By Jeffrey S. Lapin, CPM, DREI
The Object of Inspections
When it comes to conducting inspections of commercial or multi unit residential properties, there are some basic tips and techniques that have been proven to be very effective and are therefore shared here. The object of the inspection is to quickly and efficiently perform a visual audit of the entire property in order to identify items that are lacking in proper maintenance or add risk and need to be either fixed or replaced.
Some property managers consider “walking around” the property as they come and go to be an inspection. It is not, and we should eliminate the words “Walk-arounds” as an inspection method from our vocabulary.
Start with a Customized, Written Property Maintenance and Risk Management Program for the Property
In the IREM Maintenance course (MNT402), we teach that each property has unique risks and potential for hazards to the health and safety of the public as well as unique maintenance needs. So the first step is to create a written maintenance and risk management plan for each property.
This should be an ever-evolving task as a plan that’s created and put on the shelf is useless and a waste of time. A constant process of testing the plan and changing it to meet the needs of the property is the standard to be achieved. And remember that preventive maintenance is the goal, not corrective or reactive maintenance (fixing things as they breakdown).
Use a Written or Electronic Checklist Every Time
First, always use a written or electronic checklist. The checklist gives the inspection team a logical flow or sequence of items to visually inspect and note that item’s condition and prevents missed items. Once the inspection is completed, the written or eletronic, dated checklist serves as the reference document for follow up and evidences the occurrence of the inspection.
It is highly recommended that the Manager be accompanied on the inspections by those persons identified as responsible for specific items at the Property. At a minimum, the Manager should be accompanied by the assistant property manager (if there is one), the janitorial supervisor and the Chief Engineer or Maintenance Supervisor. If services are provided by contractors, a senior representative must accompany the inspection team.
The Manager should have the following items with him/her on the inspection tour:
- Written inspection checklist on a clipboard or electronic version on a tablet
- Camera or cell phone to take photos of conditions found
- Caution tape to cordon off unsafe conditions found
- A working flashlight
Any team member that notes an item requiring attention should advise the Manager who will combine all the findings on a single inspection checklist and take a photo of the item. Use all of your senses including your sense of smell. If you see health or safety hazards, these must be addressed immediately. All parties should stay together for the entire inspection so that items in need of attention are seen by all.
Start on the Roof
Start on the roof of the first building and walk the entire roof, noting conditions ranging from open seams or tears in the roof membrane to items improperly stored on the roof. Note any clogged roof drains or scuppers which must be addressed immediately. Property managers are not roofing experts but should be able to identify (with the help of trained maintenance personnel) roof-related issues that require correction such as those mentioned. This does not replace the annual roof inspection by a roofing contractor.
Also note any ponding on the roof (if the roof is dry, ponding areas can be identified by staining left on the roof surface). This is caused by low spots or clogged drains and must be addressed by a licensed roofer. Pay careful attention to the perimeter of the roof where the flat roof surface meets the parapet walls. The joints and seams in these areas, along with flashing (sheet metal covering) around roof penetrations, are areas where leaks frequently occur.
Note the condition of any rooftop equipment such as A/C units, fan housings, pipe jacks, satellite dishes and antennas, exposed ducting and lighting. Any items that are rusted, loose or otherwise in need of maintenance should be noted. No items must be sitting directly on the roof surface – all must be on raised “sleepers”, properly flashed, to keep them off the roof membrane. Dispose of abandoned equipment.
Rooftop mechanical rooms must be inspected at this time, noting the general condition of these areas including improper storage or disorganized work areas, leaking pipes or tanks, dirty areas, and dark/poorly lit areas. Note the condition of signage for mechanical equipment. Missing or unprofessional signage should be noted, including warning signs for hazards. Verify that chemicals are properly stored, in original containers with proper secondary containment. PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) must be available and used when handling hazardous chemicals.
NOTE: Pitched roofs are too dangerous for non-roofers.
