Winter is Coming Are Your Tenants Ready?

22 Replies

For all those landlords operating properties in cold climates, please share your thoughts on winter readiness processes. 

We send tenants a letter or text alerting them to some common winter issues:

1. Disconnect garden hoses from the house to prevent frozen water lines and flooded basements.

2. Keep vehicles off the roads during snow emergencies and see city website for zone plowing schedule.

3. Remove snow and ice from driveway and sidewalks within 48 hours per city ordinance.

4. Have sprinkler systems blow out (if applicable)

5. Furnace filter should be changed every 3 months (or every month for certain types of filters)

Do you have any other steps you take as winter approaches to prepare your properties? Share your best practices. 

I had this property in Boston a few years ago. It was on the top of a hill and had oil heat. Well, they (the tenant) didnt refill the oil before the winter, and come winter time the oil truck couldnt get up the hill because of ice/snow. So it never got refilled, they ran out of oil, pipes froze and destroyed the unit under it. 

Below is something I send all my tenants in September. I also send occasional reminders when we're expecting a storm or extreme temperatures.

FALL / WINTER PREPARATION

Cooler temperatures are headed our way! Use the checklist below to keep your home warm and safer for you and your family while keeping the heating bills down. Planning ahead can save you money and frustration. Not all of these items will pertain to your specific rental. Not sure? Email us and your property manager will help you out.

NOTE: Per the rental agreement, you may be held financially liable for any damage caused by neglect.

  • Unhook garden hoses and turn off outside faucets if they are ?freeze-proof.? If the faucet is not freeze-proof, leave it open outside and turn off the valve to the supply line inside the house.
  • If you have chains for storm doors, make sure they are attached securely to prevent the wind from catching and damaging the door.
  • Test the heat now! If you wait until it is really cold, the technicians will be backlogged and you may wait days before we can restore heat. Turn it on and ensure it is working in every room.
  • Is your filter clean? If you have forced-air heat or air conditioning, filters should be changed out every 3-4 months. This helps the furnace work efficiently and will keep your utility bills down.
  • Funny noises? If you have a hot-water system and hear ?knocking? noises, you may have air in the line which can reduce efficiency.
  • Keep the heat at 50 degrees or higher, even when gone on vacation. If you do go on vacation, be sure to turn the main water line off to prevent flooding while you are gone.
  • During periods of extremely cold weather, leave the doors open on any kitchen or bathroom sink cabinets that are on an exterior wall. This allows warm air to circulate around the pipes and prevent freezing.
  • If you will be away for more than two consecutive days this winter, let the office know. We will check the home if there?s a bad storm, power outage, or gas outage to ensure heat is back on and there?s no damage to the property.
  • Test your smoke alarm(s). If you don't have one, or it doesn't work, let us know. Test them every month. Change the batteries on Daylight Savings so you remember when it was last done. You might want to consider buying a small fire extinguisher for your kitchen and garage, too. We greatly appreciate your efforts in helping to make sure your residence is kept as warm and as safe as possible during the upcoming winter months.
  • Check your fireplace, wood stove, or pellet stove for proper operation. Your chimney should be cleaned and inspected every 1-2 years, depending on use. Contact the office for recommended companies that can service the home.
  • Remove window air conditioning units and store them for the winter.
  • Swamp coolers must be winterized and removed or covered. The water line should be turned off and drained.
  • Unhook your garden hoses and turn off outside faucets if they are freeze-proof. If the faucet is not freeze-proof, leave it open outside and turn off the valve to the supply line inside the house.
  • If you have an irrigation pump, be sure to disconnect it and drain it.
  • If a pipe does freeze, do not try to thaw it out with a flame! Locate the main shut-off valve and turn the water off to the entire house. You may also want to shut off the water valve to the hot water tank. Contact our office immediately for additional assistance.
  • Test your smoke alarm(s) and CO2 detectors. If you don't have one, or they don?t work, let us know. You should have at least one smoke detector per level and one in every bedroom or in a hallway shared by the bedrooms. CO2 detectors should be down low (knee or waist height) and located near gas appliances like the furnace or water heater. Test them every month. Change the batteries on Daylight Savings so you remember when it was last done. You might want to consider buying a small fire extinguisher for your kitchen and garage.
  • For apartment complexes, be sure to notify us of any problems in shared spaces like laundry rooms.
  • If your apartment complex has ice melt and shovels provided, let us know when supplies are running low so we can deliver more.
  • Check the caulking and weather stripping around outside windows and door frames
  • Close storm windows, if you have them.
  • For single-family homes, be sure to clean the gutters of leaves or debris in the fall. Clogged gutters can back up under shingles, rot siding, flood basements or crawl spaces, etc. Check the down spouts to ensure they are connected and water is draining away from the building. If the gutters are too high to reach, call us!
  • Clean leaves and debris from the flower beds and grass. If you don?t, it can kill the grass and create an expensive repair for you.
  • Check and close all the vents to any crawl spaces under the building, if applicable.
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Originally posted by @Russell Brazil :

I had this property in Boston a few years ago. It was on the top of a hill and had oil heat. Well, they (the tenant) didnt refill the oil before the winter, and come winter time the oil truck couldnt get up the hill because of ice/snow. So it never got refilled, they ran out of oil, pipes froze and destroyed the unit under it. 

