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Weathering the Storm: Minimising winter property damage

When it comes to property damage, many people’s first thoughts turn to tricky tenants, leaky pipes or naughty pets. However, how many of us consider the bigger forces at work? With the weather closing in and making its presence felt across the world, should we start to pay more attention to the risk factors associated with the biggest potential danger of all… the weather?

Nobody could avoid seeing the horrors faced by those across the Atlantic in the aftermath of the horrendous Hurricane Irma, and with Storm Maria close on her tail there seems no let up.

Whilst here in the UK we are sheltered from such devastating situations, recent extreme weather has highlighted just how unprepared many of us are for the worst of the winter weather.

Is dealing with storm damage my problem?

Yes, it is. As a landlord, you are bound by the Landlord and Tenant Act 10985, and have a responsibility for the repair and maintenance of your properties structure and interior. Therefore, if your property is battered by high winds, floods, falling trees or any of the associated issues that come hand-in-hand with woeful wintery weather, it will be down to you to ensure that the property is safe and secure for your tenants.

You have a responsibility to ensure that the following elements of the property are in tip top condition:

• Roof
• External walls
• Foundation
• Windows
• Doors
• Drains and exterior pipes
• Guttering and water collection
• Fence

If the damage that has been caused is not posing any risk to your tenant, or damaging their quality of life – for example if tiles have been knocked off a decorative porch – it is up to you whether to repair this immediately or not. Cosmetic issues can be repaired at the landlord’s discretion – understandably if it is a troublesome time with regards to weather you may have other elements to consider over and above decorative issues, which your tenants are likely to understand!

Do my tenants have any responsibilities?

Your tenants are your eyes and ears – they are the only people who can give you a full and comprehensive overview of exactly what is happening to your property during bad weather. It is a good idea to keep in touch to make sure everything is ok, and that there are no issues you should be aware if you are concerned that there may be potential for damages, and do stress to your tenants to notify you as soon as they notice anything out of the ordinary – usually the faster you catch a problem, the easier it is to solve!

However, don’t rely on your tenants, some of the issues that can cause the biggest problem are not noticeable to the naked eye! Obviously, if a tree has uprooted in the garden, your tenants are likely to notice, however if high winds has caused a few tiles to slip on the roof, your tenant is unlikely to notice too much until the leak drips through to the interior of the property. In this instance, driving past your property and making sure everything looks as it should.

Where are the most likely areas that I should be looking out for damage in?

There are certain areas that are more susceptible to damage than others. It is important to keep your eyes open if the weather gets particularly unpleasant, as they are the areas that are most likely to cause you trouble, and cost you money to repair!

The roof

Whilst it may seem daunting, roofing issues, if caught early, needn’t shoot your budget sky high. If you or your tenant notice any bowing, or misshaping of the roof line, or slipping of tiles, it is advisable to have a professional in to check out the roof and loft joists. Long term leaks caused by tiles slipping in high winds can cause weakening in the roof joists, and if left un-treated can cause a pricey problem.

External walls

Moving down from the roof, it stands to reason that your walls are going to take a bit of a battering if the weather is lashing against them. You would hope that bricks and mortar would be able to withstand the most vicious weather conditions, however if your property has any exterior cracks or holes (over-zealous plants, and some garden wildlife can be culprits here!) a serious soaking from heavy rain can lead to all manner of issues. If water is able to ingress in the property over a long period of time, it has the potential to cause serious damage.

Guttering

One of the key culprits for causing water ingress in walls is dodgy guttering, and never is this more at risk that during periods of high wind and rain. With leaves and debris flying around, it doesn’t take much to block a gutter, and once blocked, even the lightest rainfall can cause a soggy overflow.

Doors and windows

Whilst a solid roof and walls should do the majority of the work in keeping the wintery weather outside, it’s not much good if the doors and windows are allowing it in! As well as contributing to ensuring that your tenants are warm and cosy (the law requires you as a landlord to ensure the property is wind and rain-proof), but also making sure that doors and windows are secure is vital to maintain the security of your property.

Fences/gates

It’s not all about the property though – don’t forget the garden! We’ve all seen ‘drunken’ fences the night after a blowy storm, and as a landlord, if it’s your fence or gate that takes the brunt of the gale, or falling tree, it is up to you to secure the garden and clear up the mess.

How can I prepare my property for the winter weather?

There’s plenty you can do to make sure your property is as prepared as it can be for any unpleasant weather, and you can ask your tenants to carry out a few simple tasks too.

Ongoing landlord maintenance:

• Check for loose roof tiles/bowing and repair
• Ensure drains and gutters are free of blockages
• Repair wobbly fences
• Check walls for cracks or holes and repair where necessary
• Prune trees and vegetation that are close to the house

Tenant to-dos in case of bad weather reports:

• Secure windows and doors
• Park your car away from trees - ideally in a garage
• Move outside furniture or movable objects (plant pots/umbrellas) into a garden shed or inside

What do I do if my property suffers weather damage?

Should the worst happen, the first thing to ascertain is that your tenants are safe, and if they can remain in the property. Once this has been clarified, you may need to have emergency repairs carried out straight away – if you do, don’t forget to keep detailed receipts of everything that you (or your tenant) spends, you will need these for your insurance claim.

You will need to contact your insurance company and let them know about the incident straight away – do be aware that there is likely to be a bit of a wait for this, you probably will not be the only person in the area trying to make contact after a big storm!

According to recent research carried out by Simple Landlords, storm damage was the most frequent insurance claim made by landlords, with the average claim coming in at £1,500. The research revealed that excessive rain was the sixth most claimed for incident, with the average claim hiking up £2,100.

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