Winter can be a frustrating season for landlords. In addition to all the regular responsibilities and maintenance, you may find yourself going out of your way to make sure that tenants are kept comfortable during the winter months. This can pay dividends, however, because happy tenants can be much more likely to become long-term renters. You don’t want to end up with an empty property—and all the associated holding costs. Let’s take a look at a few things that you need to be aware of to help your winter tenants continue to feel at home in your rental while avoiding potentially costly consequences.
Landlords are Responsible for Snow Removal
Snow shoveling can be a drag, but many urban areas have ordinances that require it to be done within a specified period of time after a storm. If you own a multi-housing unit or apartment building, the responsibility lies entirely on you, but the line can become blurred with a single-family residence. Regardless of who should take care of it, the ultimate responsibility is yours.
If someone has an accident on a property that you own, you could be held liable for damages. For instance, imagine that someone slips on the ice because you failed to maintain the property. You may find yourself looking at the wrong end of a lawsuit. The injured person does not even necessarily have to specifically prove that you were negligent, only that you could have or should have known about the dangerous condition and either failed to remediate it or give appropriate warning.
Even if the lease specifies that your tenants are responsible for snow removal on the walkways and driveways, you may not be in the clear. It’s a good idea to provide incentives for them to keep those areas maintained in the winter months. Consider offering them a shovel, ice melting products, or even a small discount on rent to motivate them to stay up to date on the task.
Remember that the longer you leave the snow on the property, the higher the chance of an accident. If snow removal is not being been taken care of promptly, consider hiring a local company to manage the situation. Their fees will be less expensive than a potential lawsuit or an empty unit.
Maintaining Heating Systems is a Must Do
Most cities and states have laws that require the landlord to maintain the heating system in their rental units. For instance, even in the temperate San Francisco region, both the Housing Code and the state’s “warranty of habitability” require landlords to provide a winter heat source that is capable of maintaining an indoor temperature of 68 degrees. If you fail to comply, you could face fines by the city, rent withholdings from the tenant, or even legal action.
You should have a repair person available on speed dial for 24-hour emergency services, but avoiding such problems in the first place is preferable. Be sure to schedule regular preventative maintenance for your rental’s HVAC system. This can help reduce the expensive emergency calls you may receive throughout the colder months.
Frozen Pipes are Ultimately Your Problem
Pipes that burst or break in the winter are an all too common issue in colder regions, and determining who should foot the bill can be a small nightmare. Fundamentally, the landlord is required to provide a rental that is habitable. At the same time, tenants are obligated to use the property in a reasonable manner, meaning that they should not negligently or deliberately cause damage.
That’s why your rental lease should specify rules for tenants to prevent the possibility of frozen pipes. You may require the tenant to let faucets drip as a precaution during extreme cold. Or, you could make them responsible for keeping the thermostat at a certain temperature during the winter to help prevent pipe damage—even if they go on vacation.
That said, even if the lease outlines tenant responsibilities, you can ultimately still be on the hook for repairs should the pipes break and cause flooding or other damage.
Growing Your Rental Portfolio Effortlessly
Despite the occasional winter hassle, owning rental properties can be a great way to make passive income. Growing your income potential, however, requires purchasing more rental properties. HomeVestors® provides its independently owned and operated franchisees looking to expand their property rental portfolio with the most up-to-date and straightforward advice about the best real estate markets to invest in. If you are ready to make a move toward your real estate investing future, get in touch with HomeVestors today.
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