Real Estate Investing Basics

5 All-Too-Common Rental Property Emergencies (Plus, How to Prepare for & Prevent Them)

Expertise: Landlording & Rental Properties, Personal Finance, Real Estate News & Commentary
32 Articles Written
Burnt room interior with walls, furniture and floor in ash and coal, ruined building after fire, toned

If you own rental property, your job might seem never-ending at times. As soon as you unclog a toilet or finish repainting a unit, another project springs up out of nowhere. While deterioration and maintenance is a regular part of the job, sometimes you might feel like you just can’t get ahead.

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And even when keeping everything in tip-top condition, dilemmas and crises can occur at any moment. What’s worse is these emergency scenarios have a way of creating even bigger setbacks in terms of both money and time.

To ease the burden, be ready to address them. Here are a few emergency scenarios you can and should prepare for in advance.

1. Gas Leak

If a tenant complains of an odor of rotten eggs in his or her apartment, it may signal a gas leak. Failing to address the issue could result in a gas explosion or carbon monoxide poisoning—as well as lawsuits, fires, and expensive repairs. Obviously, this emergency requires your immediate attention.

The best way to prepare for this scenario is to provide your tenants with their gas company’s contact information. Instruct them to call the company if they experience a gas leak. Have this information on hand, as well, just in case your tenant is unable to call or not home when the gas leak occurs.

2. Fire

In 2018, there were 86,500 apartment fires, accounting for 17% of structure fires. While the likelihood of one occuring on your rental property is low, you should still have a plan in place in case there is a fire. Doing so can improve emergency response time, saving your building and the lives of your tenants.

Prepare tenants for such an emergency by requiring them to have renters insurance and memorize escape routes. Placing escape maps in each unit and holding annual fire drills can also help your renters better understand what to do in the case of an apartment fire. Moreover, you can prepare yourself by installing smoke alarms, providing tenants with fire extinguishers, and testing outlets regularly.

Related: When Is a Landlord’s Maintenance Emergency Truly an Emergency?

3. Power Outage

In most cases, you probably don’t consider power outages emergencies—although your tenants might feel differently. For instance, in the case of extreme weather or a blown fuse, an immediate response isn’t necessary, especially if the outage occurs after hours. However, your tenants who live to watch Netflix and can’t stand their phone battery dipping below 50% might demand immediate attention. In most cases, fixing a late-night outage like this can wait until morning.

However, if a power outage results in a stuck garage door and your tenant must open the unit to retrieve their car, you must respond quickly and show them how to manually open and lock the garage door safely. Additionally, you’ll have to reset the door once the outage is over. However, you can prepare in advance for such a situation by walking tenants through these processes when they first move in.

4. Flooding

Hurricanes, tsunamis, and torrential downpours can happen at any time, especially if your rental property is in an area where these extreme weather patterns frequently occur. If water infiltrates your property and floods units, you’ll want to act quickly to prevent mold growth, which can cause allergic reactions and illnesses. A fast response is also important in avoiding structural damage—something that can cost thousands of dollars to fix.

Beautiful woman with pots and buckets dealing with water damage in living room

Prepare for floods by having the number of a plumber and electrician on hand at all times so you can call them at the first sign of trouble. You can also work to prevent floods by periodically cleaning gutters, updating plumbing systems, and even using sandbags if extreme weather is in the forecast.

Related: Deferred Maintenance – A Silent Cash Flow Killer

5. Inoperative HVAC

Often, failure of the air conditioning system or heating isn’t a pressing emergency. Most people can live in mild discomfort for a few hours or even overnight. However, if it’s incredibly hot outside and the AC stops working or it’s a frigid winter and the heat malfunctions, these do qualify as emergencies. Without a working HVAC system, tenants—especially the aging or those with health conditions—can easily freeze or overheat.

As HVAC systems do tend to malfunction in extreme temperatures, it’s important to prepare for these emergency scenarios before they occur. Have an HVAC repairman whom you can call to repair the system on short notice or learn how to repair issues yourself to respond to tenants quicker.

Saving Time and Money

When it comes to your rental property, it’s generally better to be safe than sorry. Simply assuming nothing will ever go wrong is a recipe for disaster because, inevitably, an emergency scenario will arise at some point.

Therefore, it's important to have plans in place for multiple situations. Doing so enables you to respond faster, which can save lives in the event of a fire or gas leak. Plus, quick response times may reduce the amount of damage to your property, saving you time and money on repairs. Moreover, you'll likely please tenants, encouraging them to renew their lease year after year, providing them with a quality home and yourself with a stable income. It's a win-win!

What other emergencies would you add to this list? 

Share in a comment below.

Anum Yoon is the founder and editor of the millennial money blog, Current on Currency.
    Terry Lowe
    Replied 7 months ago
    Repairs/emergencies do happen, regularly. We try to stay ahead of after hours repairs, but it still happens. I want to mention on item number 1, gas leaks, the first thing tenants need to do is get OUT of the house! Don’t touch light switches or make a call inside the house. Get out first (far away from the building). Then call 911, or gas company.
    Ricardo A Perez from Hollywood Florida
    Replied 7 months ago
    Thank you so much for this post. I will definitely keep this in mind when i do yearly maintance.
    Michael Ulrich Rental Property Investor from Lansing, MI
    Replied 7 months ago
    Thanks Anum for this great article. Maintenance is a big part of rental property investing!