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The days are growing shorter and the nights colder, which means it is time to winterize both homes and properties to save money and avoid property damage and lawsuits. Winterization is not just for the northern states; even properties in southern climates can experience freezes and damage from cold, wet weather.

Creating a checklist of items that should be updated, changed or checked will ensure that any required repairs will be done in a timely manner – before the damage is caused. Interior items to inspect include:

• Plumbing: In vacant properties in particular, landlords and property managers should drain all the water from the pipes and shut off the water, to prevent freezing and bursting. Burst pipes are a landlord’s nightmare, because when the pipes thaw and the water starts running again, it will continue to do so until someone appears at the property to shut off the water. Insurance companies will often decline claims caused by burst pipes, due to either landlord negligence or the fact that many rental dwelling policies do not cover the property while vacant and include clauses requiring the landlord to obtain separate insurance while the property is vacant.
• Water Heaters: It’s prudent to inspect hot water heaters for any possible leaks. Handling this now may reduce costs for potential water problems during the cold winter months.
• Furnaces: Landlords and property managers who maintain single family homes should consider having furnaces serviced as well, as faulty furnaces can cause problems ranging from smoke to gas leaks to fires to simple breakdowns on the coldest day of the year when they are under the most stress.
Windows: Every single window should be inspected for drafts (or cracks). Make sure to repair or replace the windows that might be drafty or cracked, to lower utility costs, make the tenants happier and increase your tenant retention rate.
• Doors: Inspect your doors for warping and excessive wear. If necessary, replace the weather stripping to prevent drafts under and around the doorway.
• Fireplaces: Prior to use, all fireplaces should be checked for proper ventilation, in an effort to prevent smoke and possible fire damage.

Remember to check the following on the exterior of your property:
• Roofs: Check the roofs of your buildings for excessive wear and leaks, and repair before that first winter storm. Such repairs help the roof endure the heavy snow or rain, withstanding the weight and pressure of bad weather. This simple tip can save you thousands in potential roof damage.
• Chimney: If the rental property has a chimney, make sure to inspect it. Birds and squirrels often nest in chimneys, which can block the flow of smoke and cause a smoke and fire hazard. Be sure to remove any blockage or nests before lighting the fireplace for the first time of the season.
• Gutters: Check with tenants about whether they have noticed any gutter leaks, because freezes will make the cracks and leaks worse, and the leaking water can cause basement leaks, walkway damage, patio damage, and can create icy conditions that can lead to falls (and lawsuits).
• Walkways and Stairs: Make sure to inspect stairways and all walkways for breakage or cracks. The combination of snow, ice and rain is a recipe for potential disaster; trips, falls and lawsuits can easily be avoided with some minor foresight.
• Balcony and Patios: Check these routinely for signs of damage, but especially when winter arrives the freezing and thawing of ice can accelerate damage to the wood. This creates a potentially dangerous situation for your tenants, which can mean liability for the landlord and property manager.
• Outside Windows: Check the sealant and caulking in and around the outside of your windows, and consider replacing it. Even if the window is sealed on the inside, if the outside is not handled accordingly, a draft can still result.

Once the first major snowstorm or cold spell comes through town, contractors' phones will be ringing off the hook with requests to service furnaces, fix roof leaks, and clean out fireplaces and chimneys, so call them before it grows too cold, and avoid the backlog and heightened prices!

Related Reading:

When Is the Landlord Liable for Snow & Ice Removal, and for Tenant Injuries?

Common Property Repairs All Landlords Should Know (infographic)


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