Your rental property could be one of your biggest investments. So it makes sense to keep it in good condition. Extreme weather conditions during the winter months can take their toll on homes. But there are steps you can take to help prevent or limit damage, which could save you a lot of money in the long run. Read our essential guide for landlords to find out what you need to do and how.
1) Easy to action tips to prevent frozen pipes
One of the biggest concerns over the winter months is the risk of pipes freezing. When water freezes it expands. If water freezes in a pipe it can cause it to split. When the ice thaws, water can leak out of the pipe, causing huge amounts of damage to property and contents.
Reduce the risk of water pipes freezing:
- If you have a water tank in the loft, make sure it is insulated properly with no gaps. Insulation can be purchased from most DIY stores.
- Insulate water pipes anywhere in the property where it is cold, for example in the loft, garage or outside taps.
- During extremely cold weather, and if your property is left empty, it could be worth opening the hatch to the loft. This allows warmer air to travel up into the roof space.
- Check windows and doors for draughts that let cold air in, especially in parts of the property with no heating.
- If your property is empty, set the heating to low. Soimetimes that may not be possible, so pop in and turn on the heating when you can.
- If the property will be left empty for a long time, consider turning off the water at the stopcock. You’ll also need to drain the system so there is no water left standing in the pipes. You can do this by opening all the taps and letting the water drain away.
- If you have a dripping tap, get it fixed. Otherwise, water in the waste water pipe may freeze, resulting in damage.
- Take out home emergency insurance cover. That way you can give your tenants a number to call in an emergency to get the problem fixed quickly and you won’t be faced with any unexpected bills.
2) How to look for leaks to keep your roof space sound
Keeping your roof in good condition is a year round concern. But in stormy, cold wintertime, it’s even more important. Get up a ladder if you can to take a close look at the condition of your roof. Check for cracked, broken or missing tiles. These can all let water in, causing damage to the structure of the building. Broken and missing tiles can also let high winds pass through, resulting in further tiles being lost. What could have been a relatively cheap and quick fix could turn into a major repair job.
- Get up on a ladder if you can to take a close look at the condition of the roof.
- Go inside the loft to look for gaps of light indicating there is a problem.
- If you can’t get up to the roof, take a look from ground level. Also look at the ground around your property to see if there are any signs of broken tiles that have fallen down.
- If there are any broken or missing tiles, get these fixed.
3) Follow this advice to keep your electric and gas fire equipment safe
Gas and electric safety are important for landlords all through the year. But as the temperatures plummet, gas and electric fires may be turned on for the first time in many months. It’s important to make sure they are clean so they can function properly. Dust and debris can smoulder or even catch light when the fire is turned on.
- Check gas fires before they are switched on for the first time in a while to ensure they are clean. You could do this yourself, using a vacuum cleaner, but make sure the fire is fully switched off before you start. Or use a Gas Safe registered engineer for complete peace of mind. Find your closest registered Gas Safe engineer
- Make sure you meet your responsibility towards gas safety in your rented property(ies) whatever the time of year. Read the Gas Safe information for landlords.
- A gas fire that has not been properly cleaned can pose a serious threat. A carbon monoxide detector is a legal obligation for rented properties with a gas or solid fuel fire. Don’t forget to test your carbon monoxide detector regularly to ensure it is working properly.
4) Check your gutters to stop water damage taking hold
A blocked gutter might not seem like a big problem, but it can lead to major damage. An overflowing gutter, or a split resulting in a leaky gutter, can mean water discharging straight onto your walls. Water will penetrate brick and stone work leading to damp. And if it freezes in the cold, water can quickly cause serious damage to masonry.
- Check gutters regularly and especially during the winter months, when leaves blown down from trees can build up quickly to cause blockages.
- Remove leaves and debris from the gutters. Just make sure you don’t push them down the downpipe or they could block it.
- If the downpipe has already become blocked, consider buying specialist flexible drain rods that can make it easier to clear. Alternatively, you could consider dismantling the downpipe or calling in specialist help.
- Invest in drain guards or ‘gutter hedgehogs’. These can stop leaves travelling down the downpipe and causing a blockage. Just remember, you’ll need to remove any leaves that accumulate on the guards quite regularly.
5) Help your tenants to help you
If you do let your property over the winter, your tenants could help you to spot problems early. You can make this easier for them if you put together some information.
It’s worth remembering that if you let your property on a long-term let it’s likely that your tenants won’t have owned a property before. That means your tenants are less likely to know how to spot signs of damage or potential for damage. If you compile an information pack, this could help them to know what to look for. It can also empower your tenants to take action fast, which could save you money.
