7 Critical Ways Rental Owners Can Prepare for Extreme Cold

Wild Winter

You read the news so you probably know that a few weeks ago temperatures during the “Polar Vortex,” adjusted for wind chill, dipped to -50F in parts of the US. Just when you thought it was over, the east coast is being slammed with another snowstorm.


The impact of these extremely cold temperatures on rental owners is expensive and time-consuming. Property managers in Chicago found themselves dealing with rental properties subjected to subzero temperatures for 37 straight hours. In Minneapolis, subzero temperatures persisted for 62 straight hours. From burst pipes to inadequate heating to icy pathways to leaking roofs caused by ice dams, landlords and property managers over a huge swath of the country found themselves dealing with emergency repairs.

Arctic Blast 2014 is not over. But it is a good, if harsh, reminder that you shouldn’t get left out in the cold when it comes to…well…the cold!

Here are 7 critical and possibly life-saving things you should do to your rental property before the next extreme cold bout.

1. Prepare an emergency kit before winter.

  • Include rock salt or cat litter, snow shovels. Consider including a hairdryer you no longer need to help unfreeze water pipes.
  • Schedule this on your calendar for no later than October, and follow through.
  • Don’t wait until hours before a storm hits when supplies are low.

2. Winterize your rental property.

  • Check that the insulation in your rental is appropriate for the area.
  • Make sure pipes are properly insulated.
  • Consider wrapping water pipes in heat tape if they have frozen in the past. In my old house, where winter temperatures frequently dropped below zero, we ended up wrapping some water pipes in heat tape to make sure they didn’t freeze in winter. If you do this, make sure you check the heat tape before every winter season.
  • If your rental roof is susceptible to ice dams, which can lead to expensive leaks, consult with a roofer on ice dam prevention. Again consider using heat tape- it’s a much cheaper alternative to redesigning the roof.
  • Check for dead tree branches that might break off and cause damage, or worse, injure someone, and have them removed.
  • Check for drafts and repair caulking and weather stripping.
  • Close valves supplying outside faucets and open outdoor hose bibs to drain water.

3. Winterize your car.

You may end up having to make an emergency trip to your rental, so you need to make sure your vehicle is up to the task. Make sure all systems are in good working order, and then do these things:

  • Check antifreeze levels.
  • Install good winter tires.
  • Put together an emergency car kit including shovel, ice scraper, flashlight, road salt/sand, emergency flares, water, blanket, and other items you think necessary.

4. Implement and commit to your rental inspection schedule.

  • Seriously. This is a particular challenge for do-it-yourself landlords who have other jobs, but it’s important (and a good reason to hire a property management company if you don’t have the time). Calendar your inspections every 6 months and follow through.
  • Plan inspections before winter (to identify any issues to fix before the temperatures drop) and in the spring (to identify any winter damage).
  • Hire a professional to inspect your HVAC systems annually, replace filters, check vents/ducts, and check for carbon monoxide leaks.
  • Also inspect plumbing, gutters, and smoke detectors.

5. Communicate with your tenants.

  • If a winter storm is coming, confirm your tenants are aware.
  • If frozen pipes are a possibility, ask tenants to leave faucets on a low drip until the freezing temperatures rise. If they are planning on going away during the freeze, as them to set thermostats at a minimum of 55 degrees.
  • Remind tenants that it is important they report any winter storm damage as soon as possible.

6. Have a snow removal plan in place.

  • Your lease agreement might require your tenants to do snow removal, or you might be responsible for it, depending on state laws and local ordinances. Regardless, make sure that you do have a plan and that the person responsible for snow removal is actually doing it in a timely manner.
  • If you are responsible for snow removal, store the equipment you need, such as shovels and rock salt, at the rental property to make it easier.
  • Be aware that if someone slips and falls on ice on your property, you could get sued. Having a snow removal plan that is consistently followed could help mitigate damages.
  • Confirm with your insurance agent that you have good liability insurance.

7. If your tenant tells you that water pipes have frozen, set about unfreezing them quickly.

  • Turn off the main stop tap.
  • Open the faucet closest to the area of the pipe you suspect is frozen.
  • Using a hairdryer, hot water bottle or heat packs, apply heat. Never use an open flame or heat gun.
  • Once thawed out, check for damage, and if it all looks good, open the main stop tap and turn on faucets to check they’re working.
  • NOTE: Frozen pipes are generally considered an emergency situation and it’s likely you have a right of entry in that situation, but double check the state and local laws that apply to you.

The weather in 2014 is extreme and is not showing any signs of letting up. Dealing with property issues during this season can be difficult, but there are ways to prepare for it and mitigate further damage. Check out our blog on 5 Critical End-of-Year Must Do’s Rental Owners Can’t Ignore for further tips on how to winterize your property.

By Tracey March