How to protect rental properties against extreme weather
Authored by RSA
Moderate British weather is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. In the last few months alone, storms Arwen, Barra, Malik, Corrie, Dudley, Eunice and Franklin have barrelled across the UK causing widespread devastation and disruption. While it is difficult to correlate individual weather events to global heating, there is general consensus among the scientific community that extreme weather is likely to become more commonplace, as warmer air holds more energy and moisture – the two essential ingredients for cooking up a storm.
Of course, a top priority for landlords is to ensure that their property has appropriate and adequate cover for storm damage. But prevention and mitigation – preparing properties for extreme weather, including heavy rain, high winds, snow and ice – are vital to safeguard tenants from harm and protect landlords’ financial futures.
Who is responsible for property maintenance and repair?
Landlords are responsible for the repair and maintenance of the property’s structure and exterior, as set out in the Landlord and Tenant Act (1985) and the Housing Act (2004), which includes the roof, external walls, foundations, windows, doors, drains and exterior pipes, guttering and water collection, and fences. The only two exceptions are if the tenant or their guests damage the external property in any way (whether deliberately or accidentally) or the tenancy contract exceeds seven years.
In the event that the property is damaged by storms and poses a risk to the tenants or their wellbeing, it is mandatory for the landlord to undertake repairs. Rectifying cosmetic and non-essential damages, such as to rendering or stone cladding, are discretionary but it’s generally in landlords’ financial interests to fix problems as soon as they appear.
Landlords are not legally responsible for garden maintenance and indeed many include this as part of the tenants’ responsibilities, but garden fences, posts, driveways and patios are up to the landlord to repair.
Landlord’s insurance won’t typically cover storm damage caused through inadequate property maintenance. However, landlords may not be able to make regular inspections and identify flaws in their own property, so it’s not uncommon for tenancy agreements to include a clause that stipulates tenants should monitor the property and report any problems to the landlord as soon as they arise, to enable vital repairs to be carried out. If they fail to do so, the tenant may be liable for damage to the property that occurred as a result of their negligence.
Before the storm: weatherproofing the property
The following steps can be taken by landlords (or their appointed representatives) to prepare for severe weather. It’s important to note that many risks can be mitigated through good communication with tenants. However, if undertaking emergency preparations is difficult with tenants in situ, these measures can either be carried out while the property is vacant or after giving tenants notice.
- Inspect the roof from ground level before winter sets in, to enable any necessary repairs to be carried out in good time.
- Regularly check roof tiles or slates and replace any that are loose, broken or missing to reduce susceptibility to leaks and flooding.
- Inspect flat roof coverings for wear and tear including cracks, splits and loss of adhesion, particularly at joints. Bitumen felt roof coverings may need to be renewed after 10 years.
- Secure TV aerials which could become dislodged in high winds and pose a risk of serious injury.
- Inspect the chimney stack for cracks and loose brickwork and fit with a storm collar to prevent water leaking into the roof space.
- Ensure that gutters and roof gullies are clear of debris and vegetation to prevent blockages that lead to leaks or overflow into the property.
- Check that both guttering and downpipes are securely affixed to the property.
Windows and doors
- Check the sealant around windows and doors to ensure they are watertight. Draught excluders can help to insulate the property and also prevent windows and doors from rattling.
- Identify dead standing or overhanging trees that could be a risk and get a qualified tree surgeon to keep in check any branches that extend close to the property: in high winds, swaying branches have the potential to smash windows, damage the exterior of the property or snap off.
- Check that gates and fence are secure, particularly those with large panels that could be swept away in high wind and cause damage to the garden, neighbouring properties or any vehicles parked nearby.
- Ensure fence posts are sturdy enough to survive a storm.
- When severe weather warnings are in place for high winds, advise tenants to secure or stow away loose garden equipment such as picnic tables, chairs or trampolines in a shed, outbuilding or garage, if available.
- If a flood warning is issued, provide tenants with sandbags (if the area is prone to flooding, it may be possible to obtain these free of charge from the local council). If snow is forecast, it’s a good idea to provide ground salt to spread over pathways to prevent slips.
- Ensure tenants are aware of the location of the stopcock on the property so they can shut off the water supply in an emergency.
- Encourage tenants to keep the central heating turned on for at least an hour a day during periods of low temperature to prevent pipes from freezing.
- Be aware of any potential problems that could be caused by inadequate preparations to neighbouring properties, e.g. terraced houses with a shared roof, and bring these to the property owner’s attention.
- Consider supplementing the landlord’s insurance policy with 24/7 home emergency cover which allows the landlord or tenants to call out tradespeople to fix problems caused by extreme weather, such as electrical failure. It may also include overnight accommodation if it’s not safe for your tenants to remain the property while it is fixed.
After the storm: what happens next?
During and after extreme weather conditions, landlords (or their property manager or letting agent) should stay in close contact with tenants.
Prepare to undertake any emergency repairs needed to avoid further damage or loss during sustained periods of bad weather. Take photos or videos of damage to the property and keep receipts and invoices for repair work, as this will help us to process the claim in a speedy and straightforward manner.
If the property becomes uninhabitable due to a natural perils, the onus will be on the local council to provide alternative accommodation, rather than a private landlord, unless it is found that the landlord was aware of a fault that eventually led to the damage and didn’t take steps to fix it. Cover for landlords can be tailored to include alternative accommodation insurance to cover the cost of rehousing, and loss of rent insurance should the property be damaged and unfit for tenants to live in for a period of time.
The not-so-sunny side of heatwaves and drought
The extremes in UK weather will not only feature storms and floods, but also heatwaves and dry spells. Elevated temperatures during the summer months can be problematic for some properties, by increasing the risk of subsidence – for example, Victorian properties in the drought-prone south east that are built on clay with shallow foundations tend to be particularly susceptible.
A lack of rain can cause shrinkage of clay soil, which expands and contracts as its moisture content changes, rendering the property unstable and prone to cracking. The problem is exacerbated for landlords who may not inspect their properties for signs of subsidence while tenants are in situ. The damage caused by subsidence can be particularly costly, and sometimes so extensive that the property becomes uninhabitable while repairs are carried out.
Tell-tale signs of ground movement can include:
- sinking or sloping floors
- doors and windows becoming misaligned or sticking due to frame warping
- skirting boards separating from the wall
- rippling wallpaper at the wall and ceiling joints
- diagonal cracks of 3mm or more forming in external walls following the mortar lines of the property’s brickwork – these may also become visible internally.
Severe cases of subsidence may mean that the property needs to be underpinned, but according to estimates from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), less than 10% of properties affected by subsidence need underpinning, which is only used as a last resort.
How RSA can help landlords weather any challenge
We fully understand the impact a property claim can have on people and business. Having adequate insurance is the first step towards protecting commercial customers’ investments in residential properties let for income – whether that’s a single house or block of flats or a whole portfolio of UK properties. If the worst should happen, our dedicated team is poised to help customers get back on track as quickly as possible with a speedy, streamlined property claims service – in fact, we will process straightforward claims with a value of up to £5,000 within 24 hours. And because an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, we offer a wide range of risk control guides, developed by risk experts, to help your customers safeguard their own interests.
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