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December 10, 2018

It's easy to get swept away in the spirit of the season. It's practically encouraged. If a property isn't brightly embellished with strings of colorful lights and festive holiday decorations, it seems grim and gloomy, dark and dismal.

Tenants are often just as enthusiastic as homeowners in this regard. They're excited, and they want that excitement to reflect in their living space. However, too much excitement can lead to negligence and, in some cases, property damage.

Some of the biggest perpetrators of property damage are common holiday items that most people wouldn't give a second thought. They'd drive a tree back from a farm, place candles in the windowsills and string up lights as they hummed a cheerful melody, unaware of the risk.

Here are three examples of seasonal decorations that might damage a rental. Once they know what to look for, what to avoid and how to take precautionary measures, tenants and landlords alike can ring in the new year happy and safe.

1. Trees

Tenants who decorate their living space with an authentic tree for Christmas might find that they're celebrating the holidays with unwanted guests. To be exact, up to 25,000 of them. These aphids, adelgids, scale insects, bark beetles, mites and ticks can compromise the condition of an apartment unit, causing a nightmare for renters and a colossal headache for their landlords.

Fortunately, a tenant who insists on a genuine fir or spruce can have it mechanically shaken, dislodging any intruders. They can also attend to Trojan trees with a flashlight, doing a cursory check for bird nests and egg masses. As long as they refrain from using bug spray — which can prove extremely flammable with electric lights — bugs shouldn't pose a problem.

2. Candles

No holiday medley is complete without a candle in the windowsill. While most tenants have switched to electric bulbs that imitate the glow of a small, flickering flame on a cold winter's night, there are still those who prefer wax and wick. Traditional candles are far more dangerous than their modern counterpart, however, and some guidelines are essential to remember.

Tenants should never burn a candle on or near anything with the potential to catch fire, including bedding, carpets, books, furniture, paper, and other flammable items. To ensure safe placement, they need to use a candle-holder on a stable, heat-resistant surface away from drafts, vents and air currents, which could result in a flare-up. The National Candle Association expands on these rules.

3. Lights

Christmas lights are an almost universally recognized symbol of the holidays. They're so familiar that tenants often neglect to follow standard safety protocols, comfortable stringing them around their apartment without concern for frayed or twisted wires. But all it takes is a single spark to ignite a fire, and a simple lapse in judgment could easily cause thousands of dollars in property damage.

Tenants need to adhere to certain rules when decorating their living space with lights. Landlords should make it a point to suggest the following tips:

  1. Only purchase lights tested and rated by either Underwriter's Laboratory or Intertek.
  2. Differentiate between indoor and outdoor lights before hanging them.
  3. Ensure lights are far from potential fire hazards like candles and loose paper.
  4. Check all chords for fraying to avoid an electrical short, discarding them if necessary.
  5. Employ insulated holders to keep your display in place — not tacks or nails.

Landlords also have additional options for securing their assets. Stray holiday decorations are just another reason why you should include a clause that makes renter's insurance mandatory for all tenants living on the property. It's a smart precaution that covers potential risks, and in a worst-case scenario where mismanaged Christmas lights do result in a fire, tenants may have their living expenses reimbursed.

For tenants, make sure you have a working understanding of what your policy does and does not cover. That doesn’t mean letting fear get in the way of festivities, of course. But pay extra attention to old holiday lights and candles so you can keep your stuff safe and avoid any undue stress.

A Season for Celebration

The holiday season is something to celebrate, not dread. Landlords may feel a certain degree of trepidation in allowing their tenants to decorate with trees, candles, and lights, but as long as everyone adheres to safety standards, there shouldn't be problems. Instead, the only property damage landlords will have to worry about is sled marks on the rooftop.

About the Author: Holly Welles covers real estate topics for the up-and-coming renter or homeowner. She runs her own blog, The Estate Update, and can also be found dishing up advice over on Twitter @HollyAWelles.

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