.
- Examine the swimming pool or spa. Repair or replace if it is in poor working order. Fix cracked tiles and any safety or structural concerns. Ensure any fence around the pool is secure and features a working lock or latch.
- Run sprinkler or irrigation systems to make sure they work properly.
Inspecting the Building Exterior
- Climb to the roof and scan across the shingle surface. Take note of loose, missing or bulging shingles for immediate repair. Look at the chimney and roof vents to identify cracks, gaps or other problems.
- Examine the gutters surrounding the roof. If they are clogged, or if the roof is covered with leaves, pine branches or other debris, cleaning is needed. Like overhanging trees, accumulated debris leads to rot and leaks.
- Check downspouts and clean as necessary.
- Walk around the house, examining the siding or brickwork. Look for gaps, cracks, missing pieces or other damage.
- Look at the foundation. Are there visible cracks or shifting? If the house has underpinning, is it intact?
- Pay attention to the windows. Does each window have a screen? Are the windows free of cracks?
- Inspect trim surrounding the windows, doors and other areas of the house. Secure loose trim or replace as needed.
- Check stairs leading to the building. Bounce on them slightly to test their stability. If you feel any give to the steps, replace or reinforce them immediately.
- Grab railings along steps or surrounding decks, porches and other areas. Pull on them slightly to test for stability. Replace or reinforce flimsy rails immediately.
- Look closely at the connection between porches, decks or other additions and the building itself. Is the addition pulling away from the house? Do you see evidence of structural or moisture damage? Is it rotting?
- Wash your house exterior, including any decks or patios, yearly. This can save on future paint and repair costs.
Inspecting the Basic Home Interior
- Check the entry door and every door leading to the outside for a good fit in the frame – neither too loose nor sticking stubbornly when pulled – as well as proper locks, doorknobs and other hardware and structural stability. Open and close to test functioning.
- Flip every light switch. Are they all in working order?
- Look at wall outlets. Are any black, scorched or dangling from the walls? Are any face plates missing? Does each one work? Test each one if there is any doubt. Faulty electrical wiring is a leading cause of fires.
- Test interior doors for soundness, appropriate fit and ease in opening and closing.
- Pay attention to room walls. Look for damage along with expected wear and tear. Repair holes and repaint if you see peeling, chipping or flaking surfaces. Never paint over mold – it doesn't kill it.
- Send paint chips in for lead testing if the home was built before 1978, when lead-based paint was banned in the United States.
- Scan the ceiling to identify surface damage or evidence of moisture or water leaks.
- Watch for mold. Dark, round stains may indicate moisture damage that can lead to mold. A musty smell is a mold giveaway. Look at walls, the ceiling, around doors and windows, inside dark cabinets and similar areas to detect mold.
- Check the window interiors and inner surfaces for condensation or black mildew indicating a moisture problem. Treat mold or bleach with a mixture of half vinegar, half water. Fix the underlying problem and hidden mold immediately.
- Open windows, if necessary, to ensure they open properly. Check the locks to make sure they work.
- Notice the floors. Soft areas – and you will know it when you encounter one – require immediate attention. Sloping floors may be a result of structural or foundation problems. Repair or replace damaged flooring. Make sure surfaces are flush or safely transition from one level to another.
- Inspect interior stairs carefully. Pull on railings to make certain they are strong. Notice any give in the steps and repair immediately. Replace damaged treads or other stair parts.
- Check smoke detectors. Local code requirements vary. Install and maintain the number of detectors required according to area building code regulations.
- Clean the coils on the rear of refrigerators, fireplace and chimneys, stove exhausts and similar items every fall.
Bathroom Safety and Maintenance
- Flush the toilet, turn on the shower briefly and run water in the bathroom sink. Does the water flow properly and drain well? Do you feel both hot and cold water? Do you hear gurgling in the pipes? Does the toilet flush and refill?
- Are shower walls, counter tops and similar surfaces in the bathroom solid, without cracks, chips or other damage?
- Press the floor, with your foot, around the tub and toilet. If the floor feels soft, it needs replacement.
- Notice the floor around the toilet. Moisture standing in this area likely indicates a leaking toilet seal. Replace as necessary.
- Look inside the cabinet underneath the sink if applicable. Note musty smells or evidence of leaks.
- Turn on the bathroom exhaust fan. Does it operate properly?
- Test ground fault interrupters, commonly installed in the bathroom, to ensure they operate properly. Look for others throughout the residence, especially near water.
- Scan closet interiors for signs of damage. Repair as needed.
Inspecting the Kitchen
- Open the kitchen cabinets and scan for damage. Underneath the kitchen sink, is it dry?
- Turn on the kitchen sink water, both hot and cold. Does it drain well? Are the knobs labeled properly?
- Check the stove. Are all the knobs present? Do the burners and oven work?
- Peek inside the refrigerator and freezer. Do the lights operate? Does it feel cold? How does it smell? For light odors, set an open box of baking soda inside.
- Test garbage disposals, dishwashers, or other supplied appliances. Note any problems.
Basements, Garages and Utility Rooms
- Visit the basement, attic, or garage as applicable. Look for damaged walls or ceilings, signs of moisture or pest invasions, flooring that needs replaced, and vents. Note the general shape of the area. Many problems jump out at you if you step back and look closely.
- Notice any brick, concrete or similar masonry surfaces, such as exterior walls, in basements or fireplaces. Do you see a white, powdery substance coating the masonry? This is efflorescence – a result of minerals carried through the masonry by moisture. Clean with trisodium phosphate and seal appropriately.
- Inspect plumbing lines underneath the house. If they are in an unheated area, are they wrapped with insulation?
- Check the electrical breaker box. Look for burned or scorched surfaces or blown breakers if outlets or lights are not working.
- Flip the switch to turn on the furnace first, then the air conditioning, if applicable. Call a professional immediately if you notice any strange noises, smells or the appliances fail to come on. Treat radiators and alternate heat sources similarly.
- Change furnace filters, smoke detector batteries and batteries for other safety devices yearly.
- Clear dryer vents annually.
- Look for pests such as roaches, termites and mice or rats at least twice a year – fall and spring.
- Drain the hot water heater in the fall. Treat the tank for rust or sediment if needed.
Things to Consider
Keep a log or rental home diary to record the results of annual inspections and any repairs or replacements made, both throughout the year and during the inspection. Not only will this help you keep track of your home maintenance, if a problem ever arises, it proves you practiced “due diligence” – you made every attempt to keep your rental home up to current codes and in proper repair.
Hiring an electrician to inspect the electrical system every five years may help catch, and prevent, problems before they grow. Add the professional’s findings to your rental home diary.