INSPECTIONS OF UNITS
Your resident moves out, and you discover massive damage that has been going on for months. Your A/C blower motor burns out because the filter never has been cleaned. You find serious pet related damage to the carpeting, walls and doors. There is a severe mold problem in the bathroom caused by the resident. Could this damage have been avoided? If you are managing a single family home, can a property owner hold your company liable?
Most property managers and management inspect the rental premises once a year. While the pest control professional may be in the unit more often than that, typically a condition inspection is only done once a year. In many situations, as long as the resident is paying the rent, no complaints are coming from the unit and everything appears fine on the outside, no inspections are ever done.
The Law and Inspections
Florida law places no obligations on a manager to make any inspections of a unit. While the law places many obligations of maintaining the premises on the manager, most of maintenance will be at the request of the resident in response to a problem. Nothing in FS 475, which governs real estate licensees, places any requirements upon a property manager to inspect or otherwise preserve or protect the managed property.
What Can Happen Inside A Unit?
The short answer is "just about anything". You can have unauthorized occupants, unauthorized pets, unsanitary conditions, damage to the walls, damage to carpets, pest infestation, severe mold issues, water intrusion problems, plumbing problems, indoor drug cultivation, clogged air filters, severe smoke related damage or just about anything that can happen, which could result in the need for an expensive repair or replacement. A common item that is usually ignored by the resident is the A/C filter, which eventually gets clogged up to the point where the blower motor is strained and eventually fails. Could any of the aforementioned problems been avoided? Possibly not completely, but most likely they could have been minimized by an inspection that was done earlier rather than later, or done more often than not.
An apartment manager should be diligent about inspections. Units should be thoroughly inspected once every three months. Any problem should be dealt with immediately. If there are maintenance issues, they should be handled even if the resident has not put in a work order. If a problem is caused by the resident, the manager should serve the resident with the appropriate notice, that notice usually being the Seven Day Notice of Noncompliance with Opportunity to Cure. Inspections are crucial to catching a problem early and taking action. In the event of unauthorized occupants or pets, a resident often claims that the occupants or pets were there for a long time, that you had knowledge of this, and therefore that the pets or occupants are now allowed, since you have waived your rights to do anything about it. This is actually a compelling defense which can catch a manager off guard if the premises are not reinspected after the notice of noncompliance is given.
This single family/duplex/triplex home manager has an even greater reason to inspect often. Besides having more items to inspect in most cases, the owner of the property can and sometimes does attempt to hold the property manager liable for the damage caused by the resident. If the manager has not inspected often enough, a good argument can be made that the manager failed in her duty to protect the premises. The argument is as follows: the owner’s attorney proves to the judge that had the manager inspected sooner, the damage could have been avoided or minimized. Since this did not occur, the manager should be held liable for the resulting damage. Many judges are apt to accept this reasoning. This scenario may also result in the manager getting reported to FREC, who due to its lack of experience in property management related issues, may feel the manager was negligent in his or her duties.
Inspections After Seven Day Notices
As we all know, just because a Seven Day Notice of Noncompliance with Opportunity to Cure has been served on the resident, this does not mean the resident will cure. You must perform an inspection after the notice expires to see if the desired results have been achieved. Many property managers serve notices, assume the noncompliance has been rectified, and then continue to accept rent from the resident, who unbeknownst to the manager is still in noncompliance and possibly will try to claim that he is now allowed to continue in the noncompliance because you kept taking rent for months after citing the noncompliance.
Inspections and Fair Housing
All residents need to be treated similarly when it comes to inspections. What about situations in which there seems to be ongoing problems? A resident may have children who have caused damages to the premises or are tearing up the yard. Will excessive inspections be looked upon as discriminatory or harassing?
If the inspection is justified, it will not be considered excessive or discriminatory or harassing. Fair housing laws do not absolve residents of the responsibility to maintain the manager’s property.
To avoid the risk of having an inspection become fodder for a fair housing claim, develop a policy and follow it. If you must deviate from your inspection schedule, document the reasons for doing so. For example, if your policy is to inspect every three months, but you want to do an inspection in some intervening month because pest control reported a problem, fine. Do the “extra” inspection, and make notes to your file why you are doing it.
- The Curable Noncompliance Examined PART 1
- THE CURABLE NONCOMPLIANCE EXAMINED PART 2
- THE WRIT OF POSSESSION – WHAT IT IS
- THE WRIT OF POSSESSION AND THE FULL UNIT
- WORK ORDER COMPANY POLICY AND THE LAW