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How to carry out successful mid-tenancy inspections

landlord doing a property inspection

It’s very important to carry out regular inspections on rental properties during a tenancy, whether the landlord does it themselves or via their property manager.

I personally refer to mid-tenancy inspections as “maintenance visits”, as it’s more collaborative and shows the focus is on ensuring the property remains in good condition. After all, the ultimate aim is to ensure the property is looked after, both by the tenant and also so the landlord knows what they need to repair.

In this blog post, I share how responsible landlords can carry out successful inspections of their buy to let properties. I also explain why it’s important for landlords to do inspections, even if they have letting agents.

In writing this post, I draw on my experience as a lawyer and a self-managing landlord with four buy to let properties.

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Why it’s important to carry out regular inspections of rental properties

This is why landlords should arrange regular inspections of rental properties during a tenancy:

  • During the inspections, landlords or their property managers are able to check whether both the renter is taking good care of the property and whether the property needs any maintenance.
  • Inspections provide a good opportunity for renters to point out what needs repair. Often renters are reluctant to contact the landlord or letting agent to say that (say) a tap is dripping or there is a slow leak underneath a sink. Yet, it’s vital to find out what needs repairing, as it’s usually cheaper and easier to fix a small leak, than wait until it’s a big leak that has caused joists to rot and mould to set in.
  • The landlord should encourage tenants to say what needs repair by asking if there are any little niggling things that need sorting. It’s far better to know about potential problems.
  • It’s also an opportunity for the tenant to ask questions, and for the landlord / agent to give advice about (say) dealing with condensation or whether shrubs in the garden need pruning.
  • Inspections provide an opportunity for the landlord to check if there are breaches of the tenancy agreement, eg evidence of smoking inside, sub-letting, or unauthorised occupants.
  • Unauthorised subletting can expose a landlord to lots of risks, including turning the property into an unlicensed HMO. It’s therefore important to look out for the signs of subletting during the visit.
  • Property inspections help renters know the expectations of the landlord in terms of how they need to look after the property. This means there should be few surprises for either party at the end of the tenancy.

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How often should landlords / agents inspect rental properties?

Most letting agents recommend inspections every 12 months for single households. I disagree with that. A lot can go wrong in 12 months. I much prefer to schedule maintenance checks every 6 months, so I can see the property in the winter and in the summer. Do check your insurance policy as some insurance policies (such as Total Landlord Insurance) exclude liability for loss or damage arising out of cannabis farms and other drug production if the landlord or agent does not inspect the property “every 3 months or as permitted under the tenancy agreement”.

If the inspections are only every summer, problems that tend to arise in the winter might not be so obvious. For instance, are the trickle vents open on the windows? Does the house feel damp? Likewise, inspections in the summer might reveal that the tenants aren’t watering or mowing the garden regularly, which might not be obvious in winter.

Chatting to renters during the visits helps them understand the expectations of the landlord in terms of how they need to look after the property. Also, landlords can see for themselves how the property is faring. This means there should be few surprises for either party at the end of the tenancy. In theory, at least.

How often should property inspections be for HMOs?

Inspections should be more frequent for HMOs than lets to single households. This is because the landlord and manager have a legal obligation under the HMO Management Regulations to keep on top of repairs to keep the property and exterior safe, and in good repair. HMO landlords and managers can’t rely on tenants to report disrepair, but need to ensure someone checks the property regularly to see whether anything should be repaired.

The larger the HMO and the more “vulnerable” the tenants, the more frequent the inspections. Quarterly inspections may be appropriate for professionals who keep the property clean, whereas weekly inspections (or at least visits by a cleaner) might be right for tenants with social, educational or mental health issues. 

There is also the practical issue with HMOs in that a landlord can’t be sure how different people will interact in the property (for example who will be responsible for keeping common parts clean, especially cleaning kitchens and bathrooms). This is why HMO landlords often provide cleaners to clean the common parts, and also keep a general eye on the condition of the property

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How to arrange a mid-tenancy maintenance visit / inspection

Renters are entitled to “quiet enjoyment” of the property, so the landlord/letting agent will need to give notice to the renters for a visit, at a reasonable time. I offer a few time slots a week in advance and ask them to confirm which is best for them. This makes it more likely that the tenant will agree to the maintenance visit.

