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Essential Guide to Rental Property Inspections for San Diego Landlords

One of the vital aspects of leasing a living space is rental property inspection. They are designed to give landlords and tenants a clear picture of which state the rental suite is in. Whether you own a long-term rental or a short-term (vacation) property, regular checks are critical to ensure your real estate is safe for renters. Frequent checkups are highly beneficial to landlords as they help you keep track of your unit’s condition. They give you a chance to address minor issues or lease violations promptly before they turn into major problems. The most important advantages are maximizing your profit, maintaining high property value, holding tenants accountable, preventing costly repairs, and helping create a safer living space.

Tips on How to Perform Rental Property Inspection, Including Checklists & Landlord’s & Tenant’s Rights & Responsibilities

In this article, we will provide information on what property inspection is and how often it is performed. We will outline what landlords should look for, what they can check, a checklist, as well as other useful tips regarding your rights and responsibilities. Using advice found here you will be able to make the most of every inspection. You will rest assured knowing your San Diego rental investment is protected at all times, while ensuring safety and maintaining real estate value.

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What is A Rental Inspection?

When a landlord or an approved third party (such as a rental property manager) conducts a regular basic checkup of a rental unit leased by a tenant, it is called a rental inspection. The main goal is to determine the state of property’s condition throughout important stages of the rental cycle, from move-in to move-out. They can be done with or without the tenant present provided they are in agreement. Oftentimes, the renters will walk with the inspector while he or she examines the unit.

Recurring inspections serve to detect damages and to establish whether the occupants respect the property. By regularly checking the unit you ensure that:

  • Renters follow the lease guidelines and treat the property with care
  • You tackle any issues immediately instead of waiting and letting them become serious problems

What does a rental inspection consist of?

The person who runs the check will typically examine the following:

  • Walls, windows, ceilings, and floors
  • Plumbing, electricity, and appliances
  • HVAC system
  • Light switches and fixtures
  • Ceiling fans, window screens, and furniture
  • Smoke detectors, alarms, and fire distinguishers
  • General condition and health of the property
  • Pest infestation evidence
  • Signs of damage, water leaks, and mold
  • Garage doors, decks, porches, and patios

4 Types of Rental Inspection

There are 4 different types of property checks, depending on when you conducted the last inspection.

Walkthrough (move-in inspection)

The most common type of rental review is a walkthrough. You will conduct it before a new occupant moves in and after they sign the lease. In general, both parties are present during the assessment of the space. Both parties can also take pictures and notes to protect themselves from being held responsible for certain issues. Some landlords use a move-in checklist in order to easily track and document information. After you complete the inspection, the checklist should be dated and signed by both parties. Keep this paperwork with the lease as proof of what condition the unit was in before the actual move-in. Provide the tenant with one copy of the document so they can keep it for their records.

A move-in inspection typically consists of checking:

  • Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC system)
  • Electrical appliances and outlets
  • Doors and windows
  • Floors, walls, and ceilings

Move-out inspection

As the name implies, a move-out inspection is carried out shortly before or after a tenant moves out and should have the tenant present. It serves to assess the condition of the income property and whether there is any damage that has to be paid for. Keep in mind that you have to be very diligent and note everything down, so you can claim these expenses from the tenant’s security deposit. Remember that you also need to have move-in inspection documents in order to compare the two.
If you fail to thoroughly record all the details, the resident could potentially claim that it wasn’t their fault. In this case, you would have to pay for the repairs yourself.

Quarterly (Bi-annual) rental inspection

This type of assessment is performed every few months and should never be missed. Although some owners can easily adopt the habit of doing only a move-in check, the reality is that you need to actively monitor the property in order to maximize your profits. You can either schedule checks twice a year, or quarterly. The idea is to always stay on top of potential problems and solve them efficiently, without spending a significant amount of money. Moreover, it sends a message to the occupants that you are a responsible owner who maintains the property, and also motivates them to do the same. Before conducting a routine inspection, you must send a notice to the tenant.

Drive-by inspection

A drive-by inspection is less formal and not as common and can be done at any time. It is more of a quick check and a visual inspection of the outside of the unit, without coming into the house, hence the name drive-by. Since you will not enter the premises, you do not need to give prior notice to tenants, but remember not to violate their privacy while performing the check. The purpose of drive-by is to determine whether there is anything unusual on the property. For instance, a drive-by can alleviate or confirm concerns regarding property condition, crimes, or other activities. You can also use this opportunity to speak to neighbors about these matters. Neighbors can be a good source of information about your tenant’s behavior.

