One of the most severe losses your property could sustain is a fire. Our review of almost a decade of claims data revealed that the average fire costs an investor at least $30,000, with many fires resulting in total losses. Fires are also in the top three most frequent loss types for investment properties right behind theft/vandalism and weather. Fires not only devour property, they can also swiftly alter the course of lives through severe or fatal injuries. However, if you are proactive, you may save yourself from a painful fire loss. Let’s look at five key ways to “tame the flame” so you, your property, tenants and their loved ones don’t get burned – financially or physically.
#1 Taming the Flame with Tenants
Choose your tenants wisely and take time to educate them.
Out of all the ways a fire can start, the most common denominator is typically your tenant. If your tenant doesn’t feel a sense of responsibility for being safe in their home, your investment’s risk for fire will increase exponentially. Unfortunately, your tenant can also lose valuable possessions or be seriously injured in a fire too.
To keep your cashflow going and profitability up, place and keep the best tenants possible. This happens by employing a thorough tenant screening process, building a good working relationship with your tenant and educating them on living safely in their home whenever you can. If you utilize a property manager, be sure they are dedicated to more than moving any breathing body into your unit as quickly as possible. A fire loss can cost you much more than just a few months’ rent: potentially your entire investment and possibly, a life.
Some real-life examples of fires traced back to tenants involve:
- Appliances – the improper use of an oven to heat the house.
- Arson – an angry or evicted tenant decides to take revenge on the landlord or property owner.
- Candles – left burning while the occupants are in another room or out of the house.
- Cigarettes – someone falling asleep in bed while smoking.
- Cooking – tenants unable to control a grease fire or food burning while they are in another room.
- Curling or Flat Iron – left on near flammable materials like a hand towel.
- Dryer Vents – dust build-up clogs the exhaust or lint trap, causing the appliance to overheat.
- Electrical Cords – too many items plugged into a power strip, multiple power strips linked together.
- Fireworks – children playing with fire crackers that shoot onto the roof.
- Matches – child playing with matches near a linen closet.
- Space Heaters – space heater too close to drapes or space heater tipped over.
- Yard Burning – tenant burning yard waste on a windy day and the fire spreads to the main residence.
#2 Taming the Flame through Property Maintenance
Make timely repairs and practice proactive maintenance.
Placing the best tenants is critical to your investing success, but another area you do not want to fall behind on is maintenance. Though it takes some effort on your or your manager’s part, timely repairs and proactive maintenance are one of the simplest ways to avoid a fire at your property.
Fire prevention begins as you assess your purchase. You should ask yourself what immediate repairs, if any, need to be made to bring the property to a safe, livable condition. Schedule regular inspections throughout the year, making sure you get ahead of any seasonal changes and checking on your properties as soon as possible after any severe weather. Occupied properties will need to be monitored to make sure your tenants are doing their part to keep the property ship shape, while vacant properties will need even more frequent visits so they stay secured. If you are wholesaling a property, make sure there aren’t any fire hazards that will lose you your investment before you get a chance to sell it!
A lot can happen at a property in just a few hours or even minutes, so don’t become complacent in knowing your property’s condition. If you have delegated these tasks to your property manager, you will need to stay on top of them to ensure they continue to give you regular status updates and notify you in a reasonable time frame should an emergency occur. Here are a few key areas you will want to make sure are in good working order at all times:
- Electrical – Does the main electrical service or box need to be upgraded to today’s code standards? Does the property have an older wiring system such as knob-and-tube or aluminum that will need to be upgraded? If everything is up to code, are there any loose connections, outlets or switches that need to be repaired or replaced?
- Fireplace/Chimney – When was the fireplace last inspected? Last cleaned? Does it need a new screen?
- HVAC – Do you need to replace the furnace or AC unit? Do the ducts need cleaning? Does the furnace have a clean filter?
- Smoke Detectors – Are these in place outside each sleeping area and in the main living areas? Have you tested them to make sure they are operational?
#3 Taming the Flame with Intruders
Keep unauthorized persons out of your property.
Keeping your property fire-free while it is vacant takes planning and action. Properties that look abandoned (unkempt yards, mail flowing out of the mailbox, no lights on at any time, etc.) are more likely to become targets for theft, vandalism, drug activity and squatters. As previously mentioned, vacant properties will need more frequent monitoring. Weekly visits by you or your property manager should be the status quo. You don’t have to spend a lengthy amount of time there, but make sure you do a lap around the exterior and interior of the property to make sure everything looks safe and secure. If you discover damage, contact any appropriate authorities immediately and put your insurer on notice too.
In addition to monitoring, you will want to layer your security. This includes setting up your lighting and an alarm, securing windows and doors, and boarding up the property if required by city code or if it will be vacant for an extended period and isn’t on the market for sale. Additional items to be mindful of:
- Arson – Though someone doesn’t have to break in to set a property on fire, properties that look abandoned have an increased risk of becoming targets.
- Drug Activity – Meth labs can be particularly explosive, but trespassers using the building for illegal activity may also burn it down to obscure evidence.
- Squatters – Shelter is important for everyone. Those who end up taking up residence in a vacant building may start a fire indoors to keep warm. These uncontrolled fires may end up catching the building itself on fire.
#4 Taming the Flame with Contractors
Don’t hire an unlicensed or uninsured contractor just to save a buck.
Though we see fires occurring less often on the construction site than with occupied or vacant properties, they still do happen. The use of a blowtorch, sparks created while welding or improper hookup of electrical wiring can all cause fires at a rehab. Of course you want to hire someone experienced, reliable and committed to fire safety to complete your rehab or maintain your rental, but don’t put yourself at risk by selecting someone that has no insurance to pay for damages for which they could become liable. Construction is a dangerous trade and the risk of injury is high. The cost of hiring someone without the proper licensing, insurance or who doesn’t obtain the proper permitting could land you in a lawsuit that may cost you your livelihood!
#5 Taming Nature’s Flame
Be “firewise” and mitigate your fire risk.
Not all of you may invest in areas prone to wildfire, but for those who do, it is extremely important to do your part in making your property as fire-resistant as possible. You cannot control where or when a wildfire will happen, but you may be able to save your property from being a casualty of mother nature by taking preventive action. Creating defensible space around the property and eliminating excess fuels like leaves and pine needle buildup are keys to being “firewise.”
How else can you make your property more wildfire resistant? Read more here: Wildfire Avoidance Checklist
We hope that you’ve found these five tips for “taming the flame” helpful. With planning and action, you can greatly reduce your risk of a fire at your property along with the potential for fire injuries or deaths. Our goal is to save you from the financial burden and painful restoration process caused by property losses. We promise the time and effort you put into fire-prevention planning and mitigation are well worth it. More than just the cost savings, you will be able to invest confidently and have peace of mind that you’ve done everything you can to avoid a loss.