Landlording & Rental Properties

4 Crucial Tips for Dealing with a Crisis as a Landlord

Expertise: Landlording & Rental Properties
32 Articles Written

Murphy’s Law states that whatever can go wrong, will.

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Murphy must have been a landlord.

I just hope he had a plan.

Do you have a plan in place for how you’ll deal with emergencies at your rental properties?

Imagine that a fire breaks out, or that your rental house gets burglarized, or that the heat gives up in the middle of winter. What will you do?

In situations like these, you have to act quickly. If you’re trying to create an emergency plan (or as I like to call it, a Murphy Plan), the following tips may help.

#1: Have an Emergency Contact Number.

Give your tenants a phone number at which they can reach you 24 hours a day in case of actual emergencies.

I know what you’re thinking: Uh-Oh.

If you give them a number at which they can reach you 24 hours a day, they’ll be calling you at 10 p.m. to complain that they don’t like the color of tile that you chose for the bathtub surround.

“This isn’t warm beige, it’s 1970’s brown!”

You’ll have to speak with your tenants very clearly about what constitutes an emergency. A minor drip is not an emergency, but a flood in the basement is.

If you don’t want to give your tenants your own phone number, here are a few alternatives:

• Use a 24-hour answering service company like or
• Give your tenants a Google voice number … and check it frequently! Have the number forward to your cellular phone.
• Get a phone number and voicemail through Skype. Have your tenants call you at that number, and check it through your phone.

#2: Know Your Numbers

Keep a list of emergency numbers that you may need, such as the numbers for the gas company, the electric company, the police and fire department, and any preferred 24-hour contractors that you may need to call, such as 24-hour plumbers.

If you don’t know who your preferred 24-hour contractors are, get recommendations now. You should have those names and numbers on hand well in advance of when you may need them. Chat with other landlords in your area to see who they recommend .

#3: Launch an Anti-Fire Offensive

Prevention is the best emergency preparation. Keep a working smoke alarm in all of your units. Conduct a walk through of your units at least once a year, if not twice a year, and check the batteries and the fire extinguisher each time you walk through the unit.

I actually take this a step further and put a fire extinguisher in each of my units. During my initial walk-through with the tenant, I instruct the tenant on how to use it. These cost about $15 – $20 at Home Depot or Lowe’s.

When I started offering these, I used to tell the tenant that they’d be responsible for replacing the fire extinguisher if the fire was their fault (e.g. if they let a candle burn too close to a curtain), but later I decided that I didn’t want to give the tenants any reason to hesitate to use the extinguisher if necessary. Now I tell the tenants that I’ll gladly pay to replace the extinguisher if they need to use it.

I also add a clause in my lease stating that tenants may not leave burning candles unattended, and may not use any type of fire toys on the premises.

“Wait, what’s a fire toy?”

You know, like a twirling baton or a hula-hoop that you light on fire. Then you spin it around in circles, or toss it into the air.

“You added a clause to your lease about not using fire toys?”

I sure did.

“Isn’t that a little far-fetched?”

Hey, now my tenants can never protest: “You didn’t say that I can’t light a hula-hoop on fire in the living room!”

#4: Keep Keys Accessible

Keep multiple sets of keys to the unit. Place copies of these keys at any location you’re likely to frequent. Keep one set at keys at your home, for example, and another set of keys at your office.

If you go on vacation, make sure that you have a friend or trusted contractor who can easily access these keys.

I learned this lesson the hard way when an emergency unfolded in one of my vacant units while I was out-of-state. I wanted to send a contractor into the unit, but the keys were locked inside my house and nobody had access to my house keys. Oops!

Everything worked out in the end, but I learned my lesson: Make sure that the people who I contact have an easy way to access keys, even if I personally can’t be there.

The Bottom Line: Creating an emergency plan — well in advance of an actual emergency — can help you sail through those rough times. Murphy’s Law won’t stand a chance.
Photo Credit: skippyjon

Paula Pant quit her 9-to-5 job, invested in 7 rental units, and traveled to 32 countries. Her blog, Afford Anything, shares how to shatter limits, build wealth and maximize life. (At, she shares EXACT numbers from all her rental investments -- costs, cash flow, cap rate; it's all published for the world to read.) Afford Anything is a gathering spot for a tribe dedicated to ditching the cubicle. Read her blog, and join the revolution.

    Roy N.
    Replied over 5 years ago
    1) Don’t Panic! 2) Do not forget your towel.
    Jonna Weber
    Replied over 5 years ago
    Great reminders Paula! It seems like every plumbing or HVAC emergency I have experienced has been on a weekend or when I’ve been gone. This year- it was no hot water on Christmas eve when I was out of town. This is when I was so thankful to have a great working relationship with my repairman who showed up to take care of it.
    Sharon Tzib
    Replied over 5 years ago
    Ken McElroy’s definition of an emergency is great: “Fire, Flood or Blood” – easy for the tenant’s to remember 🙂
    Replied over 5 years ago
    Ha That’s what I use lol Fire flood or blood. I must have gotten it from one of his books.
    Suzanne De Vita
    Replied over 5 years ago
    Thanks for the tips, Paula! Fire safety is especially important this time of year – you might also want to amend your lease to include portable heaters.
    Suzanne De Vita
    Replied over 5 years ago
    Thanks for the tips, Paula! Fire safety is especially important this time of year – you might also want to amend your lease to include portable heaters.
    Replied over 5 years ago
    I disagree with #1) – Tenants have my “office” phone. Fire, Flood or Blood call 911 everything else can wait until morning. Running water, call the Fire Department and have them turn the line at the meter off. Can’t really think of anything else that can’t be done the next day. #2) can never have too many options in your “rolodex” #3) I’ve had a fire and while it’s a huge pain it’s not the end of the world. My lease stipulates what the tenant is to supply. What happens if the extinguisher you supplied fails? They do loose their charge. #4) Have a master key system. No need for a bunch of keys. Vacant units are on a lock box and if under rehab contractors have a “contractor key” which gets changed out after work is complete. Lots fewer things to keep track of. It’s a good idea to plan ahead but don’t get too wrapped up on what ifs, it takes away from growing your business.
    Replied over 5 years ago
    For the most part I should not be the first person they contact in an emergency. Fire? Call the fire department. “Blood”? Get an ambulance. Burglary? Call the police. Electric goes out? Call the electric company. I don’t have a go to emergency plumber they can call directly so for a flood or heat going out I guess I still would be first point of contact.