Winter — time for woolly jumpers, snuggly blankets, hot chocolate and nights by the fire. But it is also the time of year when cocooning can pose risks for rentals, not to mention the season when heavy rains, high winds and ferocious storms can wreak havoc.
For agents and landlords, winter can mean more than just exposure to coughs and colds; it can also expose rental properties to seasonal risks. Here are six winter hazards to watch out for:
Stormy weather is a leading cause of insurance claims. Last winter, policyholders claimed around $465,000 for repairs due to storm damage. It’s important to note that whether your landlord clients’ storm damage claims are successful or not will often depend on whether the property has been adequately maintained. If owners or agents have not kept up to date with repairs, they could find part or all of their claim rejected. With this in mind, make sure you are on top of basic winter maintenance:
o Get the roof checked for leaks and other damage like loose sheets or cracked tiles.
o Overhanging trees and branches should be professionally pruned.
o Damaged windows and doors need to be repaired.
o Ensure other structures that could take flight in heavy winds (like pergolas, fences and sheds) are soundly anchored.
Heavy rain can cause flooding, and not just for properties in flood-prone areas. While properties close to bodies of water have a higher risk of being caught up in an actual flood, any property can be inundated with water. While we can’t avoid the elements, landlords and agents should ensure the rental is properly maintained to help limit damage when bad weather descends:
o Make sure gutters and downpipes are free of debris and in good repair (rainwater tanks should also be checked for soundness).
o Drains should be clear of blockages and free-flowing (as unsightly as they are, make sure pot plants are not placed over drainage grates).
o Ensure water drains away from the property — install soakwells and grade the yard away from the home.
The damp weather provides ideal growing conditions for mould. Once mould spores appear, they can spread and ultimately cause both health problems and damage to the property.
Mould outbreaks stemming from maintenance or structural issues are the responsibility of the landlord or agent to fix. If mould and mildew is present, have it professionally cleaned, find the cause of the outbreak — and get it sorted.
If tenant action, or inaction, led to the mould forming, they are required to take care of it. Frequently, this is the result of poor ventilation practices like not putting the exhaust fan on when showering, or lack of cleaning like not properly drying out wet carpets. Remind tenants to air the home properly and clean damp areas.
4. Heating system repairs
The cold and wet also brings risks associated with heating, from faulty appliances that emit toxic gases to fires. When it comes to fixed heating appliances, only authorised installers should be used and the appliances — whether gas, wood, oil or electric — should be checked and serviced regularly by qualified contractors.
A lack of heating in winter also means unhappy tenants, so ensure any supplied heaters and hot water systems are working properly. Non-working or damaged heating appliances are often considered urgent by both tenants and the law, so get onto repairs quickly.
5. Fire hazards
As the temperature dips, the chances of a home fire increases as tenants switch on heaters, light fireplaces, dry clothes indoors (using tumble dryers or by hanging garments close to heat), burn candles to create a cosy atmosphere and use more electrical appliances such as electric blankets.
Vigilance around heat sources is paramount, but there are a few things landlords and agents can do too to help reduce the risk of fire damage at a rental:
o Ensure an adequate number of suitable smoke alarms are correctly installed and positioned throughout the home and they are tested regularly (always test them during inspections).
o Consider supplying fire extinguishers and fire blankets at the property, especially in kitchens, and explain to tenants how to use them correctly.
o Make sure fireplaces are in good working order — get the chimney professionally cleaned, ensure the fireplace is properly ventilated and have the structural integrity checked (brickwork, chimney and flue).
Cold and wet conditions can spell mishaps, which, in turn, can expose landlords to liability claims. Wet surfaces in and around the rental can cause slips and falls — and landlords can be held liable for the injury if the reason the water doesn’t disperse (for example, leaky roof, dripping taps, blocked drains and unsealed tiles in wet areas) is found to be their fault.
Again, it pays to get on top of maintenance and repairs to make sure the property is safe. In addition to making the premises “slip-proof”, also check stairs and walkways are safe and well-lit, supplied heaters are working properly, all on-site structures are safe and sound, and the property is secure, to help limit the risk of being held liable for damage and accidents.
Before the worst of winter arrives, get on top of maintenance and repairs (it will also safeguard the landlord’s insurance coverage).
Sharon Fox-Slater is the managing director of RentCover, a division of EBM, which insures 120,000 investment properties around Australia. With over 20 years’ experience in landlord insurance, Sharon’s top priority is customer service and positive customer comments are her biggest marker of success. Despite leaving school at 15, Sharon has forged a ground-breaking career – she was the first woman to become a fellow of the National Insurance Brokers Association. Sharon was honoured to have been included in Insurance Business magazine’s Elite Brokers 2013 list.