Hearth and Home. How to Protect your Tenants, and your Investment!
Updated: Dec 11, 2018
I found myself at a toddler's birthday party yesterday, having a conversation with a parent about chimneys and fires. To be fair, our husbands are local firefighters, so while I don't remember how we came to this topic, I do believe it spurred off their work related conversation. I found myself launched into a full blown, frustrated rage over an earlier conversation with a home owner: why should HE have to have the chimney inspected if the tenant is the one using this? Why does HE have to spend the money on it?! As a note, this owner has several properties in management, and a chimney inspection costs between $125 - $175 in our area. So for him, this could get costly, quickly.
So why should he spend about $1,000 between his houses? Simple. Reduction in liability. Think of this: with just one house, how much would it cost if there were injury or loss of life to a tenant, in the even the fireplace fails, causing either a fire in the home, CO poisoning, smoke inhalation, etc.? Think of the lawsuit on your hands; especially in a wrongful death suit. The family will see it as the landlord's failure to provide a safe feature in the home, which could be a violation of NC Landlord Tenant Laws! In our case, two of his tenants requested the inspection. If he refuses, he definitely has added liability on his hands!
Now of course, NC has a law which requires a landlord to install CO detectors in homes with one or more of the following features: 1.) Fireplace (regardless of fuel source), 2.) Attached Garage. 3.) Liquid Fuel Source, even if just for the fireplace (natural gas, propane, kerosene, oil, etc.). As part of the requirement, a new 10-year lithium battery must be installed at onset of each new lease; even if the tenant is only in the residence a short time. The tenant is responsible for replacement batteries. How often, though, do tenants take the batteries out of their detectors - either to power something else, or to get it to stop beeping? How often do you think they actually replace that detector? How many of you are guilty of doing the same thing?! I raised my hand, and I'm married to a firefighter.
What is controversial, really, is asking the tenant to clean the fireplace at move out. Does this count as "normal wear and tear"? There is no clear answer, here. On one hand, the landlord will certainly agree it does, especially if it was cleaned and inspected at landlord expense for tenant use, because it is now dirty, and the tenant was the only one using it. The tenant will argue that of course it's dirty. They used the feature that was provided to them, and it's normal to expect a chimney to get dirty as a result. Additionally, many may view this as a routine maintenance. So, the recommendation here: discuss this with your property owners. Make them aware of this. If they insist you include tenant cleaning of the chimney as part of the lease, at least you can prove you disclosed a potential issue with that lease requirement, so they are not surprised if something sours for them in the future.
The goal here is not for a rental property owner to continue to shell out money on behalf of their tenants. The goal as a property manager is to mitigate the home owner's risk/liability, preserve their investment, and realize the maximum return possible. It certainly feels counter-intuitive to spend money, but at the end of the day, this kind of preventative maintenance is key to ensuring protection against costly damages and lawsuits in the future.