Unless the renter has given permission to enter the property without them being present, do knock at the door, and don’t use your own keys. It’s polite and respects their right to privacy and quiet enjoyment.

What does the law say about inspections of rental properties?

Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 inserts an implied covenant into all tenancy agreements that the landlord or their authorised representative may enter the property at reasonable times of the day to view their “condition and state of repair” by giving 24 hours’ written notice to the tenant. Most tenancy agreements will also contain an explicit term to this effect.

However, this obligation on the tenant is at odds with the tenant’s right of quiet enjoyment of their home. Consequently, landlords cannot enter the property without the tenants’ permission, unless it’s reasonable in the circumstances. For instance, landlords could enter one of their properties without prior consent in an emergency, such as a suspected gas leak, water leak or where a serious hazard poses a risk of injury.

What if a tenant won’t allow access for an inspection or maintenance?

Well-drafted tenancy agreements will have a clause that requires tenants to allow the landlord, agent or a contractor to have access to the property to inspect its condition or to carry out maintenance, repairs and improvements.

If the tenant refuses to allow entry, as well as being a breach of the implied covenant in Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, it will be a breach of contract. This enables the landlord to claim damages from the tenant by charging them any reasonable costs incurred because of their refusal to agree to a request for access. Tenants can’t be charged a flat fee for refusing access as that would be against the Tenant Fees Act 2019 and be an unfair term in the contract.

Although the landlord can claim damages for the breach of contract, they don’t have the legal right to enter the premises without the tenant’s permission, unless it’s a genuine emergency. The landlord or agent should keep a record of the refusal in case the tenant later complains that the property is in disrepair.

The best way to get access is to be reasonable, give tenants a lot of notice and a choice of times and days for an inspection. Put the emphasis on it being a maintenance check and not an “inspection”, as that sounds more collaborative. If they still refuse, write to them formally to ask them for access, quoting the contract and the Landlord and Tenant Act. Then, if they ever complain the property is in a state of disrepair, you will have evidence that they did not give you access.

You might also want to consider regaining possession of the property by serving a Section 21 notice or a notice using Section 8, Discretionary Ground 12 citing the tenant’s breach of the tenancy agreement.

Checklist for mid-tenancy rental property inspection / maintenance visit

black mould in a corner or a room

Here are the key items to check for when doing maintenance visits of rental properties during a tenancy.

As an example of an itemised checklist, this Property Inspection Checklist from the London Borough of Newham Council is comprehensive.

Here is a link to my own checklist: The Ultimate Property Inspection Checklist.

1. Look out for signs of damp and mould

It’s particularly important for landlords and agents to look out for signs damp and mould during these visits, and act promptly to treat it. Mould is commonly found in kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms, so take a close look for the signs on the walls, or a musty smell. Ask the renters as well if there is any mould or damp patches.

It’s the landlord’s responsibility to work out the underlying causes of damp and mould, such as structural issues or inadequate ventilation. For instance, has the ventilation been sealed up, causing damp? Are the trickle vents open in the UPVC windows in the cellar, to help ventilation. Can you see signs of a roof leak or blocked drains? Do they dry clothes on radiators (bad for condensation). Likewise, maybe the renter needs help with how to prevent mould in the shower or bath.

The government published an excellent guide for landlords in September 2023 called Understanding and addressing the health risks of damp and mould in the home. I highly recommend all landlords read it, even if you use letting agents for your property management.

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2. Check the outside space

Have a good look at the outside of the property for blocked or broken gutters, downpipes and drains, and signs that water is penetrating the walls or roof. These will be the landlord’s obligation to fix.

For a single let property, it’s usually the tenant’s responsibility to maintain the garden? Check to see if it’s well-maintained. Do shrubs need pruning? Is ivy or bind weed engulfing the borders. Are there signs of damage to the roof? Do the fences look sound? Is rubbish being put out for collection? Point out any of these issues and explain to the renters that they understand it’s their responsibility to deal with them.

HMO landlords on the other hand are responsible for keeping the garden, forecourts, yards, boundary walls and fences in “good and clean decorative repair, in a safe working condition, and kept reasonably clear from obstruction”. Many HMO landlords choose to employ gardeners to keep on top of their obligations.

