The ultimate guide to protecting your property from claims in 2024 - Total Landlord Insurance

January 9, 2024
The ultimate guide to protecting your property from claims in 2024 - Total Landlord Insurance

Read an interactive and user-friendly version of this guide below.

Many of the most common problems landlords experience can be prevented, or at least reduced, by carrying out regular maintenance and periodic inspections and establishing clear lines of communication with tenants. But of course, no matter how well prepared you are, you can’t eliminate the risk of things going wrong entirely.

Here, we take a look at the biggest risks landlords are likely to face when it comes to their rental properties and share our top tips for protecting your investment from the most common and costly claims.

1. Escape of water and burst pipes

‘Escape of water’ is consistently the most common claim we see at Total Landlord and is also the most common reason why landlords make an insurance claim across the UK. ‘Escape of water’ is defined as ‘when water has entered the property by the mains water supply and caused damage’. It usually refers to a leak within the property that is caused by something like a burst pipe, a faulty washing machine or a leaking toilet. Even a small leak can cause significant damage, leading to flooding and mould. The highest claim we ever paid out for escape of water was for £145,855 after a slow leak underneath a bath rotted the flooring in a building.

Around one in three escape of water claims at Total Landlord are due to a burst pipe, and this can be expensive and time-consuming to fix. The average claim for burst pipes at Total Landlord was £2,596 between 2019 and 2023, but recent figures from the British Association of Insurers show that the average cost of weather-related home insurance claims for burst pipes was £9.300. A severe snap of cold weather can lead to a surge in claims – the ‘Beast from the East’ in 2018 led to a tenfold increase in pipe claims compared to the previous year.

Fortunately, there are some simple preventative steps landlords can take to reduce the risk of a burst pipe.

Top tips to reduce the risk of burst pipes

  • Check for leaks during periodic inspections
  • Lag internal pipes in colder areas and insulate external pipes using foam sleeving
  • Seal air leaks for example around dryer vents
  • Get the boiler serviced every 12 months before winter to prevent breakdowns during cold weather and arrange an annual gas safety check
  • Set the thermostat to 13 °C between November and April if the property is unoccupied
  • Ask tenants to contact you if they spot a leak or the toilet is blocked, and make sure they have your plumber’s details in case of an emergency
  • Ask tenants to turn off the water mains at the stopcock if they are leaving the property empty

For more advice, read our guide, ‘How to avoid burst pipes in your rental property’ and watch our short video which is packed with practical tips to help you and your tenants avoid burst pipes.

2. Storm damage

Since 2018, storm claims have climbed from being the fourth to the second most common claim at Total Landlord Insurance. The number of storm claims quadrupled between 2018 and 2022, with the average claim paid peaking at £10,801 in the 2020 storm season.

Most storm damage claims are for roof damage, typically as a result of high winds causing tiles to fall off the roof. Most recently, landlord insurance claims for storms Dudley and Eunice (both in February 2022) averaged £4,156, with one claim coming in at an eye-watering £93,020 when a fir tree fell, impacting the roof, sash windows and rear balcony of a property and causing extensive damage.

February is the most common month for storm damage claims, so it’s a good idea to prepare your rental property to reduce the impact at this time of year.

Top tips to minimise storm damage

  • Carry out regular external inspections in daylight, paying particular attention to loose roof tiles, guttering, downpipes and trees
  • In late autumn clear gutters and drains of debris
  • In winter when the leaves are gone, trim trees, inspect the roof and carry out repairs, and check that windows and doors are watertight and secure
  • Fence panels are usually excluded from insurance policies, so make sure they are properly secured
  • Check that garden gates are secure and remind your tenants to keep them shut
  • Forewarned is forearmed, so check the Met Office weather forecast regularly so that you can take extra precautions if you know a storm is approaching

For more guidance read our guide, ‘How to protect your rental property from storms’.

3. Flooding

The risk of flooding in the UK is rising as the UK’s weather becomes more unpredictable. Flooding is one of the top three increasing claim types at Total Landlord, with the average flood claim totalling £13,739.

