Twelve practical steps to protect your rental property this winter

Winter can be a tough time for everyone – but none more so than landlords.

The colder months present a series of significant risks to rental properties, all of which could lead to costly problems. But by taking some time to check over your property now, you can help to ensure a relaxing, disaster-free winter.

1. Check the pipes

It is important that you check all external pipes for breaks, leaks, and blockages. Blocked or leaking pipes can freeze during the cold months, then expand and burst – causing potentially expensive water damage. Make sure you know where your water stopcock is located. If you suffer a burst pipe you'll be happy you found it in advance! Your stopcock is what turns off the water.

Make sure that all pipes are in good order, and that they are properly secured to the walls. You should also check the brickwork around your property for cracks, which could potentially allow water in.

2. Think about insulation and drafts

A properly insulated property is an absolute must. Ensure the pipes and the water tanks are well insulated. Make sure that you check the basics, starting with obvious draft points (including those around doors and windows, loft hatches and pipes which lead outside). Invest in some draft excluder to keep doors and windows secure. Check the cladding around your boiler and pipes, and make sure that taps and faucets don’t leak.

You can also leave the loft door open to allow heated air to circulate around the loft and the boiler to prevent burst pipes.

3. Make sure your tenants are informed

Well-informed tenants are the best protection against winter property damage. Don’t assume that your tenants know how to deal with the cold weather; many won’t. Similarly, you should remember that it is your responsibility as a landlord to make sure they have the information they need.

Consider putting together an information pack, including things like the location of stopcocks, basic boiler operation, and so on. Remind tenants to periodically turn the heating on (using the timer system if one is available) if they go away over Christmas, in order to ensure that pipes don’t freeze.

4. Void periods are dangerous

Void periods are a major threat during the cold months. If you know that your property is likely to be empty over the winter, you need to make extra plans to ensure its upkeep. Make sure that you visit regularly to open windows and check on the heating. If you can’t do this yourself, make sure that you arrange for someone else to visit.

5. Fix little niggles

You know all those little niggling problems that you’ve been meaning to get around to fixing? The drafty door, or the flimsy pipe? Make sure that you deal with these now, rather than later. By addressing the little problems before the really cold weather sets in, you can help to prevent bigger, potentially expensive issues later on.

6. Stock up for emergencies

It is sensible to keep a few key items in your property for emergencies. A torch and a basic tool kit will help to ensure that minor disasters can be dealt with, or at least mitigated. Remember, though, that your tenants may not be able to deal with all issues on their own. You should therefore make sure that they also have contact numbers for you, and for the relevant utility companies.

7. Check your insurance policy

Make sure that you understand the terms of your landlord insurance policy. Remember that maintenance-related issues tend not to be covered by landlord policies. This means that you need to make sure that your property is fighting fit for winter – both for your own peace of mind, and for that of your tenants.

8. Bleed your radiators

A great way to warm up your property is to bleed the radiators. This releases any trapped air, allowing hot water to fill every part of your radiator and warm the property more efficiently.

9. Get a boiler service

Arrange for your boiler to be serviced every year. As everyone starts to switch on their central heating, the surge in gas consumption can lead to a big increase in boiler breakdowns.

10. Clear out your gutters

In autumn, leaves can collect in gutters and drains, leading to blocks and overflows - so it’s best to clean them regularly. Consider investing in gutter leaf guards to help prevent your gutters becoming blocked in future.

11. Sweep your chimney

If your chimneys are in use, make sure that they get swept every year. This will remove the build-up of dirt and grime from your chimney walls.

12. Be wary of theft

If your property is likely to be unoccupied over the Christmas period while students are either returning home or your tenants are taking a long holiday, ensure that you take the following precautions as expensive items on display are an easy target for thieves.
Invest in theft deterrents such as alarms (visible from the exterior of the property) and motion sensors. Ensure that the locking mechanisms meet the policy requirements (5 lever mortice locks).

Check if there are any neighbourhood watch groups operating in the area and advise them of any periods of unoccupancy over the Christmas period.