Rental Safety Standards in 2023: Know What to Look Out For
As landlords, you are responsible for giving tenants a safety place to come home to every day.
That’s why property inspections are essential—ensuring that rental investments meet safety standards making them legal. Plus, by conducting regular inspections, landlords can identify problems early on and nip them in the bud before they result in more significant damage to the property or create legal issues.
We’ve been operating a property management business for over two decades and have owned numerous rentals. Through my experience, we’ve developed an effective checklist that keeps us aware of our rental properties and sees if they are up to date with the rental safety standards.
Of course, we’re sharing it below!
Why are Safety Standards Important to Follow?
Safety standards aren’t an option. There’s no deciding if you want to follow them or not because it’s part of your legal responsibility. In a nutshell, you’re obligated to:
- Repair and Maintain the rental, keeping it habitable for tenants
- Keep the rental away from crime through heightened security measures
- Accommodate disabled tenants, so you don’t go against discrimination rules
These are the general ones, but there are also state and local ordinances to follow. For example, in the City of Detroit, there is the Landlord Compliance Manual that clarifies and simplifies the process of ensuring that rental properties reach compliance. You’ll have to check local ordinances, too.
Ignoring the standards opens you up to possible lawsuits, which puts your rental business at risk and brings unnecessary costs. That’s why you need a checklist to ensure that you cover all the safety grounds, which I recommend you go through between tenancies and during routine checks.
Checklist for Meeting Safety Standards in 2023
Of course, the list below may not include some things that are unique to your property, but most of them will apply to nearly all cases. And you can always use it as a guide to starting a personal list.
Here’s our ultimate checklist to ensure that I don’t miss any crucial points during the inspection:
❏ Electrical System
In the United States, faulty electrical systems are the 3rd most common contributor to fires in residential homes. Unfortunately, this is common in old houses with outdated electrical systems. The good news is that there are 3 ways that you can prevent this:
- Install Ground Fault Interrupting (GFI) Outlets in specific locations to reduce the risk of electrical fires and shocks.
- Only hire qualified electricians to inspect and do further work on your electrical system. Having a professional examine the wiring and ensure it is up to code can ensure safety and prevent any costly repairs in the future.
- Keep a lookout for signs of faulty wiring. These signs may include visible damage to wiring, discoloration around an outlet, flickering lights, and a burning odor.
Depending on what’s written on the lease, the tenants are likely responsible for keeping electrical installations safe and carrying out preventive maintenance. Still, you have the duty to care for the wiring systems and electrical equipment.
❏ Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Most states require homes to have smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, so check local laws to abide by them accordingly. Things to look out for are the location of the detectors, installation according to the manufacturer, and the type of detector (e.g., some require carbon monoxide detectors for rooms with solid fuel-burning appliances as well).
It isn’t enough to install the proper detectors in the right locations, though. You also have to check that they actually work—test and inspect them regularly to ensure their functionality. You can do this by:
- Using the test button and listening for the alarm sound
- Changing weak batteries before they run out completely
- Scheduling drills to practice evacuation protocols (if you have multifamily properties)
Moreover, check to see if fire exits or escape routes remain cleared, so your tenants can safely run away from the house in case of a fire. Check the furniture and furnishings if they’re fire-safe, and provide fire extinguishers if the property size and type calls for it.
❏ Plumbing System
Plumbing problems are a common reality for landlords, with issues such as leaks, blocked toilets, and even made worse by natural calamities like floods. Although the only requirements are to have backflow preventers and HWH (hot water heater) overflow tubes, the potential consequences of plumbing troubles are significant—water damage can be costly to fix, and ignoring it leads to further issues like mold.
Let’s get ahead of these potential headaches by ensuring that you:
- Require your tenants to regularly clean gutters and drainage systems to keep things running smoothly. You can ensure this by including this in the lease agreement.
- Use high-quality materials. They may be a bit pricier initially, but in the long run, they will save you money and give you peace of mind.
- Double-check basins, sinks, baths, and sanitary fittings (like pipes and drains) to see if they’re all cleared and functioning. They should have working heating and hot water systems.
If there’s any plumbing area that needs maintenance (or extra attention from the tenants), ensure that you deal with it in a timely manner, or let the tenant know what to expect and when to call you. Moreover, if the problem is with mold, you’re required to clean and fix whatever caused the water build-up.
