What Landlords Should Know About Handling the Winter Months
While winter brings thoughts of sledding, ice skating, and cold weather fun to many, it also provides its own set of issues and challenges for landlords. Whether you operate a large multi-housing unit or one single-family home, you should know what is expected to deal with cold-weather months.
Landlords are responsible for shoveling snow at apartments and other multi-housing units. However, the line is more blurred when it comes to a single-family residence. In many cases, you can designate in the lease who is responsible for maintaining walkways and driveways with snow removal. Be aware of any city ordinances that may put the liability on you regardless of what is stated in your lease.
You also want to protect your tenant or visitors from a slip-and-fall accident, which could be considered your fault if snow removal is your responsibility. To encourage your tenant to maintain the property if you require them to take care of this task, you can provide the shovel and ice melt chemicals. Some landlords even provide a discount if the tenant maintains the property, which will encourage many to get out in the cold and snow.
If you do have your tenant taking care of snow removal, outline the details in your lease. Be explicit on where the snow is to be removed from and where it should be shoveled to, as well as how quickly after snowfall it should be removed. Don’t leave any unanswered questions or gray areas that could be misinterpreted.
How soon the snow must be removed varies by city. Check with the city ordinance to see the specifics, but be aware that the longer you leave the snow, the higher the risk of an accident. Landlords with multiple properties or properties in other cities should hire a company to manage snow removal.
It seems to be the golden rule of maintenance that the furnace will stop working on the coldest day of the year and the landlord will get a phone call at 2 a.m. when it's discovered. The landlord is responsible for maintaining the heating system for their tenants, but this rule often invites questions. How quickly does the heating system need to be repaired? What happens if the heating company cannot make the repair for two or three days?
Both the tenant’s and landlord’s responsibilities should be spelled out in the lease. The tenant should have an emergency number to call for issues such as lack of heating. The lease should also designate how quickly the problem will be addressed. Usually a repair person should be on-site within 24 hours for an emergency such as no heat in cold weather.
One way to avoid heating issues in the winter is by scheduling preventative maintenance on the HVAC system. This helps reduce the calls in the middle of the night for a heating system that’s not working properly.
Frozen pipes are an all-too common occurrence in the winter and no landlord wants to hear that frozen pipes have broken or burst. In this case, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Take precautions to ensure that pipes are well-protected and insulated. Don't assume your residents will think about these kinds of situations. Issue reminders in the fall before the first severe cold spell to make sure they don't turn off their heat if they plan to be away for several days.
Don’t let winter make it hard on you or your tenants. Create a snow removal plan and schedule service for your heating systems to keep your tenants safe and happy, and your property habitable.
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