January 27, 2020

Power outages pose a special kind of annoyance that few people want to deal with. After all, who enjoys cold water and an HVAC that doesn't work? As a landlord, it's essential to know what steps to take if this situation strikes. Outages are hard to plan for, but you'll save yourself and your tenants grief if you establish a game plan.

Discover seven ways to handle a power outage at your rental. Your residents will be grateful for your proactiveness.

1. Tell Renters What to Stock Up On

Not all people are knowledgeable about what steps to take in an emergency, and they may find themselves in a jam once the electricity goes out. Supply tenants with a list of things to do and purchase. A friendly email is the easiest way to spread the message, though you may also leave handouts in the front office or lobby. 

Dehydrated and non-perishable foods are best to stockpile, as well as gallons of water. Other items they may need include a first-aid kit, flashlights and an inverter for small appliances. 

2. Be Timely With Repairs

Many rentals fall under a warrant of habitability, meaning you must keep your tenants' units safe to live in. A pitch-black apartment is ripe for accidental falls or injuries. People can get sick with no heat to warm them during the winter. 

Extended power outages can threaten your tenants’ wellbeing. Subsisting on non-perishables and having no working stove to cook food can be detrimental to one's health. If you can fix the electrical issue, do so as soon as possible.

Each state has a different time limit for completing repairs — follow your local guidelines. Even if you have 30 days to fix an issue, you shouldn't wait that long, or you'll have unhappy renters on your hands.

3. Maintain Your Electrical Systems

Natural disasters and weather events happen frequently, and you can't control when a power outage strikes. If it occurs as a result of something you did or didn't do, however, you could be legally responsible for not maintaining your property

Always do regular checks to ensure the electrical wiring is in a suitable condition, and upgrade aging components. A blackout that happens only on your property may be due to loose wiring or a short circuit rather than a utility company issue.

4. Have a Backup Generator

Do you have an apartment building with multiple units? A generator can save you a world of trouble when the electricity fails. You'll want to install generators with enough kilowatts for the whole operation, which includes the main office and all the units. 

A typical refrigerator requires 400 to 800 watts, while a water heater can be anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000. If your rentals have a lot of amenities and pre-furnished equipment, you'll have to factor those in when selecting a generator. The more appliances you have, the more backup energy you'll need.

5. Consider Alternate Accommodations

Many outages last for a few hours to a day and don't pose much trouble. Sometimes, however, they continue for days or even weeks, leaving people without warm water in winter or air conditioning in summer. If your residents must vacate the premises and stay in a hotel, you can pay for the room, but this can be a slippery slope. 

Will you also end up covering food and transportation while they're away from home? Are there any hotels near their workplace or apartment? Do these places have rooms available to accommodate them? It's better to encourage everyone to get renters insurance early on so you won't have to grapple with these logistics.

6. Encourage Residents to Get Renters Insurance

Renters insurance is a lifesaver, and leaseholders should try to obtain it if they don't have it already. This policy covers personal belongings, medical bills, temporary lodgings and more. It pays for losses caused by numerous events, including short-circuit damage, fire and lightning. It may even reimburse the cost of any refrigerated food that spoils during a blackout. 

As a landlord, you're only responsible for paying for injuries to the building itself, which can leave tenants out of luck if their stuff gets destroyed. However, renter's insurance fills in this gap and leaves everyone satisfied. Some apartment complexes require renters to buy these policies to avoid legal issues.

7. Think About Rent Reductions

Much like alternative accommodations, rent reductions may not be legally necessary unless the outage happened because of landlord negligence. However, if the power is out for a week or longer and your renters vacate their unit, don't feel too surprised if they ask about prorated rent. 

Not many people will want to give their usual amount when they aren't receiving the utilities they pay for. You may approve their request based on how long they've been without supplies. 

Turning the Lights Back On

Assuring renters that you're knowledgeable about blackout preparedness helps them trust you to solve any issues they have. A good landlord-tenant relationship requires trustworthiness, respect and care for your tenants' wellbeing. Stay ready for any disaster, and you'll always know what to do to 

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.