How to Make the Most of Unit Inspections
HUD's model lease clears the way for site owners and managers to access residents' units “for the purpose of making reasonable repairs and periodic inspections.” Doing so can help uncover unsafe or unsanitary conditions and unreported maintenance problems. Dealt with early, these conditions can help prevent more serious problems later, such as insect or rodent infestations, flooding, and major repairs.
Many managers conduct annual inspections of all units at their sites. In some cases, they do these regular inspections because the local HUD office or their contract administrator requires them. Some managers do regular inspections because they find them to be a good way to catch and prevent problems.
Unit inspections not only let you uncover maintenance and repair issues, they also can serve to alert you to a personal problem that a resident may be experiencing. Diane C. Fitzgerald, property management professional with Quantum Real Estate Management of Maryland, explains how her site managers utilize inspections.
“The manager usually schedules at least two major inspections per year in each unit to check the operation of the equipment, and for safety issues and housekeeping,” Fitzgerald says. “In addition, every quarter, our maintenance staff inspects each unit to replace the HVAC filter and check for obvious problems such as water leaks. All of our staff is instructed to report to the manager any signs of poor housekeeping, hoarding, or any other signs—such as no food in the refrigerator—that may indicate that the resident is not able to take care of himself,” she says.
Inform Residents of Intent to Inspect
Fitzgerald's managers use leases that contain language indicating that the resident permits the owner access to the unit for “inspections, repairs, and replacements.” Managers also use additional methods of communicating their inspection plans.
“When the resident moves in, the manager explains the purpose of the inspections,” she says. “In addition, the community newsletter alerts the residents of upcoming inspections. Each resident also receives an individual notice stating the date and time her unit will be inspected. The resident does not need to be present. The manager might call a meeting of all the residents if there's a particular housekeeping, maintenance, or repair issue that would apply to several residents.”
Note that the HUD lease specifies that you must give reasonable advance notice of your intent to enter a unit, do so only after the resident has given consent, and do so only during reasonable hours. However, neither the HUD lease nor the Handbook gives any specifics about how you should notify residents of inspections. Along with the practices described by Fitzgerald, you can:
Post a letter for all residents in a conspicuous place, such as by the mailboxes, giving details about planned inspections. For example, state that your staff will be inspecting first-floor units on March 1, between the hours of 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.;
Send residents individual letters letting them know the date and approximate time you plan to inspect their unit; and
Include inspection information on residents' recertification reminder notices.
Hold Residents Accountable for Problems
What happens if your inspection reveals a problem with a resident's unit? Take prompt action to inform the resident about his responsibility for correcting the problem.
The problems you find during unit inspections typically fall into two categories: (1) unsafe or unsanitary conditions; or (2) unreported maintenance issues. In either case, you should communicate to the resident what must happen to resolve the problem. To do so, you can adapt and use our Model Letters: Inform Residents of Problems with Unit Condition.
Unsafe or unsanitary condition. Your lease most likely has language that requires residents to maintain their units in a safe and sanitary manner. So a violation of this requirement is a breach of the lease and potential grounds for eviction if the problem isn't resolved. You should advise the resident of the situation in a formal letter, like our first Model Letter, that spells out the resident's responsibility to address the problem.
Unreported maintenance issue. If, during an inspection, your staff discovers an unreported maintenance problem, send the resident a letter, like our second Model Letter, detailing the problem. Since most leases include language that requires residents to report maintenance problems immediately, remind the resident to report future problems promptly. Common maintenance problems that go unreported include leaking faucets, running toilets, broken locks, broken windows, broken light fixtures, broken kitchen appliances, and peeling paint.
Fitzgerald says her managers write an inspection report that covers any issues found during the inspection. “Problems discovered during an inspection are written up in an inspection report,” she explains. “Work order requests are written up from the inspections, and residents are informed of the findings. If there's a housekeeping problem, we orally inform the resident and give him two weeks to correct it. If, on the second inspection, the housekeeping hasn't improved, we'll send the resident a written notice to correct the problem.”
Fitzgerald notes that sometimes housekeeping issues are signs of a bigger problem, such as whether a resident is capable of continuing to live on his own.
“We assess whether the resident is capable of correcting the deficiency,” says Fitzgerald. “We try to determine whether the resident should be receiving more assistance or should be moved to a nursing home, for instance. We contact the person listed on the application as the emergency contact, and may recommend social services assistance, if warranted. If the resident can't resolve the issue and his family can't or won't, sometimes management is forced to terminate the residency. While we do this as a last resort, very often this action gets everyone's attention that the situation must improve or be resolved,” she says.
Diane C. Fitzgerald, CPM: Senior Regional Property Manager, Quantum Real Estate Management, LLC, 5101 River Rd., Ste. 101, Bethesda, MD 20816; (301) 941-8040; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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