Being a landlord is not a 9 to 5 job. Problems can arise 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Since emergencies can happen at any time, it is best to be as prepared as possible before one actually occurs. By having an emergency plan for yourself and for your tenants that outlines how to deal with these unexpected situations, you will help minimize anxiety, injury and hopefully damage to the property.
Establish Your Emergency Contact Number
If an emergency does arise, you need to have a way for tenants, police and other emergency services to contact you 24 hours a day. Email alone will not suffice as a method of emergency communication.
If you do not feel comfortable using your personal phone number as a means of contact, you can hire a 24- hour answering service as the point of emergency contact. Simply do an internet search for “24-hour emergency telephone answering services” and you will find many options to choose from.
Provide the emergency service with your personal contact number, along with a list of situations you consider to be true emergencies, so they can contact you according to your wishes or can contact the proper authorities when time is of the essence. Tenants will be able to call this number when they feel they have an emergency and the service will respond accordingly, either by quelling their fears or by calling the proper authorities.
List All Emergency Plan Numbers in Plain Sight
Upon move-in, provide all tenants with a list of essential emergency numbers. This should include, but is not limited to, your emergency contact number, numbers for the emergency medical service, fire department, police department, gas company, electric company and poison control center. You should also list the address of the property because it is easy to become overwhelmed and disoriented during an emergency, so having it in plain sight can be useful.
These numbers should be listed in plain sight in every tenant’s apartment, such as on the back of the entrance door, or in the kitchen near a telephone. If your property has a bulletin board, make sure the emergency numbers are listed here as well and that all tenants are aware of it.
Let Tenants Know What Constitutes a Real Emergency
It is important that tenants understand the difference between an inconvenience and a real emergency. Emergencies are situations that need to be handled immediately. Inconveniences do not require immediate attention, although it is important to respond to them in a timely manner. Upon move-in, supply tenants with an emergency plan. This should include the type of emergency, who should be contacted first, and when you, as the landlord, wish to be contacted regarding the emergency.
Examples of emergencies include:
• Breach of security, including burglary, vandalism or domestic disturbances. The tenant should be advised to first contact the police.
• Lack of heat in the winter.
• Fire or carbon monoxide leak. Advise the tenant to call the fire department immediately.
• Flooding caused by a plumbing failure. Show tenants where the water shut off valves are.
• Sewer backup.
• Major damage caused by a storm, such as a hole in the roof.
• Complete electrical failure for the unit.
Examples of non-emergencies include:
• Minor damage caused by a storm, such as a couple of shingles coming off the roof.
• A slow kitchen or bathroom drain.
• An interior apartment door or cabinet that is falling off the hinges or not closing properly.
• One burner on a four burner stove that is not working.
• A kitchen or bathroom element that has a minor drip.
• A burnt out light bulb.
Most landlords’ insurance policies (usually homeowner’s coverage) only cover the actual structure of the building and the land on which it is located. They do not cover a tenant’s possessions or a tenant’s liability for accidents inside their residence.
It is highly advisable that a tenant purchase renters insurance to protect the value of their property in case of damage by storm, flood or fire, or from loss by theft. Renters insurance can also protect a tenant in case of a liability lawsuit if someone is injured in their home. Advise your tenant to shop around to find the best policy and rate for them. Renters insurance is actually quite affordable and can often be found for around $10 a month.
Plan Who YOU Will Call in Case of an Emergency.
Do your research. If you have a plumbing emergency, do you have the knowledge to fix it yourself? If not, you need to have a plumber you feel comfortable calling if an emergency arises. You don’t want to be looking through the Yellow Pages at 10 p.m. on New Year’s Eve while your property is turning into a swimming pool. The same goes for an electrician and a handyman.
You will also want to have your own emergency contact in the event that you are out of town when an emergency strikes. Whether it is a business partner, a trusted friend or an employee such as a reliable contractor, you need someone who will be able to physically go to your property. Make sure the person is aware they are your emergency contact and are willing to take on this responsibility.
It is important to plan for the worst, so even if the worst occurs, you will have the best possible results.