How to make sure you and your tenants have a happy Christmas - Total landlord Insurance

December 15, 2023
Total Landlord Insurance
How to make sure you and your tenants have a happy Christmas - Total landlord Insurance

Whether you’re a self-managed landlord or you use a letting agent, a little festive foresight can go a long way to reducing the risk of a fraught Christmas and, all being well, making sure that both you and your tenants can relax and enjoy the holiday period.

While Christmas can be a joyful and magical time of year, for landlords it can also bring an immense amount of stress. Just when you’d like to put your feet up for a few days, you find yourself with more on your plate than a mince pie. Tipsy tenants, dangerous decorations and wintry weather can combine to create a cocktail of hazards that could ruin Christmas for everyone involved.

So, we’ve put together some tips to help both you and your tenants have a safe and happy holiday.

Don’t let down your guard: secure your property

Christmas may be a time for celebration with family, friends and loved ones, but it’s also an opportunity for criminals to take advantage of the goodwill, relaxed atmosphere and Christmas presents that are in abundance during the festive season.

Every year in the run up to Christmas the police urge residents to take extra care to secure their property. This is because traditionally, they see a rise in residential burglaries between November and February, with a spike in December.

The extra hours of darkness combined with people out socialising at festive events make it easier for thieves to break in. And the prospect of Christmas gifts stored inside homes in the run up to the big day is also an attractive proposition for criminals.

Burglars actually target properties at this time of year specifically to steal presents. Commenting on a recent incident where this happened, the police offered this advice:

"This house was targeted while the occupants were out. If you are going away or out for an evening over the festive period, please consider hiding Christmas presents, ensure lights are left on or on a timer, try to leave a vehicle on your driveway so it would appear somebody is home and install security cameras if possible.

It is also worth informing a neighbour if you are leaving a property unoccupied for a lengthy period of time so they can keep an eye on your home."

For landlord insurance purposes, it’s a good idea to include a term in your tenancy agreement stipulating that the tenant should let you know if they are going to be leaving the property vacant, for example for over 14 days. This is particularly important if they’re going to be away for more than 30 days, but also gives you the chance to talk to them about keeping the property secure and protected against winter hazards such as frozen pipes, while they’re away.

Home security tips for landlords and tenants

To make sure your tenants don’t become another statistic this year, take note of the following winter home security tips.

  • Remind tenants to keep all valuables out of sight, particularly presents and small, easily pocketable electronics. This obviously includes Christmas presents – they might be wrapped up but that doesn’t make them any less tempting to thieves
  • If tenants are going to be out during the season for long periods of time, suggest they set the lights on a timer, so they come on when it gets dark. There are various smart lighting systems available that make this easier than ever, some of which even allow you to control your lighting remotely from your smartphone
  • If you have an alarm and security system installed, make sure everything is in working order – that any batteries that need replacing are replaced and that any bulbs that need changing on outdoor motion-sensor lights are changed
  • Advise tenants to get everyone in the house into the habit of locking the door, even when they’re home. It’s something that only takes seconds to do but could save your Christmas
  • On a similar note, remind them to make sure keys are always removed from the lock and are kept out of view and out of reach of the letterbox or cat flap
  • If tenants are going to be away until after the new year, they might want to consider taking down any Christmas lights, as nothing says “nobody’s home” to a burglar quite like Christmas lights that haven’t been switched on in a while
  • Make sure that the locks on your doors and windows are up to standard. We recommend five-lever mortice deadlocks where possible
  • If the property has patio doors, check to see that they can’t be easily lifted off their tracks and that they can be locked and secured to the same standard as the front door
  • Consider joining your local neighbourhood watch, or starting a scheme in your area

To help you and your tenants remember the key security measures, the Neighbourhood Watch has come up with a handy acronym - ‘WIDE’- to help you secure your house:

  • Window locks
  • Indoor lights on a timer
  • Doors double-locked
  • External lights on a sensor.

For more detailed guidance read our ‘Ultimate guide to securing your rental property’.

Don’t go overboard with decorations

One of the most fun elements of Christmas is the festive decorations. But it’s important to remember that decorations can also be a fire hazard.

Fire safety should be a priority throughout the year, but in the run up to the festive season it’s vital to be extra vigilant. The fire service warns every year of a spike in house fires caused by increased use of heating and electrical appliances. Add in alcohol consumption, candles, Christmas trees, fairly lights and decorations and it’s not hard to imagine what could go wrong.

Christmas electrical safety tips for landlords and tenants

Here are a few electrical safety tips to help make sure you and your tenants have a safe Christmas. You can also read our NRLA guide to protecting your property from electrical hazards for more detailed advice.

