Columbia Property Management Blog

Exteme Cold Challenges

Scott Bloom - Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Have you Checked In With Your Tenants?


As winter storm Janus approaches and news outlets announce impending doom, Weather Channel predicts that 84 Million people will be impacted on the East Coast.  That is a lot of disruption that will have ripple effects in terms of everyone’s lives. As you scramble to ensure you have provisions, children will have activities while at home due to school closures, and you can finish those work projects at home, have you thought about our tenants?


Forecasters are predicting 5 inches of snow in the city and several inches more in the Northern suburbs.  If your rental is a condo the tenants won’t be impacted that much because the association will take care of any problems.  For other dwelling types have you clarified with your tenants who is responsible for snow removal and treating the sidewalks? Are they capable to shovel long stretches of deep snow? 

Even worse for landlords are the several days and nights of sub-zero temperatures that are predicted following the snowfall.  Bitterly cold air that will last through the end of the week presents conditions that are not typical in this area. Our housing stock and heating systems are often not designed to withstand bitter cold for more than a few days.


To prepare your rentals and tenants for this extreme weather first make sure that the heating systems are operating correctly.  DC regulations require equipment be able to maintain indoor temperatures of at least 68 degrees during the day and 65 degrees at night in all occupied rooms and bathrooms.  If your heating system is not able to do that in periods of colder temperatures what is your back up plan?  We provide portable oil-filled electric radiators in homes that need to supplement the rental unit’s heating system.  If the heat is out completely, you may need to house the tenant elsewhere until it can be fixed.  Don’t rely on heating companies to solve problems during the extreme weather - they may not be able to get to your rental promptly due to a backlog of calls.


Encourage your tenants to prepare for the cold by changing the air filter if they have not done that recently (for gas forced air or heat pumps).  A dirty air filter can cut down on the efficiency of the heating unit and the air flow. Educate your tenants that heat pump systems are not designed to keep the house toasty warm when the temperatures are below freezing. The use of the Emergency Heat setting can help to heat the space up quickly, but will also run up their electricity bill.  Make sure that they understand their utility bills will be impacted by the weather and that is normal.


In older houses or those with extensions are you aware of water lines that could be prone to freezing? Even insulated extensions may have problems.  With the recent polar vortex even two nights of sub-zero temperatures caused water pipes to freeze and burst.  Make sure your tenants know this, keep the area heated, and turn on faucets in affected areas so that the water trickles constantly. Get them involved and committed to help prevent problems down the road. It may cost a bit more in water, but it could save thousands of dollars in repairs by preventing water lines from rupturing.

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