A Full Guide to the City Inspection for Apartments

Are you prepared for a city inspection of your rental property? This guide covers the types of inspections you may face, required licenses, and steps to get ready and manage this process. We also include tips on maintenance, tenant education, and building relationships with inspectors to keep your property safe and compliant.

Nichole Stohler
Last Updated
April 12, 2024
A Full Guide to the City Inspection for Apartments

If you own rental properties, you might have to deal with city inspections. These checkups make sure your apartments or houses are up to local standards and are safe for tenants to live in.

But don't worry! We've got you covered. In this guide, we'll walk you through everything you need to know about city inspections. From the types of inspections you might face to how to get your rental licenses, we'll cover it all.

Plus, we'll share some insider tips on how to keep your property in tip-top shape and avoid inspections altogether. Whether you're a seasoned landlord or just starting out, this guide will help you stay on top of things and keep your rental properties safe and compliant. So, let's dive in and make sure your rentals are in top-notch condition!

What is a city inspection for apartments?

City inspections are evaluations conducted by the local government to verify that rental properties meet specific building codes, safety regulations, and health standards. Their purpose is to protect tenants and make sure rental units are safe, habitable, and follow community standards.

Whether your rental property requires inspection depends on the specific regulations and ordinances of the municipality in which your property resides.

Types of rental property inspections

Rentals can undergo various types of assessments, each serving a specific purpose and focusing on different aspects of the property. Along with validation of the safety and habitability of the rental unit, these inspections verify that the unit complies with local, state, and federal laws.

The most common types of rental property inspections and their impacts are as follows:

City inspections

If your city requires inspections for rental property, the evaluation process will typically involve:

  • Initial licensing or permitting: When obtaining a rental license or permit, some cities require apartments to pass an inspection before renting to tenants.
  • Periodic reviews: Certain municipalities have programs in place for the periodic inspection of apartments. This could be annual, every other year, or at another interval to verify ongoing compliance with local housing standards.
  • Complaint-based assessments: If a tenant or neighbor complains to the city about a potential violation of housing standards or other issues, this might trigger an apartment inspection.
  • Health and safety concerns: The city may perform inspections if there are specific health concerns, such as lead paint in older buildings, mold, or structural issues.
  • Building permits: If you're renovating or repairing your rental property, the city may send an inspector to check the building permit process and confirm that the work complies with local building codes.

To find out the specific requirements for your area, it's best to contact your local city or municipal government's housing department or building inspector's office. They can provide information on any required inspections, the process for scheduling checkups, and the standards your rental property must meet.

HUD inspections

If you accept Section 8 vouchers, the property must meet the safety and health standards set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD conducts inspections to verify these standards are met, using the Housing Quality Standards (HQS) as a guideline.

Here's what HUD assessments of apartments typically involve:

  • Health and safety: The primary focus is on the health of the living environment. Inspectors check for any conditions that could pose hazards to residents.
  • Sanitary conditions: Apartments must be clean and free from pests, and sanitary facilities must be in proper working condition.
  • Security: Windows and doors must have locks, and the overall structure must be stable and secure.
  • Utilities: Essential utilities, including water, heating, and electricity must be working. The inspector checks that these services are available and that all equipment is safe and functional.
  • Structural integrity: The rental property must be structurally sound, with no significant deterioration that could impact the tenants' security or health.
  • Annual/biennial reviews: HUD seeks periodic reviews to validate ongoing compliance with HQS. These reviews may require minor repairs or upgrades.
  • Emergency assessments: If anyone reports a condition that violates HQS and poses an immediate threat to tenants' well-being or health, HUD may conduct emergency inspections.

Landlord inspections

As a landlord or property manager, you're also expected to conduct inspections. These can happen at various stages of tenancy, and they typically include the following:

  • Routine maintenance checks: These allow you to identify and address maintenance needs and safety concerns. You'll want to check for any leaks and confirm that smoke detectors and fire extinguishers are functional. You should also check for signs of wear and tear, like peeling paint or holes in the carpet.
  • Health and well-being checkups: Property owners want to make sure the property meets health and safety laws. This means checking for issues like mold and verifying that heating and ventilation systems are working.
  • Lease compliance assessments: The property manager may want to verify that tenants are following the terms of their lease. This could involve checking for unauthorized pets, making sure the property is not being sublet without permission, and ensuring that the number of occupants does not exceed the agreed-upon limit.
  • Move-out inspection: This inspection verifies the condition of the rental property once the tenant vacates. It focuses on identifying any damage beyond normal wear and tear that might affect whether the tenant’s security deposit gets returned. It also helps determine if there are repairs or maintenance issues to address before a new resident moves in.
  • Move-in inspection: A property owner uses this inspection to document the condition of the property when the new renter takes possession. It often involves a detailed checklist to record the condition of the rooms, appliances, fixtures, and any furnished items.