How To Perform Rental Inspection: Step-By-Step Instructions

In order to make the most of your property evaluation, we have prepared a step-by-step guide on how to efficiently conduct the check.  

Step 1: Review the lease agreement and rental property inspection laws

Before initiating the process, it is vital to understand and follow local and state rental laws, as well as lease agreement rules. This way you will avoid legal violations, tenant complains or law suits.

Step 2: Notify the tenant

It is mandatory to notify the residents about the check-in advance, typically with a written notice. This way, they will have enough time to prepare. Local laws outline the specific timeline regarding the amount of advance notice. In general, it is between 24 and 72 hours, so make sure to review and comply with the local policies.

Step 3: Encourage the occupant to be present  

Another important step involves advising the renter to be present during the inspection. Although not mandatory, it is strongly suggested for both parties to be there, particularly during seasonal or annual inspections. For more frequent evaluations, you may opt to give them a choice whether or not they want to attend.

Step 4: Prepare a checklist

Before the inspection, prepare a comprehensive checklist designed to match your property. It should include everything you need to inspect in all interior and exterior areas: electrical appliances, safety features, fixtures, and so on. A well-developed checklist ensures nothing is overlooked during the check, and it allows you to smoothly complete the whole process. Plus, it serves as a reference for future inspections, comparisons, and evidence in potential disputes.

Step 5: Take notes & photos

On the day of rental investigation, bring your checklist, a smartphone or camera to take photos, and tools needed to examine the place. Start from the top of the list and systematically go through each item. Make notes of any signs of damage, wear and tear, and other issues you find. Take clear photos that will support your notes and inspection report. It is essential to document everything both in writing and with visuals. By adhering to these guidelines you will protect yourself from difficult tenants and challenging situations.

If you discover urgent maintenance or safety problems, you have to take action within a reasonable amount of time. Talk to the renter about the issue and discuss repair plans together. Immediate action shows your responsibility and dedication to maintaining safe and habitable living space.

Step 6: Feedback & follow up on repairs

Ensure you always follow up and give feedback to tenants following the procedure. It gives them an opportunity to discuss concerns and it also provide guidance on how to tackle them. Follow-ups should always be done in writing, including payment requests for repairs, maintenance scheduling, and behavior changes requests to prevent damages.

How Landlords Benefit From Regular Inspections

Regular inspections are beneficial for the following reasons:

  • Investment protection & money saving – By catching issues early, before they become expensive repairs, you will save money and protect your property.
  • Ensuring safety – Most importantly, inspections help identify electrical problems, fire risks, or leaks, that could turn into potential hazards. They help resolve issues on time and keep tenants safe, while you remain compliant with regulations.
  • Maintaining value – You will be able to avoid damage that could decrease the value of the property.
  • Fostering positive relationship with tenants – Inspections show that you are a responsible owner who cares about tenant’s well-being.
  • Peace of mind – By conducting routine inspections you will have confidence in your property’s condition, which will minimize stress and worry.
  • Adhering to lease agreement –  Rental inspections enforce both landlord and tenant follow lease terms and conditions and use the property responsibly.

In order to perform inspection professionally and efficiently, without violating any laws or regulations, you should adhere to the following standards:

Provide a reason for your visit

When you explain a reason for your visit, it gives renter a better understanding of how it will benefit them. Use this opportunity to gently remind them that they were informed about routine inspections when they initially signed the lease. Either way, let them know that you intend to make sure there aren’t any problems with the unit, which is beneficial to both of you.

Respect tenants’ rights

Tenants have the right to quiet enjoyment and undisturbed use of rental unit in exchange for rent. Furthermore, the landlord (or property manager) is not allowed to:

  • Frequently enter without proper notice or reasonable cause
  • Inspect personal belongings, private papers, or communication, even if they are in plain sight
  • Access locked areas without explicit permission
  • Harass or engage in arguments during the inspection
  • Overstep legal rights
  • Try to change lease terms based on observations from the inspection as it is considered discrimination under Fair Housing Act

Don’t take photos of personal items

When taking pictures of the property, leave people, pets and personal items out of the picture. This way your tenant’s privacy is fully protected.