Start Working Your Way Down the Building
Once the roof walk is completed, move on to the top floor of the building. It is recommended that the inspection team use the emergency exit stairwells and not the elevator to move from floor to floor. That will allow the team to note the condition of the stairwells (which must have nothing stored on landings and all lights and signage in operable condition). Test emergency battery back up lights at this time.
Walk the entire floor, including leased areas, vacant areas, restrooms, utility closets, telephone/electrical rooms and any other rooms or areas on the floor. If the Property is a multifamily residential property, the units should be inspected at this time, including vacant and occupied units. Remember to provide the lease-required notice of inspection to the residents.
Inspect fire/life safety devices including fire extinguishers, fire hoses (if equipped), smoke detectors, horn/strobe devices, pull stations and other devices. All must be in good repair, properly mounted and functional. These devices are tested by your fire/life safety contractor in accordance with state law but the inspection should reveal any obviously broken or missing devices.
Train team members to have their “heads on a swivel”. This means that they are constantly looking up, down and sideways, noting any small issues that might normally escape notice such as cob webs, dirt, stains, lights out or flickering, carpet tears or loose seams, etc.
Restrooms Deserve Special Attention
Restrooms in commercial properties deserve special attention during this process. All team members, male and female, should observe every inch of both male and female restrooms. Of course, make sure the restroom is unoccupied before entering! Pay close attention to horizontal surfaces such as the top of partitions, tops of light fixtures and tops of light switch plates. All should be dust free and feel clean.
Examine the corners of toilet stalls, behind and under plumbing fixtures and the underside of toilet seats. Look for hair, dust, paper, insects and any staining. Carefully examine all bright work. Chrome surfaces must be clean, shiny and free of finger prints, water stains and grime. Faucets must not leak or drip and soap dispensers and paper dispensers must be full and work properly. Trash facilities must be clean and have the correct plastic liners in place. Floors must be clean, stain free, dry and properly sealed.
If the Property is multifamily, inspect the laundry room (if equipped). The laundry room must be clean and be free of trash, lint, debris, dryer sheets, empty laundry soap containers and so forth. Check that fans and other ventilation equipment is working properly and that no mildew smells are present. Excessive humidity in laundry rooms is unhealthy for residents and can lead to mold. The laundry room must be well lit and present a clean and safe environment. Check behind laundry machines for puddles of water, lint, trash or other debris. Check lint traps on the machines to make sure that they are clean.
Flexible dryer ducting becoming blocked with lint buildup is a major cause of apartment building fires. For risk management purposes, it is strongly recommended that closed circuit cameras be installed in the laundry room along with signs advising that videotaping is in progress. DVR (digital video recording) devices with recorded images held for a period of time before being overwritten are a good way to get forensic evidence if a crime is alleged.
It is also recommended that laundry rooms stay locked with self-closing doors and combination locks. Residents can be provided with the lock code and it can be changed when needed by the manager.
Storage Areas and Mechanical Rooms
If tenants/residents are provided with storage areas, these rooms or closets must be periodically inspected (remember to provide appropriate notice). No flammable items or liquids can be stored, including gas, oil, solvents, gas powered tools or equipment. No perishable items can be stored in tenant storage. Vacant unit storage areas must be cleaned out and inspected when the unit is vacated.
Storage areas that are only accessed by building personnel must be kept neat and organized. Any discarded parts, equipment and tools that are no longer needed should be sold, donated or disposed of properly. No flammable items can be stored other than in OHSA approved locking cabinets. These rooms must clean, free of cob webs and debris and must be well lit with proper signage.
Mechanical rooms, like building storage areas, must be clean, well lit, free of discarded items and safe for use. There must be adequate clear space around all equipment for air circulation and avoidance of fire hazards. Any flammable items must be in approved storage and non-flammable items must be neatly stacked on shelves, properly labeled and easily accessed. Nothing should be kept on the floor – all tools and ladders must be hung properly from walls. If chemicals are used in mechanical rooms, such as fuel, grease, oil or other chemicals, they must be properly stored in original containers, sealed and properly labeled. PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) must be available and used when handling such chemicals.
