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Damages, Depreciation, and Normal Wear & Tear

Assessing charges to a tenant’s deposit is fraught with peril for many landlords. What are damages? How do you calculate depreciated damages? What is normal wear & tear? These questions are common to our business as landlords and I hope that the following will help guide you in assessing fair and reasonable charges you are owed, without ending up losing a court battle because you assessed improper charges.

Damages in the context of landlord-tenant relationships are related to actual failure of the tenant to take ordinary care; accidental or intentional acts of violence to the premises by tenants or guests; or unpaid tenant charges related to the tenancy, such as rent, fees, and unpaid bills. Damage charges can also encompass items which a landlord chooses not to repair, loss of use of the rental dwelling during repairs (as long as repairs are performed in a “timely fashion”), and depreciated value of the rental dwelling as a result of tenant destruction. So, for example, say your tenant punched a hole in one of the walls. You can patch it so that it is useful for another tenant, but your property has suffered depreciated damage as the wall will never be the same unless you take a large section down to the studs and repair it properly. You may charge the full repair cost for this damage even if you choose not to fully repair it at this time. I had a tenant who moved in to a unit with brand new linoleum, and when she moved out a year later, we discovered a large crescent-shaped burn in the new flooring. The owner chose not to replace the linoleum as it still had a lot of wear left in it, but we did fairly charge her as though we had replaced it. A tenant can also be financially responsible for failing to disclose repair issues that result in ongoing damage to the property from things like leaks; however, landlords can also bear at least partial responsibility if they fail to perform reasonable inspections during which damages could be noted and mitigated. So, if your tenant lived in your property for eight years and you never inspected, but discover a leak on move out that has completely rotted the kitchen floor, how is it reasonable to charge the tenant 100%? What is reasonable in a case like this is a difficult question to answer, but I always say that you should imagine explaining yourself to a judge in court, which usually clarifies the issue to some extent.

Depreciation is an honest attempt to assess charges for damages to a tenant while considering the age and prior condition of the damaged item. So, in one case, I had tenants who left two damaged items in the house they rented: the kitchen counter and the living room carpet. The counter was brand new on move in and absolutely perfect on move out except for a large circular burn adjacent to the cooktop where apparently the tenant set a hot pan. As this was a laminate counter, there was no way to effect a repair and the entire counter needed to be replaced at a cost to the tenant of 100% using comparable materials. The living room carpet had been burned when hot coals had popped out of the fireplace. There was no way to repair it; however, the carpet was six years old and had a lifespan of ten years under normal wear conditions. In this case, we charged the tenants 40% of the replacement cost of comparable carpet. You may not use a tenant’s responsibility for damage to upgrade your home at their expense. So, if we had decided to replace the living room carpet with a high-end wool carpet, for example, we would have gotten a bid for replacement of the normal carpet, charged that amount and the owner would have absorbed the rest. If you’re not sure what a fair charge is for a specific repair, contact an experienced contractor for advice.

Normal wear and tear first of all, depends on the length of the tenancy. In a tenancy of 10 years, there will be much more wear and tear than there would be with a tenancy of only one year. Other factors would include the number of residents or animals living in a unit, the quality of the materials used in the property, the condition prior to move in, and the age of things like carpet and paint. A good interior paint job can be expected to last 5-7 years, with some minor touch ups between tenancies. The lifespan of flooring depends on its quality as well. Your average carpet can be expected to last between 7-10 years (or more for high quality carpet) of normal usage. Hard flooring can have a lifespan of 7-25 years, again depending on quality.

Normal Wear & Tear – Includes, but is not limited to…

  • Minor scuffs on floors or trim
  • Nicks on corners of walls
  • One or two pictures holes on walls
  • Minor scratches around knobs or handles
  • Wear patterns in flooring in high-traffic areas
  • Dingy paint (depending on lifespan of paint & tenancy)
  • Cupboard finish deteriorating
  • Caulking
  • Broken window seals
  • Aged fixtures
  • Replacement seals on appliance doors
  • Mold/mildew/peeling paint related to failure of housing components such as fans, leaky window, leaky roof
  • Damage to floors, counters, etc., from poor caulking

Damages – Includes, but is not limited to…

  • Filth, grime, staining, trash inside or out
  • Gouges/scratches/burns/stains on floors, trim, counters, appliances, cupboards, walls, ceilings, etc.
  • Chunks of drywall broken off
  • Multiple or extra large holes in walls, ceilings, or trim
  • Bent or missing hardware
  • Dented metal doors
  • Ripped, gouged, stained or frayed flooring
  • Unauthorized tenant “improvements”
  • Urine/feces
  • Unkempt yard
  • Broken globes or wrong wattage bulb in fixture that causes it to fail
  • Broken shelves, door guards, drawers on appliances
  • Mold/mildew related to tenant lifestyle (lack of ventilation, heat, circulation)

Figuring out what is fair for each situation is at best an imperfect science. So, be reasonable and act in good faith and you should avoid many troubles. Please call the Helpline if you need assistance with a specific situation.

