This post is really for snow-belt landlords. Here in New Hampshire, snow season can start as early as November and continue into May. Unless you are renting SFRs, or have some other arrangement where the tenant is responsible for outdoor care, it is up to you to take care of the snow and ice on driveways and parking lots.
It helps to look at snow removal through the tenant’s eyes. This is one of the areas where they absolutely depend on you. After all, suppose there’s a big storm and you don’t take care of the snow. Now the tenants can’t get out of the lot, which means they can’t get to work… or to their appointments. Depending on the timing of the snow and their schedules, your bad snow removal efforts might mean they can’t get into the property.
Could you also invite tenant lawsuits through a bad snow removal effort? After some brief research on the Internet, it looks to me like you would win a lawsuit – which doesn’t mean you would avoid the huge hassle. In any case, the biggest reason to provide effective snow removal is that it’s the right thing to do.
So how are you going to do it? You basically have three options, each with advantages or disadvantages.
Option 1 – Do it Yourself
The number one advantage of doing your own snow removal is that you will do it. The number one disadvantage is that, well, you have to do it. Because they are your properties and your tenants, you can (presumably) be counted on to get the job done. However, that also means you will be getting up early, driving through heavy weather, and arranging your personal schedule around the lives of your tenants.
You will obviously need a plow truck and a plow. You must also learn how to do the job. Plowing is not as simple as it looks! I recommend the website www.snowplowing-contractors.com and the associated book. The proprietor, Chuck Smith, is an encyclopedia of snowplowing. He knows it the way Bill Belichick knows football.
Obviously d-i-y snow removal makes a lot more sense if you already have a truck and plow, if your properties are close together, if you live close to them, or if you already do some contracting that might extend to plowing for a fee.
Option 2 – Hire a Contractor
This is what most of us will do. It’s by far the simplest solution. Unfortunately, you may have to go through a couple of contractors before you find someone who will do the job to your (and the tenants’) satisfaction. You can eliminate some of this pain by choosing carefully, making your expectations clear, and following up.
You should never, ever hire a snow removal contractor more than one town away. This is because snow conditions can vary greatly over just a couple of miles. They can look out their window and see an inch on the ground, while six inches have fallen on your property. Start your search by asking other local landlords (ask at your landlords’ association meeting).
A good snow removal contractor will do the job the way you want it. You will want to determine how early he should make his first visit if there is overnight snow, and how often he should come by if there is continuing daytime snow. Check with the tenants to make sure they don’t have to leave extra early.
Your primary responsibility to the snowplower, and to any other good contractor, is to pay him. Good contractors are worth their weight in gold. They certainly deserve prompt payment.
Option 3 – Hire a Tenant
Don’t do it! I never recommend hiring tenants for any purpose other than doing work inside their own units, and even then very rarely. But if you really want to hire a tenant (don’t do it!), follow these rules and you’ll be slightly less disappointed.
1) The tenant must provide his own equipment.
2) The snowplow agreement should be separate from the lease (you should be able to cancel one without cancelling the other).
3) The tenant must have been a tenant in good standing for at least a year.
The Tenants’ Responsibility
Each tenant is responsible for clearing sidewalks, doorways, steps and porches by his unit. Tenants are also responsible for moving their cars if they don’t want to be plowed in. Make sure your tenants know that they may get plowed in from time to time if they don’t move their cars; that the snowplower will not make special return trips to plow an area that was blocked by cars; and that the snowplower and you are not responsible for damage to anything left in the parking lot other than a car.
Good luck with your efforts and we’ll see you after digging out next spring!