A neat, safe and organized mechanical room imparts a sense of pride in the maintenance staff.
The Lobby/Manager’s Office
The lobby or manager’s office should receive a great deal of attention to detail as this is the public “face” of the building. Observe the condition of the path of travel that tenants/residents and visitors take from the parking lot or garage, into the lobby or manager’s office/apartment, past the directory of tenants/residents and lobby desk (if equipped) and into the elevators.
Pay special attention to the floor of these areas. If it is stone or tile, it must be clean, dry and properly sealed with a low slip floor finish at all times. Slip and fall incidents are very common on slick lobby flooring and represent a major liability risk. Maintenance procedures for such floors must be inclusive of proper barricades and warning signs to keep the public off of any wet areas. They must also include frequent inspection and elimination of slip and fall conditions during normal operations. It is strongly suggested that a written log of such inspections be kept at the lobby desk or management office. It will be invaluable as a defense in an injury claim.
Any walk-off mats must be clean and reasonably dry. The corners must lay flat on the floor and no seams, tears or wrinkles may be allowed as these are trip hazards. Any mats not meeting these criteria must be removed immediately and replaced with safe ones.
Note the condition of signage for the building, including address signs, leasing signage, tenant directory signage and so forth. All signs must be correct, secured properly and look professional. Handmade paper signs or signs printed on a computer printer are to be avoided as they deter from the professional appearance that we’re striving for. Any special notices should be in a frame and mounted to a wall or on a professional sign stand.
If the Property is multifamily, observe the directional and identification signage for the manager’s office, as well as the look, feel and smell of the manager’s unit. Verify that this “face” of your property is sufficiently professional.
Any lobby/office furniture must be in very good repair, clean and free of stains, rips and holes.
Now the Elevators
Next, note the condition of each elevator, starting with the hall call lanterns (up and down arrows), call buttons and floor buttons and indicators. The doors and thresholds of each cab must be clean, free of grease and grime, fingerprints and any dropped items such as wrappers. The walls of the elevator cab must be clean and free of any flyers, marks, gouges, graffiti and dirt. The cab floors must be clean and free of spots, stains, holes, tears, rips and debris. All lights must be in working order and fixtures clean. No handmade or written signs or notices should be present.
Check the communication devices in each elevator. If hands-free, push the intercom button or lift the receiver and see if the call is answered promptly and professionally. The person answering the intercom (usually the elevator company) must be able to determine without asking, the address of the building and the specific cab you are in. Let them know that you are with the building and testing the communications device, thank them and move onto the next cab.
NOTE: Keep a written log of the testing of these devices along with your other inspection forms.
Note whether the cab is leveling properly and if doors automatically reopen if an object is inserted in the path of closing doors. These two areas are major sources of injury liability claims. If there are any issues here, the elevator company must be notified immediately. If necessary, take the car out of service and post a professional notice until it is repaired.
If the Property has stairs to access upper floors, ensure that the stair treads are clean, dry and not a slip and fall hazard. Verify that stair railings are clean and properly secured. Again, risk mitigation is our primary concern.
Once all buildings in the complex have been completed, it’s time to move outside. It is recommended that the inspection team (which should now be supplemented by the landscape contractor) walk out to the street in front of the building/complex and simulate a tenant, resident or visitor arriving at the Property. Note the “curb” appearance of the Property from the street. Is the Property attractive and inviting?
Have the team walk onto the Property from the street via the all entrances. Note the condition of signage including address signs, Property identification signs, leasing signs and directional signage. All must be in very good condition, clean and easily visible. Cobwebs, dirt, mud, landscape clippings and such should not be present on any signs. Have the light timers or photocells overridden for the inspection so that all lights can be checked, including lit signs.
