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Landlord and Tenant Responsibilities During the Winter Months

November 29, 2018

While winter is the season of wonder and excitement, for landlords and tenants alike, it can also be a stressful time of year.

Winter means colder weather, and a higher chance of issues like burst pipes, leaks, and furnaces going out. It’s also the season where everything that could go wrong –usually will. And often during the week before Christmas!

This is the time of year for roasting chestnuts over an open fire –or, you know, at least enjoying some downtime in front of the TV! Not making emergency call-outs to your rentals in an attempt to bring a broken furnace back to life. Likewise, your tenants also have better things to do over Christmas, besides shivering in a cold house, waiting for furnace repairs.

But while there are plenty of things that that could go wrong this winter, the good news is that there’s a lot that both you and your tenants can do to help mitigate potential problems as well. With preventative maintenance and an ongoing, proactive approach, you can help to stave off a number of issues this winter.

To help prevent your rental from having its own set of mid-winter catastrophes, here’s a look at some things that you can do to get your place prepared.

Communicate

Communication is key to helping your rental run to smoothly during the winter months, and for ensuring that important tasks are not forgotten. Whose job is it to salt and shovel the driveway? Who’s responsible for servicing the furnace? Be sure to talk with your tenants and get a list together of things that need to be dealt with before the winter weather hits, and to discuss who will be responsible for which tasks during the winter months.

Have a Plan for Snow Removal

In most cases, landlords are responsible for the snow removal at apartment complexes and other multi-unit dwellings. However, when it comes to single-family residences, the responsibilities could go to either party. Of course, you’ll want to check your state law and local ordinances first, just to make sure there’s no clause stating that landlords are responsible for snow removal.

If haven’t done so already, it may be worth considering adding a clause to your rental agreement, disclosing who is responsible for the keeping the driveway and walkways clear.

If there’s no agreement in your lease, it’s worth discussing this issue with your tenants. Are they happy to shovel snow –or arrange for snow removal themselves? Or would it be an idea to hire a snow removal company to come over when the snow falls? Some landlords offer their tenants a rent reduction during the winter months (say $50 – $100) in exchange for the tenants agreeing to keep the driveway, walkways, and sidewalk in front of the home clear from snow.

Create a List of Emergency Contacts

No one wants to think about emergencies –but it’s a good idea to keep a list of emergency contact numbers on hand. During the winter, should the furnace go out or a pipe burst, having some useful contacts will help to make life much easier.

Get Prepared! And Prepare Your Tenants

Make sure your tenants are aware of the potential hazards of winter –and ensure that they’re clear on their responsibilities as well.

Don’t assume that a tenant knows what they’re supposed to do during the winter. They may be new to the area –and unfamiliar with a colder climate, or first-time renters –and unaware of all of the work that’s involved with keeping a property sound. In some cases, they may simply assume that as the landlord, you will handle everything. Take the time to inform your tenants of their responsibilities. You’ll also want to make sure they know that they should contact you at the first sign of any winter problems –such as leaks, water damage, pest infestations, or issues with faucets or pipes.

Winterize the Property

When it comes to winterizing the property, there are tasks for landlords and tenants alike.

Generally preventative maintenance tasks –things that involve maintaining the value of the property, or preventing further damage from occurring are tasks that are in the landlord’s best interest and therefore could be considered the landlord’s responsibility. However, simple tasks that tenants can take on their own –could be assigned to the tenant easily enough.

Either way, your best option is ensuring that both parties are clear on their responsibilities, and outlining these in the rental agreement.

Now, here’s a look at some of the most pressing tasks this winter –and help for determining who’s responsible for each.

  • Clean and Inspect the Roof and Gutters
    Cleaning the roof and gutters is a task for the landlord. And generally, one task that’s outsourced. Clean and damage-free gutters can help to ensure that water is directed away from the house and its foundation during the winter months, helping to stave off water and ice damage.

  • Wrap Pipes in Heat Tape
    This is a task that either landlord or tenant could tackle. Just make sure the lease clearly states who is responsible for it.

  • Clear Walkways and Parking Areas
    Clearing debris and leaves from walkways and parking areas is a task that the tenants can usually tackle, especially if it is a single-family residence.

  • Remove and Store Seasonal Items
    Things such as patio chairs, portable flower boxes, hoses, and sprinklers should be stored properly for the winter. Generally, this is a task that tenants should be able to do.

  • Service the Heating System
    A good way to prevent mid-winter emergencies is by having the furnace serviced before winter hits. The tenant should be able to schedule this service, but as the landlord, it’s your responsibility to pay for it. A good service should alert you to potential problems that will need to be addressed, so you can get them repaired early on.

Tenants: Tips for Helping to Prevent Mid-Winter Emergencies

In addition to early preventative maintenance, there are also some proactive steps that tenants can take during the winter months, to help prevent problems from occurring.

With this in mind, here’s a look at some tips for keeping a home in good shape all winter.

You could even print this list off –and give it to your tenants.

  • Don’t turn the heat off! You may be tempted to switch the heat off mid-winter if you’re leaving town, but it’s important to leave the heat on low continually throughout the winter to prevent the pipes from freezing.
  • Make sure you know where the water shut off valve is located. In case of emergency, turning this off will help to prevent a flood –and costly water damage.
  • Likewise, consider turning the water off before leaving on a trip –in case a pipe bursts while you’re away.
  • Before the cold weather hits, turn the furnace on and try running it on high for a few hours, to make sure it’s working. Better to learn early that there’s a problem, rather than mid-winter when it’s harder to find a technician.
  • While the home is empty –or during very cold spells, leave the attic open a crack to allow slightly warm air to circulate around the pipes.
  • During very cold spells, leave two taps running very slowly. The continual flow of water will help to prevent pipes from freezing completely.
  • Be alert for signs of rodent or pest infestations. Winter is a prime time for these unwanted guests to make themselves at home. Set traps or use rodenticide (practice safety: make sure it is out of the reach of children and pets), and inform the landlord at the first sign of a pest infestation.

Sure, performing maintenance takes time, and it’s not free –but it’s a task that’s worth doing. It’s been said that for every dollar you spend on maintenance, you save five in repairs expenses. For landlords, it’s also a safe bet that every minute you spend on maintenance will save you time –and hassle down the road as well. It’ll also keep your tenants happier, and help to prevent the need for mid-winter emergencies, and that’s something you can’t put a price on!

If you’re short on time and looking for help with your rentals –consider outsourcing the job to a reputable property manager. A property manager will be able to oversee maintenance, winterization, and even mid-winter emergencies for you –saving you time this season!