10 Tips to Eliminate Holiday Liabilities

Tenants are likely hosting friends and family for the holidays. And if they are not attentive to the finer details, a cooking fire can occur, or someone may be injured on the icy front steps. Share these 10 key factors with your investors to encourage tenant safety, avoid holiday liability, and ensure your investor client’s properties don’t get damaged during the jolly season.

1. Trees

There is no time like the present, pun intended, to check trees. It may seem expensive to hire this service, but one storm can cause costly damage and may create additional hardship if tenants must be moved out. As tree trimming can be dangerous, hiring a certified arborist is recommended. The Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA) has a search on their main site: www.tcia.org. They also run www.treecaretips.org where they address ways to identify “at-risk” trees, fight common pests and more. Another good resource is the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA). Learn more about proper tree care at www.treesaregood.org, a site that ISA hosts.

2. Parking

Investors should be sure they are familiar with state and city parking laws: are there any areas in the neighborhood where it’s illegal or unsafe to park? The local Department of Transportation can help navigate these parking issues. For example, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) has a specific page on their website dedicated to answering the question, “Can I park there?”.

Guidelines for parking should be included in a lease, making sure that tenants are aware of the locations that holiday guests are encouraged to park, especially if they will be there for several days. In addition to including the details in the lease, sending a nice reminder note before the holiday frenzy begins will encourage them to do this correctly.

3. Sidewalks & Steps

One of the most common liability claims at an investment property is a slip and fall. Your clients should make sure that the liability coverage has a  limit of at least $1 million per occurrence, but more importantly, preventive maintenance can keep an injury from occurring on an investment property in the first place. The lease should specify who is responsible for clearing walks and driveways in stormy weather. If the job will fall to the tenant, they should be educated about the risks of not keeping up with this innocent task.

4. The Roof

Clients should inspect the roof’s condition. Any buckling or broken shingles will need to be replaced to keep water from coming inside. To prevent ice dams, make sure the attic is properly insulated. The Ice Dam Guys’ site has a Learning Center that points out the 5 telltale signs of ice dams, and also has information about how to safely remove snow from a roof. If a large snow occurs, tenants should be contacted quickly. Tenants should not be up on a dangerous roof – injures from roof falls can be particularly severe or even fatal.

5. Outdoor Lights & Decorations

Many people still hang outdoor lights along the roof’s edge during the holidays. Using the proper height or kind of ladder can keep a tenant from becoming one of the 90,000 people that will receive ER treatment from a ladder-related injury this year (Consumer Product Safety Commission). The ALI is the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) approved developer of ladder safety standards. Check out their “Ladders 101” or “Basic Ladder Safety” in the Safety and Training area of their website: www.americanladderinstitute.org.

6. Heating & Fireplaces

More house fires occur in the months of December, January, and February than any other time of year, the National Fire Protection Association reports, and many of those fires are caused by heating appliances. Investor clients should not be lazy in maintaining the HVAC system. Dust buildup is a fire hazard. Clients should clean HVAC systems at least twice a year. Ensuring tenants have proper heat can also keep them from using the stove or other dangerous methods to stay warm.

Investors should have chimneys inspected before tenants use it each year. The creosote, or residue buildup inside a chimney, is highly combustible. If it builds up enough and the internal temperature is hot enough, it could start a chimney fire, says the Chimney Safety Institute of America. Search for a CSIA certified professional and learn more about chimney care on their website: www.csia.org.

7. Cooking

It is easy to get distracted while entertaining guests, so clients should remind tenants of safe cooking practices. Cooking is the leading cause of kitchen fires according to the NFPA. The NFPA has a variety of tip sheets to pass along to tenants on their website www.nfpa.org.

Investors may also consider purchasing a product called StoveTop FireStop. When their wick is ignited, the small cans release a fire suppressant right over the pan, putting out the fire. A product like this can reduce the cost of a kitchen fire from tens of thousands of dollars (or even a total loss) to under a thousand. Learn more on StoveTop FireStop’s site.

8. Rodents, Pests, & General Cleanliness

Maintaining the interior of a property begins during tenant placement. One way to find out how a prospective tenant will treat a property? If there is something that the investor client needs the tenant to sign, this can be turned into an opportunity to visit the tenant’s current residence. Even if the investor can’t view the inside, the outside of a person’s house can be a good indicator of the care they invest there.

As for rodents and other pests, property owners should be on the lookout for holes or cracks that a critter can crawl through. Mice can enter through a hole the size of a dime! Windows and doors should be re-sealed by caulking each season.

9. Candles & Indoor Decorations

The risk of fire can be decreased from an unattended candle by encouraging tenants to use battery-powered candles. Many candles on the market today imitate the natural light of a flame without the fire risk. The NFPA also recommends placing trees and other decorations three feet or more from fireplaces and other heat sources. Light strings should be checked for signs of exposed wires or deterioration and tenants should avoid linking too many strings of lights together. It should be kept to three for “mini-string” sets and 50 lights if using a string with screw-in bulbs.

10. Plumbing

Even if your client is investing in an area where it never freezes, the plumbing system will still need attention. Water heaters require annual maintenance. Draining the tank once a year to remove sediment and replacing the anode rod before it fails can slow down corrosion inside the tank and extend the life of the water heater.

For colder climates, pipes near exterior walls will need to be insulated. Investor clients should teach tenants to be proactive in keeping the pipes from freezing when a cold snap is forecasted: open cabinet doors below the sink and keep faucets on a slow drip to keep the water flowing through the pipes. Lastly, if any properties are vacant during this season, water should be shut off at the street, and the system drained to avoid any pipes bursting or vandals causing additional damage while going after copper pipes.