Look at each face of each building from ground level and identify any open voids in joints (where sealant is missing, shrunken or damaged) including vertical control joints, horizontal expansion joints, window to frame joints and other areas where dissimilar materials are joined. These voids can result from building settlement, structural failures and even bird activity (birds like to peck out caulking material). If these areas are not readily visible from the ground level, it may be necessary to have a window washing vendor do a close up inspection and provide a map of issues found.
Walk all around the building and look at where the building façade meets the ground level pavers, walkways, etc. Verify that all caulked joints are properly sealed. Note any deficiencies.
Verify that landscaped planters, grass areas, shrubs, grass and trees are all well maintained. Note any areas that need more attention. If possible, have the landscape contractor activate irrigation devices so that any overspray or missed areas can be spotted. Look for hazards such as sunken areas, wet areas, exposed tree roots and landscaping tools and equipment left in the path of travel.
Next, look at the hardscaped surfaces including asphalt, concrete and pavers. Note any slip-and-fall or trip-and-fall hazards and if any are found IMMEDIATELY cordon those areas off with a high visibility barrier. Notify maintenance to have repairs done ASAP. This is a very frequent cause of injury liability claims.
Verify that all exterior lighting is working properly. Note any burnt out bulbs, malfunctioning fixtures or areas that are not properly lit. As you and your team walk the entire exterior portion of the Property, note any deficiencies in lighting wherein a person arriving or leaving in dark conditions might experience an unlit or under lighted area. These items must also receive top priority as the risk of injury is very high.
Pay special attention to walkways around the base of mature trees as root systems often lift concrete and hardscape pavers, creating a hazard to pedestrians. Also note the cleanliness of parking areas, including excessive oil stains where cars park. Oil and grease are major causes of slip and fall law suits. An application of absorbent sand or clay over oil spots will temporarily remove the hazard until proper clean up can occur. Make sure that the absorbent used does not create its own hazard.
If the Property is equipped with a parking structure, have the team walk the entire structure from top to bottom. Note any deficiencies in lighting, signage, missing or damaged bumper stops, etc. Look up and in corners for dirt, grime, cob webs, bird droppings, papers, cups, trash and debris of all kinds. Check all parking structure ramps for proper speed warning signs, speed bumps, painted stop lines, etc.
Pools and spas are sources of thousands of injury claims and millions of dollars of legal fees each year. They often present more liability than the benefits that they provide. If the Property is equipped with pools or spas, they must be inspected often to control risk. Verify that fences and gates designed to prevent young children from getting near the water work properly and close automatically and firmly.
If life preservers or hook-and-rescue poles are provided, they must be present and in good working order. Signs warning of “No Lifeguard on Duty” or other warnings must be easy to read and in proper condition. If the pool or spa is provided with a disabled lift, it must be in good working order and inspected often to be sure it works safely.
Chlorine or other pool chemicals must not be accessible to anyone other than those that are properly trained to use them. PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) must be available and used when handling such chemicals. This is a task that should be considered for outsourcing due to risk.
Once the inspection is completed and the inspection checklist is completely filled out, it’s time to follow up on what was found. Have the team meet in a conference room immediately after the inspection and review the results of the inspection. Take the combined notes from all team members and add them to the inspection forms if not already done. Do not file the report away just yet!
The Manager must now create priority lists and work orders for each Plan member to address the findings of the inspection. Top priority should be given to items that cause risk to the property owner such as we’ve identified above. It is vitally important that anything that was found that poses a hazard to tenants/residents, visitors or invitees to the Property be communicated to those who need to know.
The tenants/residents and anyone who enters upon the Property must be notified of any hazardous condition(s). If the hazard cannot be repaired immediately, then the area must be cordoned off with a highly visible barrier and that barrier must be inspected frequently to insure that it remains effective.
Items found that do not pose immediate health or safety hazards such as dirt or stains should be assigned to a team member for resolution. A written close out of the work orders addressing these issues must be put in the file with the inspection records.
Conducting regular full property inspections, using a written checklist and immediately following up on items found during the inspection will minimize risk to the property owner and help to ensure that the property is in the best shape possible at all times.