1. Remind tenants to switch fairy lights off overnight. They might also be using older lights that don’t meet with modern fire safety standards, so if they haven’t changed their lights in over a decade you might want to suggest they check whether they meet today’s standards.

2. Ask tenants not to overload plugs. Another common decoration-related error that is often made at Christmas is people overloading plugs with different appliances and lights. This can lead to electrical fires that spread quickly and can be devastating, particularly if there are other flammable decorations scattered around the home. Make sure your tenants are aware that they should be sticking to a ‘one plug per socket’ rule and that all plugs should be switched off when not in use.

4. Avoid naked flames where possible. . We know that there is a romance associated with candles at Christmas, but the London Fire Brigade has warned that candle fires have risen year on year since 2019, peaking over the Christmas and new year period. Between 2019 and 2022, firefighters attended almost 200 candle-related fires in December and January.

A spokesperson said: “Fires can cause devastation all year round, but this is heightened around Christmas with families potentially left homeless and possessions destroyed. We want to ensure Londoners take every precaution to prevent fires from spoiling the festive period.

Keep candles, indoor fireworks, open fires and heaters well away from any Christmas decorations. Decorations can easily fuel a fire and as Christmas trees dry out, they can burn quickly and cause flames to spread in seconds.”

For more advice on fire prevention and your responsibilities, read ‘The ultimate guide to fire safety regulations for landlords’.

Remind tenants to look after the property

The cold winter weather brings with it a multitude of potential problems for the home, so be sure to remind your tenants that the property might need a little extra attention when the cold weather sets in. This means making sure the heating is constantly set on low (even when they are not home) to prevent the pipes from freezing. We require a minimum of 13 degrees centigrade for insurance purposes. Also, make sure tenants are aware of how to thaw frozen pipes by turning off the stop cock and using electric heating pads or hair dryers if needed.

Our guide, ‘Get winter ready: everything you need to protect your property’, is packed with tips to help prevent common winter property problems such as pipes freezing when the temperature drops. These include:

  • Keeping doors and windows closed to minimise cold draughts
  • Insulating pipes and water tanks where possible
  • Opening cabinets in the kitchen and bathroom to allow the warm air to circulate
  • Keeping the pipes running for several hours a day, even if it’s just a trickle
  • Identifying and sealing any air leaks in the home
  • Keeping the heating on for at least 20 minutes every other day

It’s a good idea to make a pre-winter visit to the property to check on the pipes and the boiler. Our ‘Ultimate guide to preparing your boiler for winter’ contains lots of useful advice. It’s also worth talking to your tenants and explaining how they can conduct simple property checks such as checking the boiler pressure and how to bleed the radiators.

Over a third of all Total Landlord’s claims paid out between 2019 and 2023 were for ‘escape of water’, and of these, 67% have been for burst pipes. The Association of British Insurers estimate that escape of water claims during winter cost the insurance industry around £1.8 million a day. At Total Landlord, the average escape of water claim between 2015 and 2021 cost £3,057, an increase of £600 compared with the five year period from 2014 to 2019 when the average claim was coming in at £2,657. With the cost of escape of water claims increasing and around a third of all claims consistently related to escape of water, it’s worth checking that you’re properly covered by your landlord insurance policy.

Both our Essential and Premier policies provide cover for ‘escape of water and resultant damage arising from fixed water tanks, apparatus or pipes.

Let your tenants know they can contact you

Finally, make it clear that you’ll be there for your tenants if they need anything. We know it’s not ideal to be constantly ‘on-call’ over Christmas, but you’re far more likely to be able to relax if you know that your tenants will reach out to you if necessary.

We recommend sending your tenants a small token of your appreciation – a seasonal card and possibly a small gift, along with a ‘winter letter’. Provide them with the tips outlined in this article to help them keep themselves and the property secure and protected from winter hazards. Close the letter with a reminder of how they can get in touch with you in case of an emergency or any urgent maintenance requirements.

The best landlord/tenant relationships are those that are founded on trust and mutual respect, so frame your letter as a helpful reminder rather than a checklist of necessities. Hopefully then you’ll both be able to settle into the festive season and enjoy it.

Being a landlord, your duty of care never stops, so you can’t simply switch off over Christmas. But by taking a little time to communicate with your tenants in advance to make sure both they and the property are prepared, when the big day arrives you should be able to put your feet up and enjoy a mulled wine and a mince pie.

Given the increased risks to your property during the winter months, and particularly at Christmas time, it’s important to make sure that you have comprehensive landlord insurance cover in place to meet your needs. Read our guide to the different features of landlord insurance so you can identify the best cover for your needs. You can also speak to a member of the Total Landlord team who will be able to advise you, or get a quote online.

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