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December 12, 2016

Weather emergencies can strike anywhere, but some states get more than their fair share. Since 1953, the nation’s most severe winter storms have hit New York, Arkansas and Missouri. But don’t consider yourself safe if you live outside those three states. Snow, ice and sleet don’t discriminate. If a winter storm is even a remote possibility, be prepared.

Landlords and building managers have extra responsibilities in regards to storms. When it comes to the condition of a property, you’re responsible for your renters’ safety. In addition to regular winter maintenance, you need to plan for power outages. There’s often little warning, so you need to do much of the groundwork ahead of time. Don’t worry, since you don’t live at the South Pole, you’ll have the off-season to take many of the necessary steps.

Learn the Law

Local laws vary, so make sure you know the regulations for rental agreements in your area. Are there rules about rental payments or leases if there’s a prolonged problem? In some cases, it’s possible to withhold rent or break leases. Know what you’re facing before a storm hits. If your local government provides no directives — or if they’re fuzzy — have your real estate lawyer spell out details in your rental agreements.

Talk to Tenants

Be prepared — and thoughtful. Provide emergency information to your tenants so everyone will know what to do if a problem arises. You reduce hassles, and everyone stays safe.

  • Share details about emergency shelter locations and transportation methods to get there.
  • Make sure renters have a contact number for you that will work if the power goes out. Have their current info as well.
  • If you rent to vulnerable populations, such as senior citizens, let them know if your municipality provides emergency services that target those groups.
  • Remind your tenants to turn off or unplug all their electrical appliances if the power goes out. This prevents a power surge when electricity is restored. It’s fine to keep one light turned on. It’ll indicate when the power is up and running again. If there are main power switches you can access, flip them off as well.

Your local government might require you to post temporary signs that explain emergency procedures for your building. Check your area’s ordinances so you’ll have them ready.

Though it’s not mandatory, it’s helpful to remind your tenants how to prepare for a winter power outage. They should stock supplies such as:

  • Bottled water
  • Nonperishable foods that don’t need heated. Don’t forget a manual can opener!
  • Battery-operated flashlight, clock and radio
  • Fresh batteries
  • Warm clothing
  • Blankets
  • First aid kit

Ready to Rent

Without power, the area surrounding your building will be dark at night — really dark. Scary dark. Maybe even dangerously dark. Consider renting an outdoor light tower to illuminate parking spots and walkways. With rentals, there’s no need to invest in or maintain equipment. It’s there only when you need it, which hopefully won’t be often. You don’t need it tying up space or capital on all those days when electric lines are happily humming.

Before bad weather hits, look up the number for rentals in your vicinity. Then keep the number handy — just in case.

Clear Weather, Blue Skies, Can’t Lose

Don’t wait to prepare for a winter weather outage just before a storm hits. There’s lots you can do during fine weather. Check out your rental property to make sure it’s in tip-top shape:

  • Keep an eye on the condition of the roof.
  • Make sure fire and carbon dioxide monitors are working.
  • If you already have backup emergency lighting in place, examine bulbs and sensors to be sure they function properly.
  •  Inspect seals on windows and doors. If the heat’s off for a while, your tenants will really feel the frigid air that’s sneaking in.
  •  If your property has an elevator, know what to do if unlucky renters happen to get stuck there when the power goes off.
  •  If you have a property with multiple units, contact your electrical company to see if they have special recommendations for restoring power to large buildings after an outage.

Take a little time to go over your property’s insurance coverage and prepare yourself for common weather scenarios in your region. While you’re at it, ensure your important documents are in one secure location that you can easily access. It wouldn’t hurt to have backup digital copies, just in case.

Winter power outages aren’t fun, but you don’t have to dread them if you’re organized. Preparation includes making sure your rental properties and tenants are ready when the storm of the century hits. Everyone will be happier, calmer and safer.