This column offers general suggestions only and is no substitute for professional legal assistance. Please consult an attorney for advice related to your specific situation.

Renters’ Insurance

Tips for Better Rental Management

(Many thanks to Brooks Hayes Insurance for fact-checking services for this article.)

I am often asked by rental owners how their tenant’s renter’s insurance can help them, or how it helps their residents. While there is some variation in policy coverage, two of the best reasons to require or encourage your residents to obtain it are: accidents and liability coverage.

Accidents happen. I had a tenant last year who accidentally started a kitchen fire. The damage claim exceeded $70,000 for damage to the home and her belongings. Without renter’s insurance, my owner’s insurance would have kicked in, but the resident would have been potentially liable for the deductible and any premium increase associated with the accident. Also, the owner’s insurance company likely would have sought to subrogate the claim to her. Instead, the home was restored and her damaged belongings replaced.

During a recent windstorm, a large tree fell on one of our resident’s homes. The owner’s insurance is covering the cost of repairing the damage to the home, but not damage to the resident’s belongings or car. Fortunately, the resident had insurance and will be made financially whole.

One of my co-workers lived in a rental that burned up while they were away on a trip. It was a tragic event and they lost their beloved family dog as well as irreplaceable family mementos, but her family could have lost much more if they did not have renter’s insurance. Their insurance company paid for their hotel and temporary housing while they located a new home, and gave them money to purchase replacement clothing and household goods. Without renter’s insurance their distress would have been compounded exponentially.

A former owner-client had their insurance attached by a claim from a neighbor. Their tenants’ dog had previously been considered friendly, but one day a neighbor girl who had interacted with the dog many times without incident, leaned down to pet the dog, and without warning it bit her in the face. She required extensive medical attention and plastic surgery. The residents had no renter’s insurance so the entire claim went against the owners’ insurance resulting in a huge premium increase. If the residents had renter’s insurance their policy would have been attached first, possibly eliminating any involvement of the owners’ insurance company. While the insurance company tried to subrogate to the tenants, they were very low income so there was nothing to go after.

Rental owners may require their residents to have renter’s insurance, but may not lawfully require a tenant to obtain renter’s insurance if their combined household income is equal to or more than 50% of the HUD median for that area. Visit www.hud.gov to determine what the income threshold is for your location. Although owners may not require insurance in some cases, nothing says we can’t still strongly recommend it. Many times when I explain to a tenant why they should have it, they choose to get it anyway to protect themselves. And it’s cheap – $7 to $20 per month on average added to an auto policy. Stand-alone policies may also be purchased.

Another benefit to tenants is the theft coverage that comes with a renter’s insurance policy. My daughter’s renter’s insurance had lapsed for a short time, when her laptop was stolen out of her boyfriend’s car. His auto insurance did not cover that, but her renter’s insurance would have. Thefts from the dwelling unit itself may also be covered.

One of my own tenants made a claim on her renter’s insurance policy when there was an electrical problem with my rental that caused the power to surge dramatically, frying out her computer and the control panel for her washing machine. For some reason the utility company reimbursed me for the electrical repair to the home caused by their faulty transformer, but not my tenant’s damaged goods. She wasn’t interested in a legal battle with them and instead received reimbursement from her renter’s insurance policy.

Kids throw baseballs through windows, people think their car is in reverse when it’s it drive, tenants forget to lock doors, previously friendly dogs bite people, candles set houses on fire – life is decidedly unpredictable, that’s why we should all be insured and why residents should be too.

What is required to mandate renter’s insurance?

  • If you own your property free and clear and have chosen to not be insured, you may not require that your residents be insured.
  • If you do plan to require your qualifying tenants to have renter’s insurance, that requirement must be disclosed in writing during the application process (and the instances when it would not be legal to require it summarized in writing also), or with existing month-to-month tenancies send a Notice of Change in Terms.
  • For a fixed-term lease where you had not required it at the outset, you must wait to implement your requirement until the expiration of the lease; however, you can and should send the notice of change in terms before the lease expires so that you may lawfully require it upon expiration or prior to signing a new lease.
  • You may require your tenant to name you as an “Interested Party” on the policy for the purposes of notification in failure to maintain the policy, reduction in coverage, or removal of you as an interested party.
  • You may require that residents maintain a minimum of $100,000 in liability coverage as part of that policy.
  • Requiring renter’s insurance when it would be illegal to do so may incur a penalty of the tenant’s actual damages or $250, whichever is greater.