 That is a good one. I used to have an acreage in the country and it was propane. We were on a monthly fill schedule but the route driver forgot. Middle of December on a bitter cold day and the tank runs out of gas. I am a city boy and always had natural gas piped in, so never thought of running out of gas. 

Originally posted by @Nathan G. :

Below is something I send all my tenants in September. I also send occasional reminders when we're expecting a storm or extreme temperatures.

FALL / WINTER PREPARATION

Cooler temperatures are headed our way! Use the checklist below to keep your home warm and safer for you and your family while keeping the heating bills down. Planning ahead can save you money and frustration. Not all of these items will pertain to your specific rental. Not sure? Email [email protected] and your property manager will help you out.

NOTE: Per the rental agreement, you may be held financially liable for any damage caused by neglect.

  • Unhook garden hoses and turn off outside faucets if they are ?freeze-proof.? If the faucet is not freeze-proof, leave it open outside and turn off the valve to the supply line inside the house.
  • If you have chains for storm doors, make sure they are attached securely to prevent the wind from catching and damaging the door.
  • Test the heat now! If you wait until it is really cold, the technicians will be backlogged and you may wait days before we can restore heat. Turn it on and ensure it is working in every room.
  • Is your filter clean? If you have forced-air heat or air conditioning, filters should be changed out every 3-4 months. This helps the furnace work efficiently and will keep your utility bills down.
  • Funny noises? If you have a hot-water system and hear ?knocking? noises, you may have air in the line which can reduce efficiency.
  • Keep the heat at 50 degrees or higher, even when gone on vacation. If you do go on vacation, be sure to turn the main water line off to prevent flooding while you are gone.
  • During periods of extremely cold weather, leave the doors open on any kitchen or bathroom sink cabinets that are on an exterior wall. This allows warm air to circulate around the pipes and prevent freezing.
  • If you will be away for more than two consecutive days this winter, let the office know. We will check the home if there?s a bad storm, power outage, or gas outage to ensure heat is back on and there?s no damage to the property.
  • Test your smoke alarm(s). If you don't have one, or it doesn't work, let us know. Test them every month. Change the batteries on Daylight Savings so you remember when it was last done. You might want to consider buying a small fire extinguisher for your kitchen and garage, too. We greatly appreciate your efforts in helping to make sure your residence is kept as warm and as safe as possible during the upcoming winter months.
  • Check your fireplace, wood stove, or pellet stove for proper operation. Your chimney should be cleaned and inspected every 1-2 years, depending on use. Contact the office for recommended companies that can service the home.
  • Remove window air conditioning units and store them for the winter.
  • Swamp coolers must be winterized and removed or covered. The water line should be turned off and drained.
  • Unhook your garden hoses and turn off outside faucets if they are freeze-proof. If the faucet is not freeze-proof, leave it open outside and turn off the valve to the supply line inside the house.
  • If you have an irrigation pump, be sure to disconnect it and drain it.
  • If a pipe does freeze, do not try to thaw it out with a flame! Locate the main shut-off valve and turn the water off to the entire house. You may also want to shut off the water valve to the hot water tank. Contact our office immediately for additional assistance.
  • Test your smoke alarm(s) and CO2 detectors. If you don't have one, or they don?t work, let us know. You should have at least one smoke detector per level and one in every bedroom or in a hallway shared by the bedrooms. CO2 detectors should be down low (knee or waist height) and located near gas appliances like the furnace or water heater. Test them every month. Change the batteries on Daylight Savings so you remember when it was last done. You might want to consider buying a small fire extinguisher for your kitchen and garage.
  • For apartment complexes, be sure to notify us of any problems in shared spaces like laundry rooms.
  • If your apartment complex has ice melt and shovels provided, let us know when supplies are running low so we can deliver more.
  • Check the caulking and weather stripping around outside windows and door frames
  • Close storm windows, if you have them.
  • For single-family homes, be sure to clean the gutters of leaves or debris in the fall. Clogged gutters can back up under shingles, rot siding, flood basements or crawl spaces, etc. Check the down spouts to ensure they are connected and water is draining away from the building. If the gutters are too high to reach, call us!
  • Clean leaves and debris from the flower beds and grass. If you don?t, it can kill the grass and create an expensive repair for you.
  • Check and close all the vents to any crawl spaces under the building, if applicable.

