Surprise Liability – Landlord Tips

As a landlord, you’ve already considered your liability when it comes to your rental home. You have protected your property with proper insurance and you’ve required your tenants to purchase renter’s insurance. Good for you. There are still things you can do which will avoid problems later on. As you will see from the tips listed below, most of these should be addressed in your rental agreement

Snow and ice:  Make certain your tenants know that they are responsible for keeping steps and walkways clear of snow and ice in the winter months. Be specific about what ice-melting chemicals are acceptable for use. Salt, for example, will erode your concrete and should not be used since replacing a sidewalk will eat up a renter’s deposit in short order.

Gutters: Clogged gutters can lead to water backup and interior water damage. Checking the gutters regularly and cleaning them as necessary can keep you from paying thousands in repair costs or being forced to replace your tenant’s water damaged belongings.

Smoke Alarms and Sprinkler Systems: It is your responsibility to make sure the smoke alarms in your rental property are functional. DO NOT DEPEND UPON YOUR TENANTS TO CHANGE THE BATTERIES! The installation of a sprinkler system can result in significant savings on insurance.

Dogs, Pythons and Aquariums: Most folks understand the possibility of dog bites, flea infestations and carpet cleaning which can become problematic when you allow pets. Few people think of the damage which can come when a broken 50-gallon aquarium creates water damage, or what happens when a pet snake moves into the walls and must be removed using saws and crowbars. Even “safe” pets like hamsters and guinea pigs have their own set of issues. Think carefully about requiring your tenants to obtain a policy specific to pet damage.

Outside Entertaining: If your tenants have a place to stage backyard barbeques, you will be wise to make sure they understand that the liability for such parties is their own. If their guests trip over a garden hose or fall into the pool, you don’t want to be held liable. Furthermore, it’s a good idea to offer safety tips for barbecue fire safety especially if your tenants are college students, for example.

Regular Inspections: By scheduling and making regular inspections of the property you do two things:

  • You will get a head-start on maintenance problems, catching them before they become more costly.
  • You will impress upon your tenants the importance of keeping the property in good condition structurally and in terms of cleanliness and sanitation. If you are serious about taking care of your property, they will be more inclined to take care of it too.

Clean = The Absence of Dirt: Your tenants will appreciate knowing what you mean by “clean” when it comes time for them to move out. Again, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Let them know before they move in that you care about your property. It should be immaculate when they move in. It should be immaculate when they move out.

Most of these issues can be addressed before your tenants move in and the contract is signed. All of them can assist you in keeping your insurance costs down by being pro-active in the steps you take to prevent accidents and losses. By keeping a copy of your signed rental agreement on file with your insurance agency, you may also enjoy the insurance benefits of being a “professional income property owner” rather than just a “landlord.”

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