The crisp air of Fall is upon us, which makes it the perfect time to winterize your rental property. Winterizing requires the cooperation of your tenant, so it is a good idea to plan ahead and communicate with your tenant in advance. Here are a few tips to protect your property, keeping those emergency repair calls to a minimum.

Make a Winterizing Checklist for Yourself and Your Tenant

The best thing you can do to keep track of what needs to be done and communicate clearly with your tenant is to make a winterizing checklist.  It is a good idea to provide this when they first move in so that they are aware of the routine.  Even if you do, though, it is still a good idea to provide them with a copy about a month before you plan to start winterizing.  This checklist should contain a list of all the one-time things you and the tenant will need to do.  It should also indicate on the list whether you will be responsible for an item or the tenant will be responsible so that there are no miscommunications.  Keep in mind as you delegate responsibility that, for the most part, anything structural is your responsibility.  If you want to make certain these items are completed to a degree that satisfies your desired level of completeness, consider taking on more of the responsibility yourself.

This list can vary dramatically depending on the weather in your region, but here are some items you may want to consider adding:

  • Turn off and insulate outdoor faucets and disconnect hoses
    Especially if temperatures go below freezing in your climate, this is critical. Look for faucet insulators at your local hardware store, or create your own from foam or styrofoam.
  • Clean gutters
    You’ll want to make sure stormwater is draining properly to avoid damage to your roof, yard, and walkways from flooded gutters.
  • Pressure wash porches/stairs/walkways/driveways
    Wood and cement can hold moisture if dirt, moss, or algae form on the surface.  Couple this with freezing temperatures, and you have a recipe for disaster.  This is also a good time to inspect porches and stairs for loose or rotting boards that may become a hazard in harsher winter weather.
  • Clean chimneys
    If your rental has chimneys, especially on wood-burning fireplaces, make sure the chimney is clear of sooty buildup before it is used for the Winter.  A dirty chimney is a major fire hazard.
  • Replace furnace filters and clean ducts
    This not only helps tenants keep their energy costs low, it also keeps expensive equipment in top operating condition.
  • Insulate windows/doors
    This can be done in a variety of ways. If you have storm windows installed, you can ask tenants to put up the screens and pull down the storm windows.  This item may also just serve as a reminder to tenants that cold months are coming and they may want to put plastic over the windows or close shutters or otherwise keep warm air in.  Winter time can be a challenging time to pay rent if your tenant is having to pay large energy bills – it is to your advantage to help them prepare.
  • Inspect the roof
    There is absolutely nothing worse than a leaking roof. Unless you’ve just had a new roof put on in the last three years, it is a good idea to have someone inspect it for any potential issues.  It is much less expensive to replace a few shingles than it is to repair water damage inside your home.
  • Clear trees/branches
    Especially if you live in an area that is subject to wind and snow, it is important to check around the house for any trees that might be leaning at a dangerous angle to your property or branches that might be hanging over power lines or other fragile areas.  Remove these while the weather is still good, because finding someone to fell a tree or limb in the Winter will be a lot more challenging.
  • Close crawl space vents
    Some homes have vents in their crawl space that can be covered to provide reduced air flow.  This can make a big difference in retaining heat, and can also prevent small animals that will move toward warmer places from entering the home and causing damage.
  • Test and service generators
    If your rental has a generator for power outages, have it serviced and test it to make sure it is working properly.  This might be a good time to remind the tenant how to start it, change the oil, and handle any electrical connections/circuits associated with it.

Schedule Appointments In Advance

For any work that you are doing, or that you are hiring someone to do, be sure to give your tenants as much lead time as possible with appointments, especially if you will be entering the home.  Remember that your state and your lease agreement will typically have specific rules about how much lead time is required, and if your schedule allows, try to provide them with at least a couple of weeks notice.  They may have to move furniture or personal belongings to provide you with access to crawl spaces, attics, etc.  They may want to make arrangements to be at home during these times to watch over their things, or conversely may want to be away if it is noisy or disruptive.  The more you can include them in the scheduling process, the smoother it will go for everyone.

Check In With Your Tenant

BEFORE the weather gets nasty, check in with your tenant to see if they have completed their portion of the winterizing list and ask them if they had problems with anything. Again, it is better to know in advance if they weren’t able to get the gutters cleaned or unscrew a hose than to suffer the damage caused by not having those things done.  If they don’t have the physical ability to accomplish the tasks and don’t have the money to pay someone to do it, consider simply taking care of those items or working out a payment agreement with them (if it stated in their lease agreement that they needed to provide this as part of their responsibility) over a few months to cover the cost.  Don’t ignore the item just because they can’t get it done.  Taking care of your investment has to be the priority.

With just a bit of planning, you can protect your rental property during the harsh Winter months, and provide your tenant with a sense of security.  You can also avoid costly repairs during busy months when repair companies’ schedules are backed up.