A landlord needs to stay abreast of many maintenance issues to keep a unit comfortable and running efficiently. Common preventive maintenance tasks include:
- Servicing the heating/cooling system
- Plumbing and drain maintenance / fixing leaks
- Appliance repair/replacement
- Maintaining landscape structures
- Water management
- Fireplace and chimney cleaning
In the interests of discretion and efficiency, you may try to limit the number of visits to an occupied rental unit and to get as much done as possible while you’re there. This may mean that some jobs don’t get done. When you can’t get to everything on your maintenance checklist, here are five tasks you shouldn’t ignore.
1. Gutter Maintenance
Water runoff around the foundation of your house can cause serious problems. It can undermine the foundation and cause settling, and it can create the moist soil conditions that attract termites. A well-designed gutter system directs runoff from the roof safely away from the foundation, but not if the gutters are blocked with debris.
A single day devoted to gutter maintenance is worth your time and money.
You can do the job yourself, or hire the job out.
You’ll prevent snow and heavy winter rains from backing up and forming dangerous ice dams or icicles, and you’ll avoid damage to the siding and foundation from overflow from the gutters.
Gutter Guards Help
Most gutter guards can keep leaves and large twigs out of your gutters. Depending on the type you have, you still have to inspect the gutters for silt, conifer needles, and other smaller debris. Pay special attention to the downspout openings where silt and debris tend to accumulate.
2. Check the Dryer
Dryers cause approximately 2,900 residential fires each year, and 34% of them are due to poor maintenance. The main culprit is lint buildup, and that most often occurs in the vent ducts.
Here’s what to do:
- Turn on the dryer.
- Feel for a steady stream of warm air coming from the outdoor vent opening.
- Note whether the flap is moving. It should be.
If the flap isn’t moving, take the following steps:
- Remove the vent cap.
- Vacuum out the vent.
- Disconnect the vent from the dryer.
- Clean out the lint you find there.
Community Association Underwriters of America recommends getting the dryer vents cleaned professionally every two or three years.
Proper dryer maintenance helps prevents fires and ensures efficient operation. Clothes dry more quickly, and that saves money for whoever pays the utility bill.
3. Service the Septic System
A midnight call from a distressed tenant may be annoying, but that’s the least of your problems in a septic crisis. Visualize the cleanup necessitated by an overflowing toilet. Septic experts recommend pumping the tank every five years, but many homeowners let it go for longer than that. As a landlord with limited knowledge and control of what goes into the toilets and drains, you shouldn’t.
It isn’t just a buildup of sludge at the bottom of the tank that you have to worry about. The scum layer at the top can clog your drain field if it’s full of grease and other insoluble materials. Regular pumping helps control this layer by reestablishing a healthy digestive balance in the tank.
Don’t Forget the Pump Alarm
If your tank has a transfer pump, instruct your tenants to keep a watchful eye on the visual alarm. Prompt response to a signal can also avert a backup and expensive cleanup. The pump may need servicing, but the problem is often something as simple as a tripped breaker.
4. HVAC Maintenance
HVAC service experts recommend changing heating and cooling filters every 6 to 12 months. This is important for air quality and for the performance of the heating/cooling unit. Energy.gov says that filter maintenance can lower the energy bill by 5% to 15%.
It’s better to replace filters than it is to clean them, and filters aren’t very expensive. A furnace filter costs from $4 to $20, depending on model and size, and a general purpose air filter costs about the same. It’s an extra expense, but you’ll probably realize the savings in improved efficiency.
5. Inspect and Clean the Chimney and Fireplace
If your tenants use the fireplace, you should have the chimney inspected once a year. Soot deposits should be removed if they are thicker than 1/8 inch.
Fireplace maintenance is a safety issue; creosote buildup increases the likelihood that hot embers will fly from the chimney during a fire. It’s also an energy issue because a clean chimney produces a hotter fire. Finally, it’s a maintenance issue. Sooty air blackens the stones around the hearth and dulls the walls in the fireplace room, and there is less blowback if the chimney is clean.
Now that you know the five basic preventive maintenance tasks, you have a game plan that’s easy to carry out. And you can feel confident that you’re maintaining your property.
Credit to Chris Deziel
Chris has owned and managed 4 rental properties in Santa Cruz, CA, and Salida, CO. He is a DIY handyman expert for popular sites like Pro Referral.