Landlord voice: Are your properties prepared for winter? - Total landlord Insurance

July 19, 2022
Tom Entwistle
Landlord voice: Are your properties prepared for winter? - Total landlord Insurance

Each month, Tom Entwistle, a residential and commercial landlord since the 1970s and founder of LandlordZONE, the longest serving website for landlords in the UK, offers a landlord’s perspective on a topical issue.

This month, Tom shares his insights on preparing your rental property for winter. Focusing on the need to view repairs and maintenance as an investment rather than a cost, Tom picks out the priority areas landlords need to pay attention to, such as the importance of inspections and tenant education.

Tackle those winter preparation chores before it costs you a fortune and don’t neglect your rental property once your tenants have settled in – landlording is not a let it and forget it game. These are two of the most important lessons I’ve learned during my time as a landlord.

“A stitch in time” is perhaps one of the most powerful, truthful aphorisms in the English language and, along with water being one of the most destructive forces in the world, both are perfectly applicable to the buy to let landlord.

Don’t fix that stiff lock and before you know it the key is broken in the lock and you need to replace not one but lots of door locks, costing you a small fortune, particularly if you have the modern full-security devices. Likewise, the constant drip, drip, drip of a leaking roof, gutter, water pipe or drain pipe can deteriorate a wall or even undermine a property’s foundations, given time.

The small things matter – a little bit of forward planning, some thought about regular inspections and maintenance – can save you thousands of pounds in the long-run. Winter is hard on property, particularly if it’s a harsh winter with lots of wind, rain and heavy frosts.

Check your insurance policy first

Winter is a time when you are most likely to have a claim for damage to the property. Whether that’s a flood caused by a frozen pipe that has burst, or a heavy storm that’s blown away your ridge tiles. Or worse still, a tenant has slipped on ice, or on your slippery uneven path and is claiming for serious injuries. You can read more about winter related insurance issues in this article on how to minimise landlord insurance claims during the hazardous winter months.  

A good, comprehensive landlord’s insurance policy will protect you from all these eventualities and more, for example by making sure your policy is index linked. But you must review your policy regularly to check that your policy details, particularly replacement values, are correct and that you’re not underinsured. And you must inform your insurers of any changes.

It’s a good idea to have a policy that covers emergency accommodation for your tenants in the event of a disaster, such as a serious leak or floods, in case your tenants are unable to remain in the premises – they will certainly appreciate your forward thinking.

And don’t forget that taking a deposit can also help protect your property from damage caused by tenants over winter. Find out more in mydeposits article, which explores some specific winter related deposit issues and how taking a deposit from your tenants can help you recoup some of your costs.

You’re one-step removed

Because you as the landlord are one step removed when you’re renting out your property and the tenant is in charge – they are in residence and you have limited rights of entry – you need to think of strategies to keep on top of maintenance issues. Your tenant may not be as diligent in identifying these as you would be. So regular inspections and tenant education are two effective tools every landlord should employ.

I would put your winter precautions into three distinct stages:

  1. The outside of the property
  2. The internals
  3. Educating your tenants.

Preparing the outside of a rental property for winter

Relatively easy to inspect at any time, the outside of the property includes the roof, walls and grounds. I would make a point of visiting during a downpour so that you can see if there are any problems with water – either overflowing gutters that may be blocked with leaves or are leaking, causing water to cascade down the masonry, leaking down-spouts, or blocked drains.

Paths, gates and outbuildings are items that need your attention. Paths in particular can cause slip and trip hazards, or pooling water which will freeze. All should be of concern to you – the last thing you need is an injury claim when it’s relatively easy to spot those hazards beforehand, and you can do something about them.

The roof is another potential hazard in winter. A loose tile can easily dislodge in a high wind and seriously injure someone, or worse. Any loose masonry at height is a potential hazard which needs your immediate attention. Get out your binoculars and give the roof a thorough inspection.

Preparing the internals of a rental property for winter

It’s a good idea to schedule an internal inspection including your annual gas safety and electrical and alarm checks coming up to winter. A general walk-around should have you looking for safety hazards as well as items of damage or abuse. Have a checklist based on the inventory and safety items, which makes sure you don’t forget anything and acts as documentary evidence that you are doing the job of a responsible landlord, should there be any issues in the future.

Look for any signs of water ingress through roof leaks or through the walls, windows or rising damp. Any of these problems can become major issues if they result in damaged plaster and decoration damage, plus roof or floor timbers developing wet or dry rot.

The items you should pay particular attention to for winter are:

  • The heating system
  • Insulation
  • Ventilation

Make sure the heating system has had its annual service, whether it’s gas, oil or electric. You don’t want breakdowns at the most inconvenient times when the weather is at its coldest. You want the system to be efficient so that it’s not so expensive to run that tenants will skimp on heat, which may cause condensation.

The heating works in conjunction with the insulation – roof, walls underfloor and glazing – which keeps the warmth in, reduces heating costs and is good for the environment. In any case it is likely that your rental property will need to conform to a more stringent energy performance (EPC) rating in the near future, so it’s better to plan for that as early as you can.

Finally, it’s important to provide ventilation in those areas such as kitchens and bathrooms where steam generation results in condensation. Fit extractor fans in these rooms, ideally with a humidity sensor which will automatically and harmlessly extract the steam when tenants are cooking and bathing.

The importance of tenant education in preparing a rental property for winter

A winter weather letter, coupled with friendly advice, goes a long way to heading off problems. Not all tenants are aware that if a house is left without heat for any length of time in winter water pipes can freeze and burst. If this happens the result can be disastrous, with the whole house flooded, and even worse in a block of flats where other residences can be affected. Advise your tenants to always leave heating on low when they are out at work all day, or away for a few days.

Likewise, condensation, though not as dramatic as a water leak, can cause insidious damage over a period of time. Failing to maintain a minimum level of heating, allowing steam to dissipate throughout the house because it’s not properly vented, or leaving clothes drying on radiators, will result in those horrible black moulds appearing in the highest parts of the house. Not everyone is aware of this either, so be prepared to respectfully explain.

A stitch in time

Investing in timely repairs and maintenance often means saving money in the long run and can sometimes head-off a real disaster – the last thing you want is that desperate phone call just as you are sitting down to your Christmas dinner!

As the Government is continually looking to improve housing health and safety standards through increasingly stringent regulations, landlords are going to have to up their game in any case, so you might as well be ahead of the game, bite the bullet, spend a bit of money and be one of the best.  

I always make sure that my properties are well insulated, particularly draft proofing and the roof space, as that’s an easy part to do, but if you can, insulate walls and under floors too. This will not only keep the house warm with the minimum amount of heat, keeping your tenants’ heating bills down, it will stave off a lot of the problems mentioned above.

Paying attention to inspections and carrying out repairs and maintenance when necessary is the best thing you can do to maintain your investment’s value and make sure you are considered a good responsible landlord. Your tenants will thank you for that. For more advice for landlords, check out Hamilton Fraser’s ultimate guide to preparing your rental property for winter.

About the author

Tom Entwistle

Tom Entwistle

Tom Entwistle has been investing in and developing commercial and residential properties for over 40 years. Tom founded the first landlord website, LandlordZONE, in the UK back in 1999. And has been a regular contributor to the website, real estate journals and a speaker at property events for over 20 years.

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