How Landlords Can Identify Potentially Dangerous Conditions

By Robert S. Griswold, Laurence Harmon

As a landlord, you can’t address safety hazards unless you know about them. There are two ways to identify potentially dangerous conditions: by having residents notify you of any safety concerns and by conducting regular safety inspections.

Encourage residents to report safety concerns

Your residents may notice a safety hazard before you do, so encourage them to report any potential or actual safety concerns immediately. Consider posting a sign in common areas that includes an email address and a phone number to call. You may also want to remind residents every six months by sending them a form they can complete and submit to report any health or safety concerns they notice.

You can’t monitor your rental property 24/7, so enlist the help of your residents, respond promptly to any concerns they raise, and thank them for helping you keep your property reasonably safe. By expressing your dedication to resident safety, you’re likely to improve your retention rate in addition to preventing costly accidents and lawsuits.

Conduct regular safety inspections

Don’t rely solely on residents to report safety issues they notice. If there is no legal prohibition against it, be proactive by conducting regular safety inspections.

Inspecting rental units

Whenever a resident moves out, inspect the property for any of the following signs of a potential safety hazard:

  • Blackened, scorched, or loose outlets or light fixtures, which may indicate an electrical problem

  • Damaged carpet or uneven floors that could trip residents

  • Loose stairs or handrails

  • Smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors that don’t work

  • Fire extinguishers that have lost their charge

  • Extinguished pilot lights in gas appliances, including furnace, water heater, and gas range

  • Broken glass or loose materials that could cause cuts, punctures, or other injuries

  • Overly hot water that could scald residents, especially children, the disabled, and older adults

  • Standard outlets in bathrooms and around the kitchen sink that really should have ground fault interrupters to protect against electric shock

We reiterate: Enlist the support of residents in keeping your rental property safe. Encourage them to notify you immediately of any safety issues that arise within their rental units or anywhere on the property.

Inspecting common areas

At least annually, inspect your property to identify potential safety issues. Here are some areas to focus on:

  • Inadequate lighting or burned-out lights

  • Sick, dying, or damaged trees or tree limbs or limbs close to power lines

  • Stairwells and railings (check all railings to see whether they’re loose)

  • Uneven pavement or sidewalks due to cracks, expansion, or settling

  • Deep holes or depressions in the ground

  • Fences and gates, especially around any swimming pool, spa, or hot tub

  • Cracked tiles or other defects around the pool, spa, or hot tub

  • Flammable materials, such as boxes or stacks of newspapers on patios or on or under stairs

  • Windows without insect screens, window locks, or other devices to prevent someone from coming in

  • Decks or patios pulling away from the building

  • Smoke alarms, fire alarms, fire extinguishers, or fire hoses, if any

  • Smell of natural gas, which may indicate a gas leak

  • Breaker boxes for any burned or scorched surfaces that may indicate electrical problems

  • Exposed wires that may cause electric shock or electrocution