One of Total Landlord’s highest ever claims - for a staggering £143,755 - was for a flood caused by storm Desmond which meant that the tenants had to be evacuated after an entire street was flooded. With unsettled weather on the increase and a rise in flash floods that often occur with very little warning, landlords should do all they can to reduce the risks and impact of flooding.

Top tips to prevent flooding

  • Check your risk of flooding at GOV.UK
  • If your property is in a high flood risk area, consider taking the following steps:
  • Use permeable paving surfaces
  • Install water-resistant windows, doors and flooring instead of carpets and wooden floors
  • Use waterproof wall sealant
  • Keep lightweight sandbags or equivalent for tenants to use to prevent water from entering the property through exterior doors and vents
  • Install non-return valves for toilets and sewer pipes, to stop water from backing up into the property if groundwater rises
  • Ask tenants to let you know if they spot any maintenance issues that could increase the risk of damage if the property was flooded
  • Talk to your tenants in person about what to do if there is a flood, and include this information in their welcome pack
  • Make sure tenants know how to turn off the gas, electricity and water
  • Flood insurance doesn’t cover maintenance, damage that occurs gradually over time or any pre-existing damage or wear and tear, so make sure you keep your property in a good state of repair
  • Keep drains and gutters clear of debris so that if there is a flood water can run away from the property
  • If a property is very high risk, it may be worth having a built-in sump and pump system to pump out water from below floor level

4. Accidental damage

However careful you and your tenants are, accidents will happen. ‘Accidental damage’ is damage that happens suddenly, due to an unintentional act from an unexpected and unforeseen action. Around 80% of the accidental damage claims we see at Total Landlord are for ‘accidental loss’ scenarios, which includes things like a child kicking a ball through the window or a tenant banging a nail into a water pipe. One of the most common causes of accidental loss we see at Total Landlord is a tap being left running unattended.

Even if the accidental damage was caused by the tenants, it’s up to the landlord to pay for the repairs. Although accidental damage is difficult predict, there are some steps you can take to minimise the risks and impact.

Tops tips to minimise accidental damage

  • Carry out regular property maintenance
  • Carry out robust tenant referencing and regular periodic inspections
  • Ask tenants to report any accidental damage to you as soon as possible
  • Make sure tenants know that they need to provide their own contents insurance
  • Accidental damage cover isn’t always offered as standard so check whether it’s included in your landlord insurance policy, and take out extra protection if needed

For more guidance on how to protect your rental property from accidental damage, read our ultimate guide to accidental damage insurance.

5. Break-in

Rented properties are generally less secure than owner-occupied properties. But it’s in both tenants’ and landlords’ interests to work together to protect the property from break-ins. At Total Landlord, we see significant spikes in break ins during the summer and winter months, so it’s a good idea to pay particular attention to security around these times, and of course if tenants are going on holiday and leaving the property unoccupied.

Fortunately, there are quite a few things that both landlords and tenants can do to protect themselves from break-in. Maintaining a good relationship with tenants so that you can set clear expectations and lines of communication, can help protect your property and your tenants from break-in. The more precautions you both take to make the property unappealing to a would-be intruder, the better.

Top tips to prevent break-in

  • Install good quality doors with deadbolts and locks – we recommend five-lever mortice deadlocks where possible
  • A chain and peephole on the front door will be a deterrent and help tenants feel more secure
  • A smart doorbell will detect motion and help increase security
  • Install window locks which can be operated from the inside
  • Make sure you change passwords on any digital locks between tenancies
  • Alarm systems that combine a sonic alarm with a visual deterrent such as flashing lights are the most effective
  • Use motion sensors to illuminate dark areas and detect the movement of any intruder
  • Keep shrubs and trees well-trimmed to deter would be intruders from hiding or using trees to gain access through upstairs windows
  • Create a ‘noisy’ front garden with a gravel driveway and a front gate
  • Get to know the neighbours - communities that work together are much more likely to be vigilant and notice anything out of the ordinary
  • Ask your tenants to report any security issues to you immediately so that you can fix them promptly
  • Talk your tenant through security measures and include them in a welcome pack, along with the tenancy agreement and inventory. For example:
  • Keep valuables out of view
  • Make sure they lock all doors and windows
  • Let you know if they are going to be leaving the property empty

For more guidance on how to protect your rental property from break-ins, read our ultimate guide to securing your rental property.

