Winterizing Your Tenants

By mid-November, most property owners have done all the necessary prepping for the cold winter weather; but, if you own or manage rental property, have you also ‘Winterized’ Your Tenants?

Let’s be honest, even those of who have lived in the colder and snowy regions for most of our lives, there is always an adjustment period from fall to winter, or we’re simply in denial. Reality eventually sinks in after it snows again and again and 35 degrees actually feels warm.  For someone who is new to a property or also new to the region, adjusting to winter can actually be scary and complicated. Not being prepared can be downright dangerous for your tenants and your property.

As landlords, you should communicate with tenants to be sure they understand the winter rules so they can safely get through the snowy and low temperature weather. This will not only help them, but will help to minimize emergency calls to you.

You don’t want your plow guy calling you because someone’s vehicle is creating a problem for him to plow. Or, pipes bursting because a tenant turned the heat down to go on vacation.

Here’s a quick checklist for prepping your tenants for winter:

1. Windows and doors. Make sure windows and doors close and lock properly. Remind tenants to tightly close exterior doors, especially the main entry in a multi-unit. No one wants to shovel out the inside of a building because the door blew open.

2. Tools and supplies. Be sure to let tenants know where communal shovels and buckets of sand and salt are, and make sure they know what to do, especially if they’ve relocated from a warm climate. For tenants new to the frozen north, a housewarming gift of ice-cleats and a snowbrush can build goodwill and help avoid accidents.

3. Parking bans and parking lot clearing. Provide a written snow policy that outlines the plowing schedule and includes consequences for not moving a vehicle on time. Remind tenants to let you know if they’ll be away and to make arrangements for any vehicles they’re leaving behind. Take the time to text and email snow removal reminders the night before a storm.

4. Frozen water pipes. When the temperature gets below 20, text and email reminders on keeping pipes from freezing by opening cabinet doors under any sink located on an exterior wall. When sub-zero temps hit, tenants may also keep water flowing in a very slow drip.

5. Oil tank. Oil tank level should never go below a quarter full. If tenants are paying for oil directly, make sure they understand this, and urge them to contact you if they can’t handle the expense. An empty tank can be dangerous for tenants and your property. If keeping the tank full is unaffordable, you may want to renegotiate the lease to include heat or allow them to break the lease.

6. Natural gas. If your place is heated by gas, show tenants where the exhaust is so they can keep an eye on snow and ice build-up. If the exhaust gets blocked, this could cause the pilot to go out or worse cause Carbon Monoxide to leak into the dwelling. If the tenant smells gas they should call the local gas company. In Portland, ME the gas company is UNITIL.

7. Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.  You can never OVER communicate about smoke and carbon detectors. Be sure tenants are following good safety habits and keeping their detectors active.

8. Portable space heaters. Space heaters cause more than 25,000 residential fires and 300 deaths every year, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. That’s a good reason to ban space heaters from your property. If you allow their use, make sure tenants know to keep them away from furniture, clothing and bedding and never leave them unattended. The U.S. Department of Energy has more safety tips on space heaters.

9. Maintenance issues. Early intervention can make all the difference. Your lease should describe tenant responsibility for notifying you about any maintenance issues or concerns that may impact their comfort or safety or affect your property. Tenants are your eyes and ears both inside their units and around the property. Be sure they know if they see something, to say something. Err on the side of caution.

10. Vacations. Be sure tenants notify you if they are going to be away for an extended period of time. Even if they have someone checking on the place, you need to know when the property is left vacant as an added level of security.

11. Lockouts. Make sure no one gets locked out of a rental in sub-zero weather. Be sure tenants know the procedures of who to call if they get locked out. Better yet, install keyless entry locks.

12. Holiday Decorations. Most tenants want to decorate for the holidays. Provide guidelines to help minimize hazards and avoid a dead Christmas tree from hanging around all winter. Christmas trees should be kept watered and away from any heat source.  Provide information on how to dispose of the tree after Christmas and provide a time-line for doing so.

Whether you’re spending winter at a tropical beach – or working two jobs – you can make your life easier by training your tenants on winter basics.