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back garden with long grass and weeds

3. Plumbing and electrics

Are there any dripping taps, dangerous light-fittings or broken radiator valves? Have they changed the light fittings? Does the hot water work? Boilers should be serviced once a year, and I arrange mine to be done at the same time as the gas safety certificate.

Check with the tenants what temperature the hot water is set for – it should be over 50oC to help prevent Legionella bacteria growing in the water system. Any hot water tank should store water at 60oC.

Do also check the smoke alarms and CO alarms at least once a year.

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4. General cleanliness and condition of the property

It’s a good idea to take a copy of the check in inventory report on an inspection so it’s easy to see how the property has changed since the tenants moved in. For instance, was that missing door handle there when they moved in?

Has the condition of the property deteriorated since they moved in and since the last inspection? How clean is the property? Are the carpets dirty? Does it smell? What’s the state of the bathroom and oven?

What about unauthorised pets or additional people living at the property? Are there signs of unauthorised sub-letting?

Don’t forget to check the state of the cellar or loft. Are there signs of vermin? Any leaks?

Point out any areas of concern to the renter and ask them to put them right. Be clear in what isn’t acceptable and where they need to put something right.

5. Look for signs of unauthorised subletting

It’s important for landlords and agents to be on the lookout for unauthorised subletting. See the related post below for what to look for.

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6. Check for signs of pest infestation

Mice, rats, maggots, bedbugs, and other pests can be a problem in rental properties, particularly if the tenant isn’t disposing of their waste appropriately. It’s important to check for signs of a potential infestation, eg food in the recycling bin, rubbish piling up in the garden or alley.

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7. Keep records

It’s important to keep written records of the inspections, so it’s clear what the condition of the property was at the time of the inspection. I save photos of any item that needs repair or things I’ve asked the tenant to attend to eg mow the lawn, clean mould in the bathroom, or remove rubbish from the cellar.

Your insurance policy may well require you to keep a log of inspections.

8. Send a follow up email or letter after the inspection

Whoever carries out the inspection, it’s important to follow up what was discussed, and any actions agreed by text, email or letter. If there are a lot of issues, a formal letter may be approriate.

Do ask the renters to confirm they’re happy with the summary and don’t have anything to add. This means there’ll be a clear and agreed record of the visit so neither party can dispute what happened at a later date.

If the tenants need to do something themselves (eg weed the borders), make it clear in the email, and say when you’ll arrange a follow up visit to check that they have done what they need to do.

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Advice for landlords whose letting agents do mid-tenancy inspections

Not all landlords have the time or inclination to carry out their own inspections, and may prefer to use their letting agent / property manager.

If the landlord decides to delegate inspections to a letting agent, they should be clear what they expect the agent to check. Will they compare the property against the original inventory report? Will they look for areas for preventative repair? How will the agent report back to the landlord? Will they provide photos or video footage?

The landlord should ask to see the follow-up communications with the tenants after a mid-tenancy inspection by the landlord, as well as the report. Don’t forget that a landlord can always as to come with the letting agent when they do a mid-tenancy inspection, both to check the condition of the property and to check on the diligence of the agent.

If the fee for the letting agent only includes one property inspection a year, it is worth increasing that to two inspections. Usually property managers will agree to do an additional inspection for a small additional fee.

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Final thoughts

Carrying out regular, thorough property inspections throughout a tenancy enables landlords to monitor whether their tenants re complying with the terms of the tenancy agreement, and to find out what maintenance needs to be carried out.

Even if landlords use letting agents to carry out mid-tenancy inspections, I recommend landlords attend one inspection a year, so they can see themselves whether the property is in good condition. After all, it’s a valuable asset and people are living there. The buck ultimately stops with the landlord, it’s their responsibility for making sure the property remains fit to live in.

>> Related Post: How to Achieve Positive End of Tenancy Checkout

landlord guide to successful property inspections

2 thoughts on “How to carry out successful mid-tenancy inspections”

  1. Christopher James

    I find that regular inspections can come across as being too intrusive by the tenant. They should be conducted with a degree of tact. Calling them “maintenance visits” is a good tip which I will be using from now on. Also, when I have a tradesman booked I try to visit at the same time to kill two birds with one stone.

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