6. Subsidence

Subsidence is when the foundations of a property begin to sink into the ground below the building, which can make the foundations unstable. Subsidence claims, like those for storm damage, are on the rise due to climate change. At Total Landlord, they have one of the highest average payouts of all claims, at almost £7,000 per claim. The sooner subsidence is treated, the better, so it's important that both landlords and tenants are aware of the warning signs.

Top tips to prevent subsidence

  • Before investing in a buy to let property, check the surveyor’s report for signs of subsidence
  • Be particularly vigilant if the property is built on clay soil
  • Clear gutters and down pipes and make sure drainage systems are well maintained, to prevent water leaking into the soil beneath the property
  • Avoid planting any trees or shrubs close to the property
  • Remove any trees that are too close to the property
  • Investigate any cracks in the walls
  • During inspections, look out for any cracks, particularly following hot weather – most subsidence claims come in during the autumn months

For more guidance on how to protect your rental property from subsidence, read our guide, ‘Subsidence: what is it, how do you spot it and what should you do if you have it?

7. Fire

Fortunately, fire claims are rare. However, they can be costly, with the average payout at Total Landlord coming in at £22,558.

It’s very important to educate tenants about fire safety, but landlords, particularly those renting out HMOs, must also be aware of their legal responsibilities. For example:

  • Providing smoke and carbon monoxide alarms
  • Making sure that furniture and furnishings supplied are fire safe
  • Providing tenants with access to escape routes
  • Carrying out regular portable appliance testing
  • Making sure that all gas fittings are well maintained and in good condition and that annual safety checks are carried out by a Gas Safe registered tradesperson

For full up to date guidance on fire safety requirements, refer to GOV.UK.  

Top tips to prevent fire

  • Carry out a fire safety risk assessment, consider using a fire safety specialist
  • Make sure all smoke and CO alarms are working at the start of the tenancy and ask tenants to check them every month. It’s also a good idea to check them during inspections and keep a written record that you have done this
  • Install fire doors in high-risk rooms such as the kitchen
  • Make sure tenants know how to exit the property and include a clear emergency exit plan in their welcome pack
  • Make sure that electrical safety checks are carried out, and warn tenants about overloading sockets
  • Although not required in single let rented properties, you might want to provide fire extinguishers and fire blankets, but if you do so, make sure that tenants know how to use them
  • Ban smoking inside

For more guidance on how to protect your rental property from fire, read our ultimate guide to fire safety regulations for landlords and watch our short video of top fire prevention tips for landlords and tenants.

Follow the steps offered here and you can rest assured that you’re doing all you can to reduce the risks of some of the most common and costly claims we receive at Total Landlord. You’ll also find lots more useful information by heading over to our Knowledge Centre. By dealing with any issues promptly and carrying out regular inspections and maintenance, you can often prevent minor problems escalating into bigger ones and eating into your profits.

But of course, you can never reduce risks entirely. Having tenants living in a property is considered higher risk than an owner-occupied property, so most buy to let mortgage lenders will require landlords to have appropriate insurance in place. Normal home insurance won’t cover you for the risks associated with renting out your property, so it’s a good idea to take out specialist landlord insurance that will provide comprehensive cover for rental-specific events, such as accidental damage by tenants or their guests. Total Landlord has a dedicated in-house claims team of expert advisers who are on hand to help you should the worst happen.

Watch our short video below, with Founder and CEO of Total Landlord, Eddie Hooker, to learn about Total Landlord’s award winning landlord insurance, and read our guide to find out how to choose the right landlord insurance for you.

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