 That is a very thorough list. We used to send a letter with more things, but I thought it was too much. I will be honest, I read about half your list and stopped. That is always my fear with tenants, that they will just scan a letter and throw it in the trash. I drive by properties and check to make sure outdoor spigots are disconnected. I had one freeze a couple years ago and got a bunch of water in the basement. Tenant tried to say it wasn't their fault because "it only leaks inside when you turn the spigot on". Yes, that is how it works when water freezes and cracks the copper.

Do you do anything else to make sure they are complying with the major items?

Originally posted by @Joe Splitrock :

That is a very thorough list. We used to send a letter with more things, but I thought it was too much. I will be honest, I read about half your list and stopped. That is always my fear with tenants, that they will just scan a letter and throw it in the trash. I drive by properties and check to make sure outdoor spigots are disconnected. I had one freeze a couple years ago and got a bunch of water in the basement. Tenant tried to say it wasn't their fault because "it only leaks inside when you turn the spigot on". Yes, that is how it works when water freezes and cracks the copper.

Do you do anything else to make sure they are complying with the major items?

I don't have time to drive by 400 rentals and walk around looking to see if they've disconnected hoses, cleaned their gutters, changed air filters, etc. I could drive by in September and see the hoses are disconnected but then the tenant could connect the hose again two days after I check. At some point, they have to take responsibility for their decisions.

My lease states they can be held liable for causing damage to the rental through neglect or abuse. That includes frozen pipes for failing to maintain heat or disconnect a garden hose. I state that again in the Fall letter each year or when I send out warnings about pending extreme weather events. If they leave a window open and rain gets inside, it can damage the window sill or the floor and they would be held responsible. If they flush wet wipes down the toilet and cause a sewage backup, they're responsible. If they go on vacation for two weeks in the dead of winter and don't have someone watching the house, the heat could go out, freeze and break the pipes, and cause thousands and thousands in damages. 

I do what I can to help them prevent these issues, but at the end of the day they are expected to act like adults and take responsibility for their rental.

I guess I'm somewhat embarrassed by this, but I have never sent a letter or e-mail to any of our tenants regarding the onset of cold weather. Partly I suppose it's just pure forgetfulness or negligence on my part, and partly I suppose it's because it's rare that we get a stretch of deep-freeze here that damages water spigots. Even at my own house I don't bother shutting the valve to the outside faucet any more in the last 10-12 years; as things have gotten warmer, we rarely even see snow here - and all of my properties are in the city which is 5+ degrees warmer than where I live in the mountains. 

@Nathan G.   just a point of clarification:  do you really mean "CO2 detector" (carbondioxide)?  I'd think you mean CO (carbon monoxide) detector?  One (CO2), is heavier than air (thus you would install low), the other's density is pretty much equal to air (thus installing on ceiling is ok). For this reason, you can commonly buy combo smoke/CO detectors these days and they are ceiling or high on the wall mounted.  CO2 can be bad because it displaces oxygen/air and so in an extreme case, it makes you suffocate, but it is not toxic.  On the other hand, CO is VERY toxic.  Both are formed by burning fossil fuels; CO2 is ALWAYS formed, but CO is only formed during incomplete combustion.  

There IS such a thing as a CO2 detector, but to my knowledge, they are not typically used in residential dwellings.  I know, its probably just a typo in your "notice to renters", so I don't mean to nit-pick, but the difference and consequence can be quite serious.

Originally posted by @Andrew S. :

just a point of clarification:  do you really mean "CO2 detector" (carbondioxide)?  I'd think you mean CO (carbon monoxide) detector?  One (CO2), is heavier than air (thus you would install low), the other's density is pretty much equal to air (thus installing on ceiling is ok). For this reason, you can commonly buy combo smoke/CO detectors these days and they are ceiling or high on the wall mounted.  CO2 can be bad because it displaces oxygen/air and so in an extreme case, it makes you suffocate, but it is not toxic.  On the other hand, CO is VERY toxic.  Both are formed by burning fossil fuels; CO2 is ALWAYS formed, but CO is only formed during incomplete combustion.  

There IS such a thing as a CO2 detector, but to my knowledge, they are not typically used in residential dwellings.  I know, its probably just a typo in your "notice to renters", so I don't mean to nit-pick, but the difference and consequence can be quite serious.

Good catch. I definitely meant to say CO (carbon monoxide) and not CO2 (carbon dioxide). I'll get that corrected.

