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Annual inspections are an important part of owning a rental property. If you have several different tenants throughout the year, it’s not too difficult to schedule the annual inspection to occur when the property is vacant.

But how do you handle inspections when you have a long-term tenant who stays the whole year or longer? While having a long-term tenant is certainly a positive situation, it does present a challenge in this instance.

Even if tenants have agreed to property inspections in their contract, you’ll want to follow these tips to help make the process a smooth one.

Give your tenants notice. The law requires that you give advance notice of inspections. (The exception to this would be if there is a local law or ordinance being broken.) This is also a courtesy to your tenants. You want to give them the opportunity to clean up and put away personal and/or confidential items before an inspection.

What if you suspect your tenant is violating policies or restrictions in the lease, such as unapproved pets or residents? In this case, you may have the right and the need to perform a surprise inspection.

Tenants are encouraged to be present. It is generally a good idea to have the tenants present during the inspection for a couple of reasons. First, this gives you the ability to discuss problems and concerns with the tenant immediately. Also, when the tenants are present during an inspection, they feel more confident that their possessions are safe and won’t be disturbed. In most cases, tenants are happy to have the property inspected because they know things are being taken care of. This also gives them an opportunity to speak with you about any problems or issues they may be having.

Inform tenants why the inspection is important. Let your tenants know the annual inspection is a routine event that is necessary and beneficial for them as well as you. Inspecting the structure, appliances, plumbing, HVAC, electrical systems and more is essential for their safety and comfort as well as protecting your investment.

Be aware when taking photos. While you are there for the inspection, it may be necessary to take photos of a crack in a wall, or a problem with a window, etc. When taking these photos, be aware of what else you may be capturing. Avoid including people, pets, computers, valuables and other personal or private items in your photos. You’ll want to take great care to capture only the item needed so you are protecting the privacy of your tenants.

Don’t confront your tenant in person. The inspection may uncover the fact that your property is not being taken care of properly or is being neglected or abused in some way. Do not confront the tenant about these issues during the inspection. Photograph and document the problems you find, then address these issues in a formal manner and in writing. This documents the problem, but also helps both parties to stay calm. Hopefully the situation can be quickly and easily resolved. If it cannot be, having all the details documented will be essential should the need arise for legal action.