Winter can be a particularly high-risk season for investors, when tenant cocooning, heavy rains, high winds and storms combine to increase the potential for accidental property damage, according to RentCover managing director Sharon Fox-Slater. Here is how to navigate the top six winter hazards.
1. Fire hazards
As the temperature dips, and as tenants switch on heaters, light fireplaces, dry clothes indoors, burn candles and use more electrical appliances such as electric blankets, the chances of a home fire increases, says Ms Fox-Slater.
She says that, obviously, vigilance around heat sources is paramount, but there are a few things both landlords and agents can do too to help reduce the risks.
“Ensure an adequate number of suitable smoke alarms are correctly installed and positioned throughout the home, and they are tested regularly, including always during inspections,” says Ms Fox-Slater.
“Consider supplying fire extinguishers and fire blankets at the property, especially in kitchens, and explain to tenants how to use them correctly. Also, make sure fireplaces are in good working order. Get the chimney professionally cleaned, ensure the fireplace is properly ventilated and have the structural integrity of the brickwork, chimney and flue checked.”
2. Faulty appliances
Ms Fox-Slater says the cold and wet also brings risks associated with heating, from runaway fires to faulty appliances that emit toxic gases.
“When it comes to fixed heating appliances, only authorised installers should be used and the appliances, whether gas, wood, oil or electric, should be checked and serviced regularly by qualified contractors,” she says.
“A lack of heating in winter also means unhappy tenants, so ensure any supplied heaters and hot water systems are working properly. Non-working or damaged heating appliances are often considered urgent by both tenants and the law, so get onto repairs quickly.”
It is important to note that whether your landlord clients’ storm damage claims are successful or not will often depend on whether the property has been adequately maintained, says Ms Fox-Slater.
“If owners or agents have not kept up to date with repairs, they could find part or all of their claim rejected.”
But she adds that it is pretty simple to get on top of basic winter maintenance.
Heavy rain can cause flooding, says Ms Fox-Slater, and not just for properties in flood-prone areas.
“While properties close to bodies of water have a higher risk of being caught up in an actual flood, any property can be inundated with water. While we can’t avoid the elements, landlords and agents should ensure the rental is properly maintained to help limit damage when bad weather descends.”
Again, she says it’s pretty intuitive to do.
Ms Fox-Slater says the damp weather provides ideal growing conditions for mould.
She says that once mould spores appear, they can spread and ultimately cause both health problems and damage to the property.
“Mould outbreaks stemming from maintenance or structural issues are the responsibility of the landlord or agent to fix. If mould and mildew is present, have it professionally cleaned, find the cause of the outbreak – and get it sorted.
“If tenant action, or inaction, led to the mould forming, they are required to take care of it. Frequently, this is the result of poor ventilation practices like not putting the exhaust fan on when showering, or lack of cleaning like not properly drying out wet carpets. Remind tenants to air the home properly and clean damp areas.”
6. Liability claims
Cold and wet conditions can spell mishaps, which in turn can expose landlords to liability claims, Ms Fox-Slater says.
“Wet surfaces in and around the rental can cause slips and falls, and landlords can be held liable for the injury if the reason the water doesn’t disperse is found to be their fault.
“In addition to making the premises slip-proof, also check stairs and walkways are safe and well-lit, supplied heaters are working properly, all on-site structures are safe and sound, and the property is secure.”