Fireplaces in rental houses

14 Replies

I am looking at a couple of SFHs that have fireplaces.  I was wondering what people's  experiences and issues with a fireplace in a rental unit.  I am not sure if it is a good idea.  Are there issues with insurance?  Are there special lease arrangements made?

The properties are solid potentials but putting a wood burning fireplace in the hands of a renter seems a little risky.

Any input or experience stories would be appreciated.

I suppose it depends on where you are investing but most SFR's have a fireplace. I really do not think that should be a concern for you.

Also, insurance companies have no issues with fireplaces, we certainly don't.  A wood burning stove is another matter.  Those I would certainly recommend you stay away from.

Ivan

@Dan Perrott  for most insurance companies any wood burning heating device is prohibited.  You will probably eliminate 2/3 of the insurance companies as options.  That being said, if the rest of the property is nice, You should be able to find affordable options.

Well the insurance didn't want one in our student rental but then again neither did I.  We just tell them they can't use it and they don't.  We cap it off.   They can use the gas unit but not the wood one. It did come in handy we went down and used it when the power went out during Sandy and the kids went home. Probably depends on the area.

Every single house in my town has a fireplace or wood burning stove. So, it's not even an issue, since all of them have one. I've been renting vacation rentals and full-time rentals for several years and have never had an issue with either one. I've never had any insurance company have a problem with them either.

I pay an insurance upcharge of about $60/yr for my property with a wood stove.  

I personally don't like fireplaces.  I don't own any rental units with fireplaces.

All my SFR have fireplaces, but only 2 are wood - all others are gas. I LOVE gas, I HATE wood! I have converted wood to gas to good advantage. I've also seen some seal the damper off and paint them inside/out making it an ornate centerpiece to the room.

We have a duplex which each have a fireplace. We didn't want the tenants to use it since we considered it to be a liability and messy. Plus, it would have cost us a lot to make sure it was cleaned and in working order.

We just capped it off inside and out and painted it. They can use it as decorative only.

Thanks for the input everyone.  Its been helpful.  I will need to talk to my insurance agent to see if it is an issue but I am glad to hear that they don't seem to be an issue.

@Dan Perrott  I think it is riskier not selecting the right tenant for your property.  There are many risks associated with real estate.  Most of those risks can be managed by placing the right tenant in the right property.


Frank

The wood burning fireplaces in our 8-plex unit are a selling point that sets us apart from the competition. Tenants love them, even though most don't use them much. When a tenant moves in, we give them a brochure from a fireplace shop that teaches them how to use the fireplace safely. We also demonstrate their use. We do periodic maintenance and chimney cleaning, but require the tenant to use the fireplace appropriately, keep the fireplace box cleaned and to properly dispose of ashes. These units are C+/B- properties and rent to low income folks who actually are quite responsible and take care of our properties. Our insurance is handled by a broker and we are insured by Safeco. No problem there either. CO alarms must be installed and functioning, but that is now necessary whether or not you have gas/wood burning appliances in the unit.

@Marcia Maynard   it is interesting that this works well in  MF. We have decorative fireplaces in our MF that  the tenants love but they can't use as we have not opted to do the chimney and flue work to make them functional. The property is from the 1800's.  I had considered doing something with them. In you units where do they put the wood?  We have several upstairs units.  Do the fireplaces all have doors to decrease the possibility of embers coming out? does it just get the units rented or does the ability to use the FP make them rent for more then similar units without that possibility?

For student tenants in our SF we don't allow it and the insurance was really a pain so we did not pursue anything that was an issue for them on the first go round as now we are in assigned risk.  In the student case it is more about what they are burning.  That might be our specific area that this is an issue but I don't see changing.  I think for me allowing wood burning use would depend somewhat on the tenant in a SF. I have had some not so bright  tenants.

Originally posted by @Colleen F. :

@Marcia Maynard  it is interesting that this works well in  MF. We have decorative fireplaces in our MF that  the tenants love but they can't use as we have not opted to do the chimney and flue work to make them functional. The property is from the 1800's.  I had considered doing something with them. In you units where do they put the wood?  We have several upstairs units.  Do the fireplaces all have doors to decrease the possibility of embers coming out? does it just get the units rented or does the ability to use the FP make them rent for more then similar units without that possibility?

