How to Protect Your Rented Property in Winter
22nd November 2018
The problem with owning properties in Leicester is that the areas with the highest tenant demand for rented properties are typically much higher above sea level than Leicester City Centre; if we take into consideration Highfields, Spinney Hill, Rowlatts Hill, Narborough Road and Braunstone especially, when you visit these areas from the city centre, there are some steep uphill climbs to contend with. The higher you go, the colder it is and therefore, the more susceptible to the cold your properties will be though regardless of how high above sea level your properties are, this article will still apply.
The long nights and cold weather is here to stay for the next few months and winter is in full swing with the Leicester Christmas lights being turned on last night. As weather conditions deteriorate and we settle in our warm homes earlier than we did in June, a lot of you, both landlords and tenants will be worrying about your rented properties and potential maintenance and repair issues that may arise as a result of the cold weather, including burst and frozen water pipes, door locks freezing up and a build-up of condensation on windows as tenants leave their heating on for longer.
To ensure your property stays in shape this winter, be mindful of these essential tips to make sure the only hole in your pocket is caused by buying Christmas presents!
So, it's coming up to Christmas day, the national shortage of plumbers is made worse by plumbers taking time off to spend with their families (how dare they, right?) and your tenant calls...
"Mr Landlord, the boiler has packed in, we have no hot water, no heating, I have the flu, my life is pretty much over, get here now, it's an emergency!"
There is nothing worse than receiving a call like this from your tenants because the boiler has broken, it's even worse on Christmas day and believe us, the days where people on Santa's naughty list received a lump of coal are over; Santa squeezes down your chimney and turns off the boiler pressure or blows out the pilot light in an older boiler.
It's a legal requirement for all landlords to have a Gas Safe engineer to check the gas systems in your property are safe on an annual basis. It's also wise to get the boiler fully serviced so you can make sure there are no issues over the winter months. The radiators also need bleeding and to make sure there's no air in there to ensure they run efficiently. This is a simple task that your tenants can (and would be expected to) do themselves.
Maintaining a good relationship with your tenants means they are going to be much more likely to make a dedicated effort to keep your property in good condition and it'll help tenants to feel empowered when raising repair requests if they have a good relationship with you. If local flooding or heavy snow looks likely, talk to your tenant about an emergency plan and give them numerous ways to get in touch with you or, if you're unavailable, your preferred contractors who you will have informed ahead of time of what work they should and shouldn't carry out at your tenant's request. You should also ask your tenant to inform you if they are going to be leaving the property unoccupied, especially if they'll be leaving the property unoccupied for more than a week so that you can pop around (with their permission) and carry out essential maintenance to stop the pipes from freezing; frozen pipes lead to burst pipes. You may also want to ask your tenants to leave their heating on low while they are absent or to set the timer so that it comes on at a specific time each day, this will help to avoid pipes from freezing and will help to prevent damp from effecting the property.
Utilities – Gas and Electricity
Winter can be an expensive time when it comes to heating and energy bills, especially if your properties are bills inclusive of the rent. The heating bills skyrocket during the colder months as tenants heat their homes and electricity bills rise as people spend more time at home and often have family visit. For landlords who provide bills inclusive of rent and for tenants, it's always a good time to look around for new energy suppliers. Harry Albert Lettings & Estates have teamed up with Which Utility, who promises to find you the best deal with the most trustworthy, Which? Award Winning utility suppliers, to assist landlords and tenants to find the best energy deals on the market. You can save up to £678 per year by taking five minutes to switch your supply to a cheaper gas and electricity tariff. See how much you could save.
While it might seem like the best idea to keep all the windows shut to keep the heat in, this greatly increases the risk of condensation. Condensation on your windows and, worse, between panes in double glazing (usually caused by a broken window seal) is something you really don't want as it can lead to damp and mould.
Opening windows now and again, even for just twenty minutes a day ensures good airflow throughout the house and, if you're living in a flat or apartment which is high up, or in a smaller home or a bungalow, you can leave your windows open for even less than this to achieve the same results. You don't need to keep them open all the time, just long enough for condensation to dry out and to air the property which will prevent black mould. Landlords will do well to advise their tenants of this to avoid them wasting a small fortune in damp treatments. If your tenant willfully refuses to open windows to air the property and causes damp, costs of repair will become the liability of the tenant as they fail to keep the property in a "tenant like manner".
You can find out more about the causes of damp and mould, how it can affect your health and how you can get rid of it by clicking here.
If there is heavy rain, missing or broken guttering can be a big problem because the water may not be directed away from the house efficiently and it can also make the problem worse with increased rainfall during the winter months. More than a bathload of water can travel down your guttering every five minutes and this sheer weight can be unbearable for worn, old guttering and if you notice your gutters leaking or overflowing, it could be a real cause for concern. You may need to replace or reinforce your gutters but first, you should check to see if they need to be cleaned out. This can be quite tough but if you notice leaves and debris at the end of the gutter (if it is open), it's a good sign the gutter needs a good clean. Leaves and other debris that's built up throughout the year(s) can block the downpipe impacting the flow and causing the water to spill over the edge of the gutters. If this doesn't seem to fix the problem, whilst someone is working on your gutter, ask them to check to see if the gutter is at the correct level; this can be done quite easily with a spirit measure, we recommend a long spirit measure for accuracy, you can purchase a good quality, low cost one by clicking here. Your guttering should be at a slight downward inclination toward the downpipe. If it is perfectly level or at an upward inclination, this will significantly increase the chances of overflow.
When gutters overflow, water can splash down onto the fascias which can lead to mould and rot, if they're made from wood which can then lead to an even higher repair bill. For rotten wood, we recommend Lumberjack's Universal Wood Treatment but always read the label.
Now is a good time to give your property’s pipes the once over. Make sure all joints are secure and none of them are leaking, this includes the radiator pipes. It may be worth adding some pipe cladding to insulate the pipes, we recommend K-Flex Pipe Insulation because it's so simple and easy to install, the tenants can probably do it themselves it's that easy and risk-free; we recommend fixing it with a bit of household sellotape just to give it that bit of extra protection. Use a sealant on any joints to make sure the pipe integrity remains intact.
Think about your landlord insurance
Finally, think about getting a robust landlord insurance policy. It goes without saying that it is critical to have this in place and make sure you have all of the coverage you need. If your rental property is damaged by a storm or a flood during Winter (or any time of the year, for that matter), you should be covered by contents insurance and buildings insurance, many landlord insurance policies now include rent guarantee too so it's an added bonus should your tenants decide to prioritise buying Christmas presents and spending money in the January Sales instead of paying their rent during November, December and January. In the winter, property owners’ liability insurance can be beneficial too because accidents are more likely during this time of year and the correct policy can ensure you are covered if you get the blame for any damage or injury; for example, if your property has steps outside where puddles can form, should a puddle freeze and a tenant slips on the ice, you may be held liable. You can combat this by adding rubber mats to the stairs to provide added friction but this may not solve the issue with frozen puddles unless you make sure there's a way for water to properly drain off the stairs.
Feel free to ask Harry Albert Lettings & Estates to take care of the management of your properties if you'd rather relax over the Christmas period. We're open at the weekends and will be open on Christmas Day for our landlord and tenant clients. You can call us on 0116 321 4970.