This column offers general suggestions only and is no substitute for professional assistance. Please contact your own insurance agent for advice related to your specific situation.

Setting Healthy Boundaries

Do you have problems? I do. My life isn’t perfect, and I suspect yours isn’t either. Illness, injury, death, divorce, job loss, these things touch everyone’s lives. We either muddle through or give up. No one escapes life unscathed. So, when you have challenges in your personal life, do you go to your tenants for say, a loan? Not likely. That would be inappropriate, right? And so it is in reverse.

Many problems that arise between landlords and tenants come from a failure to set proper boundaries, and the burden for setting those boundaries falls mainly to the landlord. Some rental owners have trouble knowing how to do that, and end up too involved in their tenants’ lives. But inappropriate levels of assistance and involvement creates a dependency that actually prevents a healthy relationship with your tenants.

Many of those who come to me for help with a bad situation with a tenant have been manipulated, lied to, and cheated out of time, life and money. But they have only themselves to blame. By giving in time and again to accommodate a tenant’s problems, the dynamic of the relationship changes from ‘Housing Provider and Customer’, to ‘Benefactor and Beholden One.’ This creates a power imbalance between landlord and tenant that starts with gratitude, but leads to resentment. And with some tenants the problems never end. It starts with the repeated offering and accepting of excuses and is often accompanied by charm and attempts to get friendly. Month after month it’s something else, some new story, some new problem. In the end, the landlord’s supportive, kind actions end up fostering in their tenant either a sense of entitlement or of inferiority, and the bad behavior escalates to intimidation, threats and abusive, uncaring actions to the property.

What leads to such dysfunctional outcomes? Mostly, misplaced compassion and fear of confrontation. While the slur of ‘slumlord’ is often cast upon housing providers, the stereotype of the greedy, uncaring landlord is rare in my experience. Most often, I see people with big hearts giving marginal tenants chance after chance, until they finally realize they have failed to help the object of their charity in any meaningful way, and are left with a damaged home and financial losses running into the thousands of dollars.

One of the strongest indicators of success in life is the ability to solve problems. When people intervene and solve other people’s problems for them, they stop the learning process. And while appropriate intervention, such as entering into a one-time late payment agreement or some other one-time accommodation can be helpful to solve a short-term problem, rental owners should beware of creating dependency in the relationship. People make choices, choices have consequences, painful outcomes lead to personal growth. Don’t be an impediment to someone else’s schooling in life management.

Landlords are not tenants’ social workers, financial counselors, or friends (usually). They are business associates who are exchanging a commodity for reasonable compensation. Successful landlords keep the relationship professional and business-like. They aren’t afraid to initiate the tough conversations, and take action, but treat their customers with consideration and respect.  In a way, managing property requires acting like a sheriff, keeping the peace and telling other people what they can and cannot do, and in some ways how they can live their lives. People will not always be pleased with this intervention and will make their displeasure clear. That’s a tough thing and some people find they can’t bring themselves to endure it.

How can a rental owner act compassionately within the landlord-tenant relationship while maintaining healthy boundaries? By being friendly but not familiar; sympathetic, but proactive. Remember that you are running a business, not a charity. I once evicted a client’s tenant for non-payment of rent. We had reached out to her on multiple occasions with no success and so went forward with the court process. Once it was complete, I finally heard from the tenant’s daughter, who angrily informed me that her grandfather had died and her mother had been away dealing with his arrangements, forgot about the rent, and how dare I evict her mother. I calmly told her that I was sorry for the loss of her grandfather, and that I didn’t mean to sound unsympathetic, but when my mother died I didn’t forget to pay my mortgage. I gently reminded her that we all have bad things happen to us and we all have to take care of our responsibilities anyway. She paused for a moment, took a deep breath, and quietly replied, “You’re right, I’m sorry.” We then went on to discuss ways her mom could redeem the situation.

Really terrible tragedies will happen to residents: the death of a spouse, the loss of a job, a cancer diagnosis. These are all horrible events that can derail a formerly smooth tenancy and especially bring out the guilt in caring rental owners. Help if you wish in whatever way makes sense to you, but I recommend a one-time gift as opposed to say an ongoing rent reduction, as these types of concessions sometimes lead down a slippery slope to a tenant requesting more and more assistance.

