As a landlord, you (or your managing agent) should have a maintenance schedule system in place, which hopefully includes extra checks in autumn each year to make sure the property’s in good shape before the winter weather hits.
Wind can blow trees and debris onto the building, lift roof tiles and rip off external fittings, such as TV aerials and satellite dishes. When that combines with higher levels of rainfall, you’ll soon find out if there are any spaces where water can get in, then when the frost comes, there’s a risk of pipes freezing and bursting if they’re not insulated properly.
At the other end of winter, when you’ve got snow melting in addition to all the rain, the waterlogged ground can’t absorb any more and flooding becomes a very real danger. And on top of all that, there’s an increased chance of the boiler breaking down because it’s being used far more than during the rest of the year – and have you tried to get hold of a plumber over the winter?
So here are five things to check each year as winter approaches, to help keep your tenants safe and happy and minimise the risk of your buy to let suffering any seasonal damage:
- Electrical systems
Get a ‘Part-P’ qualified electrician to carry out a test on all portable electrical appliances, such as fridges and washing machines, to make sure there’s nothing that could cause them to fuse or combust. And, although it’s not currently a legal obligation, it’s a good idea to have a full domestic electrical installation check every three years and get a certificate to show that the system meets safety standards.
- Fire safety systems
Storms and flooding can cause electrics to fuse and spark, which may lead to fire breaking out in your property, so double-check your fire safety systems. Put fresh batteries in smoke alarms and heat sensors, test interlinked and hard-wired systems and check any fire door closures are working properly. It’s also a good idea to remind tenants about what they should do if there is a fire and remind them not to prop open fire doors or block any exits.
Tenants will probably have the heating on pretty constantly throughout the winter, meaning the boiler’s working harder than during the rest of the year, plus colder weather can sometimes cause the pressure to drop. If the tenants start fiddling with the boiler and don’t know what they’re doing, there’s a good chance it’ll stop working and you’ll get a panicked phone call. It’s hard enough to get hold of a good plumber at any time but it’s almost impossible during the winter because they have so many call outs. Working on the well-tested theory that prevention is the best cure, book your annual gas safety check for the autumn – and make sure your tenants know the right way to re-pressurise the boiler!
- Door and window seals and closures
Heavy rain is quite brilliant at finding its way into any gap so, if the seals on your doors and windows have failed or are missing, your tenants are likely to find water coming in. At the same time, strong winds will catch any unsecured windows and doors and cause damage, possibly even ripping them off completely. So check that they can all be shut tightly and replace any seals that look as though they’re on their way out, to ensure the property is wind and water tight and your tenants will stay dry and draught-free.
- Drainage outlets
If water can’t drain away and builds up around your property, it can permeate, causing damp on the inside and, in the worse cases, pooling and flooding. That’s likely to damage furnishings and possessions and can also affect the electrical system, so you’ve got to do all you can to make sure the building stays dry and watertight. Clear leaves and other debris out of guttering and drains and check the joints on guttering and downpipes so there’s no risk of rainwater running down the building itself.
And while you’re gazing skywards, check the roof tiles as well, making sure none have slipped or are missing. If you can’t see properly from the outside, go into the loft. If you can see daylight, you should book a contractor to make a full inspection.
One last extra tip: check your landlord insurance policy to make sure you’ve complied with all your obligations to minimise potential hazards, so if the worst happens and you need to make a claim, you know you’ll be fully compensated.