❏ Pest Infestation
Provide clean living spaces—it’s the moral and legal way to carry out a rental business. Now, if your tenants’ habits cause them to attract pests, the responsibility of cleaning up will rest on them. But if there are natural causes that attract pests, it’s your responsibility to hire exterminators.
Plus, most states recognize the Implied Warranty of Habitability. Neither negligence nor ignorance is an excuse to miss out on this. Various vermin such as mice, rats, termites, ants, and cockroaches can make a rental unsanitary tenants—making the property inhabitable, which goes against the law.
This is what you can do before, during, and after a tenant’s stay to keep your place pest-free:
- Hire a pest control company.
- Treat your property regularly (quarterly, at the least).
- Include the pest control fees as part of the rent or as an additional Move-Out Fee.
And, of course, make sure that they clean up after the home and never leave food sitting out for too long. The lease agreement should dictate how thorough the tenants have to be with cleanliness.
❏ Security and Safety
You have to keep both your property and tenant safe throughout, veering away from any possible crime especially if the rental is in a neighborhood with high crime rates. It’s near impossible (and a bit creepy) to watch your property 24/7, but there are several ways to keep your rental secure and tenants safe.
Here are some tips to ensure the security and safety of your renters:
- Exterior doors are best fitted with a lockset and deadbolt.
- Locks should be changed or re-keyed with every turnover.
- Discourage tenants from duplicating keys.
- Keep a log of the keys you do duplicate and hand out.
Plus, you can go the extra mile by adding advanced security camera systems and checking on them during inspections. More than half (62%) of Americans already use at least one type of security system to protect themselves, and security cameras are getting increasingly affordable by the year.
While the question of where landlords can legally put cameras is often blurry, the rule we always stick to is to only put them around the property perimeter (where most crimes start, anyway) and make them visible to the tenants (so they never feel like you’re secretly spying on them). Don’t put cameras where there should be privacy (e.g., bathrooms, bedrooms, and any indoor private areas).
And mention the cameras in the lease agreement, so everything’s transparent with the tenant.
❏ Lead-Based Paint
We’re going to assume that you know the property’s age before you bought it (if you don’t, you should!). If it was built before 1978, there’s a good chance that it has lead-based paint somewhere. Lead-based paint was eventually banned due to its health and safety hazards, which means you should deal with any lead-based paint still lingering around in the rental property.
If you’re unsure of any lead-based paint in the house, take these steps between tenancies:
- Have a professional check for lead substances on your walls.
- If lead is found, remove the paint as soon as possible.
- Repaint with approved alternatives like zero-VOC (volatile organic compound) or non-toxic paint.
Moreover, you are required by law to disclose the history of usage of lead-based paint to your tenants. So if you haven’t dealt with the problem yet and already have tenants moving in, you’ll have to disclose the potential health hazard to them. Don’t keep them in the dark—they have the right to know.
❏ Occupancy Standards
Every rental property will have different occupancy standards to follow. Simply put, it’s a law to ensure that there is enough space per person to live a comfortable life.
One example is the maintenance code 404 in New York, which dictates that there should be a minimum of 70 square feet for every 1 occupant in a bedroom, and 50 square feet for each additional occupant there. Living and dining rooms can count towards the room of occupancy.
Still, you have to be extra careful NOT to discriminate against large families who can only afford smaller homes. Understand your local occupancy laws, know what the maximum tenancy is for your property, and gently and clearly explain that to applicants whenever necessary.
❏ Outdoor Railings & Handrails
When it comes to your rental’s deck or balcony, ensure that the railings and handrails comply with height regulations. The minimum railing heights are defined in either the International Residential Code or the International Building Code—it is essential to determine which one your local authority uses.
For railings, the standard height ranges from 36 to 42 inches. If you notice that the railings fall short on the minimum, get in touch with your handyman to fix it right away, or at least between tenancies.
Tenants Prioritize Safety. You Should, Too.
Safety goes a long way in retaining your tenants, protecting your cash flow, and maintaining your real estate assets. Plus, it’s required by law, so stick to the safety standards to avoid getting sued. That’ll only cost you time and money that you’d rather use somewhere else!
As always, if you need more help, get in touch with us for property management services. We can ensure that your rentals meet safety standards, so you can focus on expanding your portfolio. We have more than two decades of experience in the field—there’s nothing we haven’t seen yet!