A fall maintenance checklist for property managers

Amanda Maher
| 6 min. read
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As much fun as Labor Day cookouts are, they mean summer is quickly coming to an end. Already, the summer heat is fading into cool, crisp fall weather—and this means it’s time to start prepping your rental properties for the winter months. Cold, wet weather can take its toll, and the costs of repairs can mount quickly if you aren’t proactive. This is one of those instances where an ounce of prevention is worth pounds of cure when it comes to prepping your rental properties in September!

Here’s a look at some of the fall maintenance landlords should consider doing now to assure peace of mind during the winter ahead.

Clear gutters to ensure proper drainage.

The trees in your yard may already be shedding their leaves. And, those leaves are a likely culprit in clogged gutters, and can cause the pooling of water and worse—costly roof damage. Use a scraper or trowel to clean your rain gutters of leaves and other debris, and then rinse them with a house to ensure the gutters and downspouts drain freely.

This is also a good time to check drainage around your property. Be sure that the drains are graded properly around the perimeter of the home so water doesn’t collect around the foundation, causing erosion or leaks in the basement.

Prepare the yard.

Of course, you’ll rake leaves and tree debris, but don’t forget about other routine yard maintenance: trim unwieldy branches, manicure the hedges one last time, fertilize the grass, and remove plants or roots that may impact siding, outdoor patios or brick walkways. Clean and store patio furniture and put the grill away for the winter.

If your properties are located in a cold weather climate, you’ll also want to turn off the water leading to outdoor spigots. Turn off sprinkler systems and drain and store any outdoor hoses to prevent water from freezing and bursting the lines. If you have real estate that could be impacted by hurricane season, be sure to tie down or otherwise secure any large objects to prevent them from causing damage in the face of whipping winds.

Check all doors and windows.

The seams and weather stripping around doors and windows can leak, driving up heating costs, which can be especially costly for landlords that include heat and hot water as part of their rental agreements. If the unit is drafty, tenants don’t have a reason not to crank the heat if they’re not paying for it! And, tenants who pay for their own heat and hot water will appreciate the cost savings passed on to them.

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To check for possible drafts, turn on any exhaust fans in the home (such as bathroom fans or oven hoods), and then carefully move a lit candle around the seams of the doors and windows. If the flame flickers or the smoke shifts, then air is leaking, either in or out. Depending on how severe the draft is, you might consider sealing cracks with caulk or you might want to replace windows entirely. Remember that new windows, when necessary, add value to a property over the long-term. This is also a good time to replace screen doors or lightweight window covers with heavier storm doors for the winter season.

Get heating systems warm and ready.

Even in the Deep South, heat is a necessity in the winter. The last thing a tenant wants to do is turn on their thermostat on a frosty night only to find themselves without it! Or worse, no hot water during their early morning shower! Avoid emergency calls later by preparing your heating systems for winter now. Make sure vents are clear, filters are in good condition and the heating system is in good working order. If your apartments have gas-fired water heaters, cut heating costs by insulating tanks to keep water warmer for longer. Insulating wraps can be found at most home stores and come with installation instructions. While you’re at it, consider draining your water heater. Flushing the system once a year removes sediment from the tank that can cause it to work harder and cost more to use. Any good property management company should be able to do these tasks for you.

Focus on fire safety.

Believe it or not, more home fires happen during the winter than any other time of the year. So, replace all batteries in smoke detectors and test them to ensure they work properly. If you haven’t done so already, create a fire evacuation plan for your tenants and consider practicing it once with tenants (particularly at larger apartment buildings). You might also consider giving each tenant a fire extinguisher to make sure they have one in their unit. For Thanksgiving, we like to give each new tenant a fire extinguisher and pie as part of our tenant appreciation and retention strategy—people love it!

If any of your rental properties have a functional fireplace or wood stove, now is the time for a good old-fashioned chimney sweep. Investigate all vents and flue operation to make sure cold air doesn’t get in, and smoke from the fire can get out. Check the chimney cap and caulking between the cap and chimney to prevent any obstructions; birds tend to build their nest in chimneys! And of course, don’t forget to check carbon monoxide detectors while you’re at it.

Get residents involved.

Does all of this fall maintenance seem daunting? Consider getting tenants involved! Most lease agreements clearly spell out which party is responsible for property maintenance services like those described above, so be sure not to mandate anything that might be against the terms of the lease. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find creative ways to encourage tenants to participate! Here are a few ideas:

  • Send out a “seasonal chore chart” as a reminder for tenants to check their own smoke detectors, windows, etc. This might also include specific dates for putting away patio furniture, grills, etc. for the winter. Make it a fun, colorful and creative “chore chart” so it doesn’t come across as a boring demand letter.
  • Encourage a little friendly competition. If units have outdoor patios or other spaces that tenants can spruce up with some fall flowers or other decorations, host a friendly gardening competition and offer a unique prize for the winner (like passes to a local festival). You could do something similar through a pumpkin carving competition leading up to Halloween!
  • Host a fall cleanup day. Tenants might not jump for joy at the thought of picking up a rake and bagging leaves—especially if that’s something the landlord is typically responsible for. Instead, frame it as a social gathering where tenants can get to know one another—and follow it with an outdoor BBQ as a thank you.

Get started on these fall maintenance to-do’s early so you can kick back, relax and watch a little football as we head into what will inevitably be long, cold winter months!

Read more on Maintenance & Improvements
Amanda Maher

Amanda Maher

Amanda Maher is a self-proclaimed policy wonk who dabbles in real estate law. She holds a B.S. in Political Science and Sociology from Boston University, as well as a master's in Urban and Regional Policy from Northeastern.

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