I was always under the impression CO should be on a wall, not on the ceiling, and that it was a heavier gas. I just read some more and see that I've been misinformed. CO detectors should be at least 10-12 feet away from a gas-producing source, at typically higher than any window or door but at least 6" below the ceiling. I also read that it actually doesn't make that much difference because CO tends to distribute equally throughout the space. But it never hurts to improve the odds.

Thanks for the advice!

VERY nice information in this thread.  I'd say this is one of the things I love about the BP forums.  There's gold nuggets everywhere.  This is a BIG one.  I don't think I could add much other than if you have older properties with steam boilers to check the water levels and coloration on a consistent basis to make sure system is operating at peak efficiency.  We normally service the boilers about a month into the season after they've loosened up anything which then made it's way back to the boiler.    :) 

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THE SALT. The single-occupancies are supposed to do their own according to the leases, I have arrangements with the tenants in my small multifamily. But ultimately, the landlords get sued if our sidewalks aren't salted after a snowstorm and someone trips and falls. So I lay in a supply for supplemental use at the start of December.

Originally posted by @Jim K. :

THE SALT. The single-occupancies are supposed to do their own according to the leases, I have arrangements with the tenants in my small multifamily. But ultimately, the landlords get sued if our sidewalks aren't salted after a snowstorm and someone trips and falls. So I lay in a supply for supplemental use at the start of December.

 This is a good one. I require tenants to keep the sidewalks clear and salted, but I occasionally drive around and put down ice melt myself. I do this if we get rain and there is a major ice issue or if I see a trouble spot on the sidewalks when I do a drive by. It takes me about 30 minutes to drive past every property and maybe an hour if I have to stop at a couple. It is well worth it in the winter to reduce risk. I will usually put the melt down, then text the tenant saying I did it as a courtesy, but to watch it more closely in the future. That lets them know that I am keeping an eye on things.

Originally posted by @Darren Sager :

VERY nice information in this thread.  I'd say this is one of the things I love about the BP forums.  There's gold nuggets everywhere.  This is a BIG one.  I don't think I could add much other than if you have older properties with steam boilers to check the water levels and coloration on a consistent basis to make sure system is operating at peak efficiency.  We normally service the boilers about a month into the season after they've loosened up anything which then made it's way back to the boiler.    :) 

 This is a good one. Just preventative maintenance in general can be money well spent. It is off topic to winter, but in the spring we go around and clean outdoor AC condensing units for dust and dirt. It improves efficiency and prolongs life. I am still trying to figure out the right PM schedule for my forced air HVAC units. I know the HVAC people say every year, but I think that is too much. We do every 3 years or combine it with a repair call. 

Originally posted by @Dominick Galinis :

Cold weather? What’s that?


just kidding. Thanks for all of the useful info in here guys!

 Haha, my next thread will be how do you prepare for pest infestation, hurricanes, sink holes and rising sea level?

Originally posted by @Jai Reddy :

@Joe Splitrock

Tell Tenants to buy snow shovels and ice melt NOW and not wait till first snow fall …that’s when we run out off them in every Home Depot here.

 So true, that happens here too. There are a thousand shovels right now, then not one to be found in the city after a major snow fall, haha. 

@Joe Splitrock AC out Oct 1.  Heat on windows closed.    I have one unit I need to tell them to plug in the heat tape for the oil tank.  I also let them know how to arrange cars for the snowplow guy.  

Ice Melt and shovels we put out in November so we tell them then to use it as needed but you are reminding me I need to go over the snow procedures for a couple southern city tenants we just got. 

Originally posted by @Colleen F. :

@Joe Splitrock AC out Oct 1.  Heat on windows closed.    I have one unit I need to tell them to plug in the heat tape for the oil tank.  I also let them know how to arrange cars for the snowplow guy.  

Ice Melt and shovels we put out in November so we tell them then to use it as needed but you are reminding me I need to go over the snow procedures for a couple southern city tenants we just got. 

 Windows closed is a good one, especially if you are paying heat. My first duplex many years ago, I was paying gas. I drove by in January and see a window upstairs wide open. I pound on the door and ask why the window is open. They say because it is hot inside. I look at the thermostat and it is set to 80 degrees. I don't pay heat anymore for any of my tenants, but for people who do, this is a good time to train the tenants on closing windows and keeping temperatures at a reasonable level.

@Joe Splitrock   I went through that open window issue in my own house with a guest. Why is it so cold up here. I opened the window- you know its January....    I do pay heat in the units where I tell them to close windows.  I also sometimes have to tell them to turn on the heat. I had one surfer tenant who kept her heat off to acclimate for winter surfing. She was an upper unit so it wasn't an issue and she did turn it on in the dead of winter. Since then I never assume they click the little heat selector on the thermostat to match the season.