A survey from online letting agent upad.co.uk, which surveyed 4,000 landlords, showed that nearly half of landlords fail to carry out routine maintenance checks before Winter sets in. The impact of failing to prepare for the bad weather can be huge, especially if your property is an HMO. Frozen pipes resulting in no heating and water, and then water leaks and further problems lead to unhappy tenants who may choose to move elsewhere.
Our maintenance team carry out monthly checks on all our properties, but every quarter they run a more detailed assessment to identify and prevent longer term problems. Here are my suggestions for areas that you need to include in a routine check (or make sure your managing agent does)!
1. Gutters, drains and roofs
Leaves and debris can quickly cause water damage if they’re not cleared regularly. I would recommend that every 6 months someone needs to go up on a tall ladder and check the state of your gutters and downpipes, clear the debris and run a hose of water through them. Make a similar regular date with your roof. Loose or missing shingles may lead to leakages with rain or melting snow, and flat roofs may be prone to leaks after heavy rain.
2. Trees and external objects
If you’ve got a tall tree or foliage that overhangs the property, check whether this needs to be cut back or pruned so that in high winds there’s no risk of damage to the house. Having deciduous trees near to the property can cause other problems such as root growth damage and leaf pile up, so it might be a good idea to assess whether this is the right time to remove a tree altogether.
The television aerial can also get dislodged in high winds, so it’s worth having a look to see whether it is securely lashed to the chimney stack and can withstand some force from the wind.
3. Heating and lighting
Boiler failure is one of the most irritating and costly issues to deal with and can cause real upset with tenants – understandably. Have your boiler serviced at the end of October to flag issues early and consider whether you could add boiler insurance to your policy for extra cover. You may choose to use a service plan to ensure you have back-up should the boiler fail. Alternatively find a reliable local plumber who is happy to do emergency calls at an agreed price. Furnish your agent with full boiler instructions and a detailed guide as to how to re-set it or top up the water levels as this can sometimes be the issue. Also make sure your tenants know who to call if anything goes wrong.
Heating woes are not all about the boiler, however. While three-quarters of landlords who carry out winter maintenance check the boiler, only half remember to do a health check on the pipes and radiators too, according to the upad.co.uk survey. Bleeding the radiators and checking for leaks across the property ensures the whole system will work more efficiently.
Using a remote thermostat like Hive from British Gas or Inspire will allow you to control the heating remotely. This means that you can set the property’s heating to come on regularly each day. Ensure your tenants understand the thermostat set levels and what to do if they want to change the heating settings.
4. Condensation and mould
Condensation can be a major problem in the winter months and regular room checks will allow you to see whether this is occuring. Air flow through the property is key to reducing humidity as is the use of extractor fans. Check that all extractor fans are in use and working properly, and remind tenants of the importance of good ventilation.
5. Alarms and security
Every habitable floor of a rental property must have a working smoke alarm – and any room with a solid fuel appliance (eg, a working fireplace) should be equipped with a carbon monoxide alarm. While testing your alarms, check the burglar alarm is working for added tenant reassurance on dark nights. If you have an outside light or PIR, make sure it stays on long enough and the range is wide enough to be of use. If your tenants have to pull bins out onto the street, or don’t have enough light to see where to put their key in the front door, their annoyance will only be exacerbated by having to wave at the external light that fails to stay on long enough to be helpful.
Ensure your current home insurance is up to date and check your policy gives adequate protection for any winter-related damages. And if your property has a flat roof, it’s worth checking your insurer covers flat roof damage – most insurers do not cover flat roofs, and structures of this kind can be prone to collecting water as it can’t drain off.
Having a regular approach to maintenance is both proactive and reactive and will help you ensure that your HMO works well today and for the future.
For more tips, advice and information on running a successful and cash-flowing HMO portfolio please join my Facebook group ‘The Ultimate HMO Success System. Or alternatively you can find out more about my mentoring services at www.wendywl.uk/mentor.html