Don’t engage in confrontation with the resident

Even if the resident has complaints, always remain calm and professional and address issues in writing, rather than orally. Written evidence will protect you in case of disputes.

Hiring a full-service property management company means that they will run all day-to-day operations, including regular inspection. Take a look at advantages and disadvantages of contracting a property manager:


  • Save time & money
  • Hassle-free & smooth inspection
  • Seamless procedures by experienced managers
  • Efficient management
  • Exceptional customer service


  • Extra fee to be paid, usually a percentage of your rental income. Please check your local laws regarding Tax deductions to see how you can deduct property management fees from your tax return.

Commonly Asked Questions

1. What can my landlord check during inspection?

Your landlord or property manager can look at all areas of the property, while complying to local laws and regulations. They have the right to inspect the overall condition of a property to make sure it is well-maintained.

Interior check includes checking the walls, floors, ceilings, electrical wiring, plumbing, mold growth, locks, windows, stove, refrigerator, dishwasher, and so on. If the property has a yard, the landlord can look at overgrown weeds, broken fences, cracks in walls, leaky roof, etc. In buildings with common areas, landlords can assess the condition of hallways, staircases, and laundry rooms.

Furthermore, compliance with lease terms can be verified, such as pet policies, subletting, no smoking policy, and so on.

2. Am I allowed to refuse landlord inspection?

A tenant is not allowed to refuse a rental inspection, as it violates lease terms and landlord’s rights. Tenant is allowed to change the date or time of the inspection, but not to refuse inspection.

3. How often can a landlord carry out a rental unit inspection?

Although many states do not limit how often inspections can be conducted, landlords should keep in mind that they must notify the tenant in advance by providing a notice of entry form. However, since too many inspections without reasonable grounds may violate privacy rights, landlords should be mindful of how often they carry them out.  

4. Why do property owners do rental inspections?

The main reason for inspecting a dwelling is to determine property’s condition (before renewing a lease or before moving out). Another reason is to establish whether the dwelling is properly maintained by conducting periodical (seasonal) checks. Regular examination give landlords peace of mind and confidence that their investment property will be taken care of well.

5. How can I prepare for landlord inspection?

There are certain steps tenants can take to prepare for the inspection. They should start by reviewing terms and conditions of the lease as well as the contents of the notice letter to ensure everything is in order.

Next, they should make a list of any issues they might be experiencing, such as dripping taps, or light switch not working. In case tenants are responsible for any repairs, it would be best to address them prior to inspection.

The renter should also clean and tidy up the place so that the landlord or property manager has a better view and smoothly perform the investigation.

The residents should also try to be present, make notes, and take pictures during the inspection.

6. Can a landlord enter the premises without prior notice?

California law states that property owner can enter the premises without prior notice in specific situations.

The most common reason is emergency situation, such as broken window or damage caused by fire. If the resident has informed the landlord about the damage that needs to be repaired, then they can enter the premises to evaluate the condition.

They can also enter if a resident has requested a scheduled maintenance service. Scheduled maintenance is generally completed during regular business hours. A written notice may also be needed so that the tenant is aware of the visit.

The landlord may also enter the dwelling in case the tenant has abandoned the premises.

You May Also Find Interesting

1. What Is a Property Management Company & Why Its Crucial in Rental Business Success

2. Rental Property Maintenance Checklist Every Landlord Needs

3. 10 Game-Changing Benefits of Using a Property Management Company

4. Rental Property Deduction List for San Diego Landlords

5. Landlord’s Guide About Tenant Background Check In San Diego

6. Raise Your Real Estate’s Value with Professional Rental Property Maintenance Services in San Diego

7. Should I Allow Pets in My Rental- Benefits of Owning a Pet-Friendly Rental Property in San Diego

About the Author

David Miller is Real Estate Advisor at Swell Property. Whether you’re eyeing a new home, an investment property, securing the best mortgage, or aiming to enhance your property’s value, my focus is on providing personalized guidance and strategy for your success. I listen to your needs attentively, ensuring that my expertise aligns perfectly with your real estate goals. My clients’ satisfaction and referrals are the true measure of my success in San Diego’s dynamic real estate market. If you’re searching for a real estate professional who’s deeply committed to your success, I’m eager to demonstrate my expertise and win your trust. Let’s connect and start this journey together.

Real Estate Advisor Miller David-ea2258ffbdc661d748b1c835a5bc98d936866e82

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