For student tenants in our SF we don't allow it and the insurance was really a pain so we did not pursue anything that was an issue for them on the first go round as now we are in assigned risk.  In the student case it is more about what they are burning.  That might be our specific area that this is an issue but I don't see changing.  I think for me allowing wood burning use would depend somewhat on the tenant in a SF. I have had some not so bright  tenants.

I agree with you, it is a case by case proposition. Some tenants may not be responsible enough to entrust with use of a fireplace.

When we purchase a property with a fireplace, we keep it functional if we can and we hire a good company to inspect, repair, and clean the firebox and chimney. We check the foundation it is on to make sure it is sturdy and fireproof.  We add chimney caps if they are missing. 

When we bought our 8-plex, one tenant "historian" told us about a fire that started when another tenant burned paper and it went up the flue (no cap) and landed on a bush outside and caught the bush on fire. The Vancouver Fire Department arrived with sirens blaring to put out the flames before they caught onto the building. Apparently the previous owner hadn't maintained the fireplaces or chimneys at all and our "historian" tenant told us she had been afraid to use her fireplace because of that. She was happy to know that under our ownership she would be able to use her fireplace without fear.

We specify what tenants are allowed burn. Here is an excerpt from our property rules:

"FIREPLACE.  In units with a fireplace, Landlord agrees to maintain structural condition of the firebox and chimney.  Tenant agrees to promptly report to Landlord, in writing, any defects or problems that arise with the fireplace or its use.  Tenant agrees to assume all responsibility for proper use, firebox cleaning, and hazards.  When using the fireplace, Tenant agrees to:

a.     not leave burning materials unattended.

b.     keep all burnable objects at a safe distance from flame or surround. 

c.     make appropriate use of fireplace damper and spark screen, so as not to allow smoke to flow into the room or sparks to fly out of the fireplace. 

d.     use only seasoned firewood or manufactured logs in the fireplace.

e.     not burn paper, plastics or other materials. 

f.      keep fireplace clean of ashes.

g.     dispose of ashes in a safe manner by waiting until ashes are completely cooled and placing in a metal container for disposal."

Our tenants tend to want fireplaces for ambience and enjoyment, not as a heat source, so no large amounts of wood need to be stored. We show tenants where they can store wood and how much. We encourage the use of manufactured logs or store bought wood bundles, or even to set up a candle display in the firebox instead. This also is a good option for tenants who like to burn candles, because they burn in a safe place and the walls in the home stay clean.  If a tenant does get the idea they are going to heat their home this way, we explain that the fireplace is provided for enjoyment only and not as a heat source. Maybe a good idea for me to add that to our property rules! Thanks for the nudge.

We provide fireplace screens and grates. Some of the fireplaces have mesh curtain screens installed and some have freestanding screens. During our periodic inspections we check to make sure the firebox is clear of ashes and flammable materials are kept at a proper distance.

One rental house we purchased had a freestanding woodstove in place. A realtor friend of ours encouraged us to remove it. We were sorry we didn't take his advice. The tenant used it as a heat source and burned cords of wood.  It developed a hairline crack in the stove pipe and released soot into the room. It was unnoticeable to the tenant and only became evident to us three years later when the tenant moved out. A light dusting of soot was all over the walls in that room and several adjacent rooms. Soot is a bear to clean! Needless to say, we no longer allow woodstoves!

A note for the holidays.... If you install hooks under the mantle or provide "stocking hangers" that sit on top of the mantle, you can reduce the likelihood of a tenant nailing or screwing their own hardware into your mantle.

The key is to be aware of what is necessary to maintain a fireplace/chimney and to teach tenants how to use them safely and to monitor their use. Having them doesn't bring us any more rent per unit and we do need to budget for their maintenance, so that is a downside. However, they add significantly to tenant satisfaction, which can result in longer tenancies.  Personally, I like fireplaces, so we will keep them as long as it is working well for us!

It's not that risky as everyone usually thinks when it comes to fireplace especially for a rental home. Consider signing an agreement with the renter if you need to be certain. Also, insurance companies don't have an issue with fireplace. So, I think you are all good over here. No need to worry :)

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