With autumn now giving way to winter and – dare I say it – Christmas just around the corner, now is the time to make sure your properties are ready for any bad weather that might be heading our way.
Ice, snow, frost, storms and falling temperatures – yes, it is that time of year again.
With November upon us, now is a great time to take stock and look over your rental portfolio to winter-proof your homes before the worst of the bad weather hits.
A little time and effort spent on prevention work now can save a lot of trouble – and money – further down the line.
Burst pipes, blocked drains and broken gutters can all result in significant damage to homes, and, of course, significant repair bills, so landlords are advised to check they are in good repair.
Talk to your tenants
It may seem like a no brainer, but be proactive. Ask tenants if there is anything they are having problems with, be it windows, doors or walls and ask about any dripping pipes.
Inspect your property
Areas to pay particular attention to include the roof, pipes, heating system, garden and outbuildings.
Check the roof, including the eaves, fascias, soffits and slates and look at the guttering. Ensure gutters are clean from leaves and debris to avoid structural damage and damp.
Blocked gutters can also cause excess water, which can freeze to form dangerous patches of ice so it is vital you are vigilant.
Do you have an open fire? If so, make sure the chimney has been swept.
And test your carbon monoxide alarm. The Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015 state PRS landlords must have a carbon monoxide alarm in any room containing a solid fuel burning appliance, eg a coal fire or wood burning stove – and these appliances are likely to be in use during colder weather.
Servicing the boiler is also a good idea, along with bleeding radiators and checking pipes and storage tanks are properly lagged.
Frozen pipes are the big fear once the temperature falls, but there are things you can do to protect your home.
Again, ask your tenant about dripping taps. It may seem an innocuous problem that can be easily fixed, but a dripping tap in freezing conditions may block the waste pipe with ice and can cause a problem if left for a long period as the basin, sink or bath may then overflow into the room.
Even a gentle trickle of water could freeze and block the pipe.
Insulate all pipework in unheated areas like lofts, roofs, outbuildings and garages. Also, lag any cold water storage cisterns in your loft.
Get the garden sorted
If you have a garden now is a good time to check it too is safe for tenants during the winter months.
While high winds are by no means confined to winter, make sure garden furniture and wheeled bins are secured.
Inspect fencing too, as it is much cheaper to replace a single panel now rather than an entire fence later in the season. It is also advised to check for damaged or dangerous tree branches that need to be trimmed.
Decking can become extremely slippery if not well maintained.
Think about jet washing your decking to ensure it is clean and safe – although it goes without saying it is a good idea to check the forecast first to avoid creating an ice rink.
It is also a good time to check for any rotting to the decking and to repair any loose boards.
Check that your outside lighting is working, something that is particularly important if your rental property has steps or other features which make it difficult to get around when it is dark and slippery.Also check any steps and handrails.
If you have outside taps, insulate them, or even better, turn them on and drain them (leaving the tap open to allow any ice to escape) at their isolation valve during the winter.
Liability for accidents
Snow and ice increase the likelihood of slips and falls on paths and steps outside your properties, but what are your responsibilities?
In short, as long as there is nothing wrong with the house that has caused things to freeze, and you haven’t done anything deliberately to cause patches of ice etc, then you as the landlord have no liability.
However, if things freeze up because the property is in some way broken, then you, as the landlord, are at fault.
If tenant slips on ice or snow at a property they are renting, the landlord is not liable as the tenants are responsible for keeping the paths clear and safe, and the landlord has no responsibility to the public at large.
Cold weather and vulnerable tenants
Cold weather can be a nightmare for vulnerable tenants – be it the elderly, those with health problems, the disabled and those on lower incomes who are worried about fuel bills.
If you have tenants who fall into these groups it is worth making sure they are prepared.
As well as the general advice detailed above, it is also worth checking that tenants are claiming all the benefits they are entitled to. £100 and £300 tax-free is available to help elderly people pay heating bills if they were born on or before July 5, 1953.
Most payments are made automatically between November and December.
You should get your money by 15 January 2018, but if an eligible tenant does not get one automatically they must make a claim through www.gov.uk
It may also be worth asking a neighbour to keep an eye out for vulnerable tenants during the winter months.
If you are worried about an elderly tenant contact the Age UK helpline on 0800 1692081.
Advice to give tenants
Check tenants know how the boiler works, the location of the stopcock and how to change the thermostat.
Encourage them to leave the heating on a timer, or low setting if they are leaving the property empty for a few days – over Christmas for example – to ensure pipes do not freeze.
Also give them a list of helpful contact numbers, in case of an emergency.
The importance of insurance
No matter how well you prepare, problems can and do occur as a result of bad weather so it is vital to make sure you have the appropriate cover for your home and contents.
For more information on RLA insurance contact 0333 000 0169.
WHAT DO YOU DO IF YOUR PIPES FREEZE?
When temperatures plummet, the inevitable warnings regarding frozen pipes abound. But what do you do if the worst happens and your pipes freeze? Water company South Staffordshire Water gives this advice:
- If you have no water during a severe frost, check with your neighbours. If they have a supply, your pipes may be frozen.
- Be a good neighbour and check on elderly/less able neighbours and help if necessary.
- Check your pipes for signs of splitting. Remember that if your pipes are damaged, a burst will only become apparent when the frozen water in the pipes thaws and can escape.
- Shut off your internal stop tap and drain your system by flushing the toilet and opening cold taps over sinks/baths etc (Don’t turn on the hot taps as this may cause you further problems if the hot water system is also frozen.)
- Also, switch off the central heating and any water heating appliances (boiler, immersion heater, etc).
- If your pipes are intact, open the taps and thaw the pipes slowly with hot water bottles or heated cloths. Always start thawing the pipe at the end nearest the outlet tap. Never apply a direct flame.
- Once you’ve thawed your pipes and you’re satisfied that no damage is present, and no leakage is occurring, close the taps you have opened and slowly open the stop tap.
- Check your pipes again now that they’re under pressure and only when you’re happy switch on water heating appliances, boilers, immersion heaters etc. Do not do this until you are sure the system has thawed out – after freezing has occurred there is a risk of explosion if heat is suddenly applied.