Required rental property licenses

Passing city inspections is often a key step in acquiring the necessary licenses for rentals, although the specific requirements vary from city to city. For example:

  • In Mesquite, Texas, landlords must secure a Rental Property License (RPL) by making sure their properties pass both interior and exterior evaluations.
  • For Denver property owners, legally renting out a property requires passing an inspection and obtaining a residential rental property license.
  • Similarly, Cedar Rapids emphasizes regulation and safety by requiring all landlords to apply for a Landlord Business Permit and register their properties with the housing inspection division.

Generally speaking, the most common types of rental property licenses you can expect to acquire are:

Basic rental license

A basic rental license or business permit is the most common requirement for landlords. It signifies that the property meets certain safety and habitability standards set by the local government. Obtaining this license usually involves an application process, a fee, and an inspection of the property to ensure it complies with local housing codes.

Short-term rental license

With the rise of platforms like Airbnb and VRBO, many cities have implemented specific licensing for short-term rentals. Most cities define these properties as homes that are rented for periods of less than 30 days. These licenses may have different requirements than those for longer-term rentals, such as a limited number of days you can rent your property short-term per year. In addition, they often require the owner to pay local tourist or occupancy taxes.

Specialized licenses

Some locations may require specialized licenses for certain types of rental arrangements. For example, if a property is used for both residential and commercial purposes (mixed-use) or solely for commercial business, you might need a commercial rental license. These licenses verify that the property complies with commercial zoning laws and safety codes.

If a rental property is in a historical district, additional regulations and licensing requirements may be required to preserve the area's historic character.

Property owners may also need to renew their licenses periodically and confirm their properties continue to comply with local standards to avoid penalties.

Managing city inspections

While city inspections are often mandatory, there are steps you can take as a property owner to minimize the chances of unexpected or frequent inspections. By being proactive and maintaining your rental property to a high standard, you can reduce the likelihood of inspections triggered by complaints or violations.

Here are some key strategies to help you manage city inspections effectively:

Maintain your apartments

One way to prevent inspections is to keep your property in good condition. This reduces the likelihood of an apartment inspection triggered by complaints or violations. Use a maintenance checklist to keep your routine maintenance duties organized and establish a way for tenants to easily request maintenance so that you can address maintenance and repair needs promptly.

Prepare for inspections proactively

If inspectors do visit, get ready for the inspection by providing the necessary documentation and showing that you take their feedback seriously. This approach can lead to better outcomes and potentially reduce the frequency of future inspections.

Establish responsibilities with your residents

The rental agreement should provide residents with clear guidelines on their responsibilities for maintaining the apartment and on how to report maintenance issues. Key areas to cover include:

  • Report maintenance and safety issues promptly: Immediately notify property management of potential issues like leaks, electrical problems, or other broken features.
  • Smoke detectors: Test detectors monthly and report if they are not functioning. Never remove or tamper with these devices.
  • Trash disposal: Dispose of trash and recycling in designated areas to prevent health hazards. Keep exterior areas clean and free of debris.
  • Plumbing: Avoid disposing of grease, oils, and non-flushable items in bathroom or kitchen sinks and toilets to prevent blockages.
  • Pest infestations: Keep the unit clean and report any signs of pests immediately.
  • Windows and doors: Windows and doors should open, close, and lock properly. Report any issues for repair to maintain security.
  • HVAC systems: Do not block or cover heating and ventilation outlets. Report any malfunctions in heating, cooling, or ventilation systems.
  • Electrical systems: Avoid overloading electrical outlets and report any faulty outlets, switches, or exposed wiring.
  • Structural integrity: Report any signs of water damage or structural deterioration of walls that could affect the property's safety.
  • Common areas: Use common areas in apartment buildings, such as laundry rooms, responsibly and report any damages or other hazards.
  • Access for repairs and inspections: Provide access to the unit for repairs and compliance inspections as required.

