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Protecting properties this festive season

By Madeleine Hitchens

The festive season is all about gifts, goodwill, glitzy decorations, good food and taking a great break. But beneath the tinsel and twinkly lights, the season can present risks for landlords. Use these hints and tips to make sure yours doesn’t turn into The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Okay, so no-one wants to be a modern-day version of Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge, but sometimes the reality of what the season can bring for landlords means you need to be vigilant if you don’t want to be left with the fuzzy end of the candy cane if things go partridge in a pear(tree)-shaped…

Bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh… leaves the coffers bare

The holiday season is an expensive time of year and no-one wants to miss out on sharing in the joy and festivities, which can sometimes mean tenants prioritise gift-giving, feasting, socialising and holidays over paying their rent…

Did you know??… Insurance claims for rental losses spike in the first three months of the year. To avoid getting Scrooged:

  • Be proactive about rent payments – could you offer an incentive for early payment?
  • Keep on top of arrears – a little understanding can go a long way, but the property is an investment and you need to address late payments immediately as partial and missed payments can snowball quicker than the flakes falling in a snowdome.
  • Ensure you have landlord insurance that covers loss of rent due to default.
Christmas time, mistletoe and… fires

From the Northern Lights to flickering tea lights, it wouldn’t be the festive season without a bit of twinkle and sparkle. Glittering fairy lights over every conceivable surface, houses festooned with flashing outdoor light shows, trees illuminated by hanging candles… a warming glow is part and parcel of the season. But sadly, that comforting radiance can easily turn into a blazing inferno as dodgy lights, overloaded power points, flammable decorations, and makeshift power stations boasting extension cords, double adaptors and multiple power boards increase the risk of fire.

But you don’t have to darken your tenants’ festive spirit, just remind them about a few safety basics:

  • Only use interior and exterior lights fit-for-purpose and certified as meeting safety standards.
  • Check all lights for wear and that the fuses and wattage/voltage are correct before using; follow the manufacturer’s safety precautions and directions.
  • Don’t connect too many strings of lights together (maximum of three).
  • Don’t overload power boards and avoid connecting extension cords together.
  • Avoid running power cords across heavy traffic areas, under rugs, through open windows or sliding doorways.
  • Don’t hang lights on any flammable surface.
  • Lights should be switched off each night or when you leave the home.
  • While it isn’t common in Australian tenancy agreements, if your lease says candles are banned, make sure to remind renters of this fact.
  • Keep candles clear of curtains and furnishings, the Christmas tree, decorations and other flammable items.
  • Never put candles under the tree or hang them as decorations.
  • Secure candles firmly in non-combustible holders that won’t tip over.
  • Never leave a lit candle unattended, check it regularly to ensure it hasn’t burnt down too far and extinguish when you leave the room/home or go to bed.
  • Make sure the tree and any other decorations don’t obscure or trigger smoke detectors and security alarm sensors.

Three Wise (Wo)Men Tip: Given the risk (damage and liability) posed by external lights, you may want to think carefully about whether you will allow your tenants to put these up.

Visions of sugar plums danced in their heads…and living room

Marauding children desperate to rip open presents, cooking up a festive storm, over-excited pets, family getting their groove on to the Jingle Bell Rock, friends coming over for seasonal drinkies…if your tenants are entertaining, then the risk of accidental damage is present too.

While your tenants are ultimately responsible for the damage they, their pets and guests cause, it is wise to make sure you have accidental damage cover in your landlord insurance policy. You don’t want to foot the bill if a tree goes through a window, the kitchen catches fire or you have to replace carpets stained with mulled wine and cranberry sauce.

Checking you are covered for malicious damage is also a wise move, especially if you have a holiday let or are leasing via an accommodation platform, as sometimes these types of rentals become party central. If a par-tay gets out of hand, you don’t want to be left holding the (financial) Santa sack if the revellers cause damage.

Last Christmas I gave you … and the very next day they stole it away

Do you know who loves Christmas even more than a four-year-old? Thieves. So many goodies (often proudly on display), so many opportunities (people on holiday) and so many trusting people (leaving doors and windows open). That sound you hear on the roof may not be Santa and his reindeer but a burglar coming in to help themselves.

Avoid the misery of falling victim to a Bad Santa by:

  • Reminding renters about basic security measures, for example, locking up and not leaving keys ‘hidden’ outside.
  • Checking on the safety and security of the property. If your tenants suffer a loss and it turns out to be your fault, for example you didn’t repair broken window locks, then they may be able to claim compensation from you.
  • Asking tenants to let you know if they are going away so you can keep an eye on the property.
  • Suggesting tenants have renters’ contents insurance, as your landlord cover doesn’t’ extend to their possessions.
  • Ensuring your landlord insurance covers your contents and also malicious damage – they don’t call it ‘breaking’ and entering for no reason.
So this is Christmas… and the strain is too much

In an ideal world, the festive season would be one of peace, joy and goodwill towards all. But the reality can be far from idyllic. The stress and financial strain of Christmas can be overwhelming and tension can boil over – with the investment property bearing the brunt of that frustration.

Be sure to check that your landlord insurance includes cover for malicious damage and loss of rent, as these costs can be hard to recoup from tenants if they are already having a tough time emotionally and financially.

Away in a manger… the tenants put the home on Airbnb

Holiday… celebrate… earn a few bucks on Airbnb… Enterprising tenants may think it’s a great idea to list their rental on an accommodation platform while they are on vay-cay. But if they have taken off and left the rental in the hands of guests then they have basically sub-let the property. And that’s a big no, no when it comes to landlord insurance – it’s riskier than leaving an eight-year-old Home Alone.  Either let your tenants know it’s a no-go or talk to your insurer to see if they will extend cover.

By being prepared for the potential challenges of the season, and protecting yourself and your property with the right insurance, you can help ensure yours is more a White Christmas than a Black Christmas.

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