This information pack should cover:
- Contacts in case of an emergency. For example, if you have home emergency insurance make sure your tenant knows what number to contact. This will usually be a Freephone number that will give access to an emergency plumber or electrician, who will visit the home within a set period to fix the problem. It’s important that this number is called as quickly as possible, as fixing a problem quickly can help to limit potential damage and reduce the cost of putting the problem right.
- Location of the stopcock. Up to 400l (or two bathtubs full) water can escape from a leaky pipe every hour. Make sure your tenant knows where the stopcock is so they can switch off the water quickly if there is a leak.
- Advice on heating. It’s more cost effective to keep a home at a constant temperature rather than turning the thermostat up and down. It’s a good idea to install a thermostat in your rental home and advise your tenants to set it to maintain a set temperature.
- Information on preventing mould. Your tenant may be tempted to dry their washing inside on cold wet days and keep or the windows shut to keep the warm in. But damp rooms can lead to mould forming. Provide advice on proper ventilation.
- Make sure your tenants know how and where to turn the gas off (if you have gas in your property).
- Provide information on where the electric box is. If there is a power cut, your tenants will be able to check that it is not just a fuse that has blown.
6) Secure empty property to protect it from thieves
If your property is left empty, for example, it’s a holiday let or between lettings, theft is a risk. Take steps to ensure it is properly secured to make it harder for thieves to break in.
- You can deter would-be thieves by making the property look less obviously empty. Make sure rubbish is removed and that post does not build up.
- Check windows and doors have been properly closed and locked.
- Buy additional heavy-duty locks, especially for outbuildings like sheds and garages. These not only make it harder to break in but act as a visual deterrent.
- Installing CCTV and an alarm system deters thieves and alerts you more quickly to a problem so it can be resolved efficiently.
- Make sure your landlord insurance covers you. Some standard insurance policies specify that a property cannot be left for more than 30 consecutive days.
7) Repel rodents
It’s not just humans who like to sit in the warm on the cold, wet days of winter. Rodents, like rats and mice, also far prefer somewhere dry and warm. If you’re not careful they could become your next tenants!
- Rats and mice like to find a nice home with plenty of food to eat. You can deter mice and rats from entering your property by making sure there are no traces of food left lying around. This means thoroughly cleaning the property, especially if it is going to be left empty for a period of time. Even a few crumbs on the ground can attract rodents.
- Prevent rats and mice from entering the home by sealing up any gaps. Mice are extremely flexible and can squeeze through a gap as small as 6mm. That’s about the same size as a pencil! Make sure you don’t block up any air vents though as these are necessary for air to circulate. Instead, cover with a wire mesh, which will allow air to flow but not let rodents through.
- If you already have a problem, call pest control. Many councils offer a free pest control service for rats and mice in domestic properties. Find your local council.
8)Tend to trees now to minimise damage caused by falling branches
Stormy weather is more common during the winter months and can cause substantial damage. Whilst you can’t stop the storms, you can think ahead to eliminate potential damage from occurring. High winds can lead to falling branches. If branches land on your property, it can be expensive to put right. Trees can grow a considerable amount during one season, so what was not a problem before could be now.
- Survey trees and bushes on your property and nearby.
- Are there any branches overhanging or near to your property?
- Do any branches look damaged?
- Is the tree still alive?
- If the tree is on your property you can cut back any problem branches or contact a tree surgeon to do this for you.
- You can’t cut a tree if it is not on your property. Instead, you’ll need to write to your neighbour to request they carry out the work.
- Make sure your landlord property insurance covers you for falling tree damage.
9) Choose the right insurance to protect your investment
Shopping around for the right rental property insurance can save you cash now and if you come to claim.
As you rent the property, ordinary home and contents insurance won’t be valid. Whether you have a holiday property, long-term rental or let to students, specialist landlord insurance is designed to cover all the specific risks you face. This can include:
- Covering accidental and malicious damage from tenants.
- Loss of rent and non-payment of rent insurance.
- Legal protection.
- Damage caused by burst pipes.
- Home Emergency cover
- Like all insurance, it pays to shop around for your landlord insurance.
- Remember the cheapest option is not always the best. Instead, loom for value for money cover, which won’t leave you spending more in the long run.
- Speak to an independent broker who can do the leg-work for you by contacting a range of different insurance companies on your behalf.
- A broker will also put together a tailored deal that covers everything you need without spending on cover you don’t need.
- And a broker can advise you on areas of insurance that you may not have considered.
Maintaining your rental property throughout the year is vital to protect your investment. And in the winter months, it’s even more important to keep it in good condition. Follow our guide now and you could save money for a bigger ROI.