Policy on tenant responsibility

Create policies that outline tenants' financial responsibilities to pay for violations or negligence. This includes unauthorized changes, delayed repair reports, or city ordinance breaches. Your policy should explain how you'll assess who is responsible for the issue. You should also explain how you'll notify tenants about fines or repair costs and when security deposits might cover these expenses.

Steps to prepare for a city inspection

If you have an upcoming inspection, here is how owners and property management can get ready:

Step 1. Compliance and inspection standards

Start by reviewing the specific codes and standards your property must meet. You can find this information on local government websites and building inspector offices. Perform your own detailed inspection of the property, or consider hiring a professional to identify any potential issues that a city inspector might flag.

Step 2. Minor repairs

Before the inspection, address any outstanding maintenance issues and make repairs, including:

  • Verify that smoke detectors and fire extinguishers work.
  • Repair or replace malfunctioning switches, knobs, handles, and stove/oven burners.
  • Replace broken light switches and electrical outlets.
  • Address plumbing issues by repairing leaky sinks, faucets, and toilet components.
  • Confirm bathroom fixtures like shower heads are in good condition.
  • Check and repair window latches for security and functionality.

Step 3. Documentation

Collect all the documents the inspector might need, such as proof of ownership, a current property insurance policy, and records of any recent repairs or maintenance work.

Step 4. Coordination

 Coordinate the inspection with all parties:

  • Notify tenants: Inform your tenants about the upcoming inspection well in advance. Provide them with the inspection date and time and explain what they can expect during the process.
  •  Coordinate with the inspector: Contact the city inspector to confirm the inspection date and time. Ask about any specific requirements or documents they may need during the inspection.
  • Arrange access: Make sure that the inspector has access to all necessary areas of the property, including common spaces and individual units. If tenants need to be present, coordinate with them to verify they are available during the inspection.

Step 5. Meet with the inspector

Be sure your property manager can be present during the inspection to provide access, answer questions, and take notes on the inspector’s feedback.

Step 6. Follow-up

If the inspector identifies issues, be prepared to make any required corrections quickly. If necessary, plan for a re-inspection to confirm compliance.

Be prepared for a city rental inspection

For many, city inspections are a necessary part of being a landlord. They help verify that rental properties are safe and in good condition for tenants. Inspections may seem like a hassle, but they don't have to be if you prepare properly.

Stay proactive by regularly maintaining your property and addressing issues quickly, communicating with your tenants about their responsibilities, and building positive relationships with local inspectors.

Investing in property upkeep and preparing for inspections protects you from fines, legal problems, and unhappy tenants. Moreover, it shows you care about providing quality housing!

Use this guide as a reference to stay informed about inspection requirements. And, with the right approach, you can successfully manage inspections and keep your rentals in top shape for your tenants.

City inspection for rental property FAQs

How often can a landlord inspect a property in California?

In California, a landlord typically inspects a rental property for routine maintenance checks or safety inspections once or twice a year. When doing so, property managers must provide tenants with a 24-hour written notice before conducting the inspection, except in emergencies.

What is a routine inspection?

A routine inspection is a scheduled review of a rental property by the landlord or property manager. The purpose is to make sure the apartment is well-maintained by the tenant and check for any minor repairs or maintenance issues. Annual apartment inspections are also a way to verify that the tenant is complying with the terms of the lease agreement.

Is a rental license required in Baltimore City?

Yes, in Baltimore City, landlords must obtain a rental license for their properties. This process involves passing a health and safety inspection conducted by the city to make sure the property meets certain standards. 

Important Note: This post is for informational and educational purposes only. It should not be taken as legal, accounting, or tax advice, nor should it be used as a substitute for such services. Always consult your own legal, accounting, or tax counsel before taking any action based on this information.

Nichole Stohler

Nichole co-founded Gateway Private Equity Group, with a history of investments in single-family and multi-family properties, and now a specialization in hotel real estate investments. She is also the creator of NicsGuide.com, a blog dedicated to real estate investing.

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