Sometimes you are able to offer relief or want to show appreciation to a long-term tenant. I manage a property where a tenant had been in place for 19 years. He was married when he moved into the home, but after many years got divorced and started absorbing the full cost of the rent. He subsequently lost his job, muddled through a couple of months, and finally hit a month where he couldn’t make it work. He had been a great loyal tenant for a very long time, and fortunately had compassionate, generous landlords who forgave a month’s rent. When I told him about their gift, he got tears in his eyes and was so grateful. He found another job and we moved him to a cheaper place. But he had earned that kind of assistance through many years of great history. Joyful exceptions that are rewards for good behavior are the best way to get the feel-good while rewarding positive histories and relationships.

What creates healthy boundaries? Consideration, respect, reciprocity, honesty, and mutual accountability.  I currently violate the rule against renting to family or friends and have my niece and her daughter living in one of my rentals. But, I set clear boundaries in advance, establishing separate relationships: niece/auntie and landlord/tenant. I hold her to the same standards and offer her the same responsiveness that I do to any tenant. She understands that if she doesn’t pay the rent, she will have to move out or be evicted. She knows I love her to bits, but will not be manipulated into taking action contrary to my best interest. We haven’t had a problem, largely due to her being a stand-up person, but also from clear boundaries set in advance. You should be so lucky. In these situations, it is the exception not the rule that these things work out to be mutually beneficial.

The point is that you need to set and defend clear boundaries in your relationships with your tenants, and when you choose to make exceptions, make sure that you are doing the choosing, and that the exception is made with intelligent forethought. Don’t let yourself be pressured, cajoled or manipulated into contradicting your best sense. There’s lots of great people out there who can be your renters, don’t settle for the bad ones. And if one sneaks in, take action to protect yourself sooner rather than later.

 This column offers general suggestions only and is no substitute for professional legal assistance. Consult an attorney for advice related to your specific situation.

The ABC’s of Property Management

A landlord attorney on speed dial is a great idea.

Be the landlord that you would want.

Collect large security deposits, in guaranteed funds, PRIOR to handing over keys.

Determine rents by researching comparable properties in the same area.

Emotions should play a very small role in the management of your properties.

Familiarize yourself with the terms of the rental agreement and addendums.

Guaranteed funds are the most ideal funds.

Hire only licensed and bonded contractors to do the repairs at your properties.

Issue termination and warning notices timely and correctly.

Join a landlord association.

Keep up with the frequent law changes.

Label your income and expense accounts to optimize potential returns at tax time.

Maintain your rentals as if they are your primary residence.

Neighbors can play an important role in the management of your property.

Operate as a lawful business. Be professional and ethical in your practices.

Post the emergency locations of water shutoff, etc. for the residents, JUST-IN-CASE.

Quickly respond to maintenance requests.

Rent is rent; not security deposit, late fees, or some combination thereof.

Screen. Screen. Screen.

Tenants are our clients too.

Use state-specific forms, agreements, and addendums.

Verify ALL of the information on the rental applications that you process.

When turnover happens, devote to the process the time that it deserves.

Xtra attention spent on Fair Housing laws can potentially save you thousands.

Yearly inspection of the property is an easy way to look after your investment.

Zap your headache and hire a property manager if the above is too daunting.

Katie Poole–Hussa is a Licensed Property Manager, Continuing Education Provider, Chair of the Education Committee for the RHA Oregon, and General Manager of the Portland Oregon branch of Acorn Property Management, LLC. She can be reached with questions or comments at Katie@AcornPM.net.

This column offers general suggestions only and is no substitute for professional legal assistance. Please consult an attorney for advice related to your specific situation.

Winter Maintenance Checklist

By Katie Poole-Hussa, Property Manager, Acorn Property Management

In winter, your tenants can enjoy energy-efficient warmth and the fruits of your maintenance labors while you take a few precautionary measures on the outside.

Outdoor Tasks:

  • Walk around the property’s exterior and make sure the foundation vents are closed or covered.
  • Protect the central air conditioning unit with a cover. Remove and store window air conditioners.
  • Winterize sprinkler systems.
  • Rake last of leaves and remove storm debris as needed.
  • Check gutters and downspouts and clean them out if needed.
  • Send freezing weather reminders to tenants.
  • Insulate or wrap all exposed plumbing pipes.

Katie Poole–Hussa is a Licensed Property Manager, Continuing Education Provider, Chair of the Education Committee for the RHA Oregon, and General Manager of the Portland Oregon branch of Acorn Property Management, LLC. She can be reached with questions or comments at Katie@AcornPM.net.

This column offers general suggestions only and is no substitute for professional legal assistance. Please consult an attorney for advice related to your specific situation.

Love Being A Landlord!

By Katie Poole-Hussa, Acorn Property Management

I’m going to bet that you probably haven’t heard many people say that they love being a landlord. If anything, you’ve heard the cons, hatred, and horrific stories of doing such. But in a world where there is so much emphasis on negativity, I’d like to bring our attention for a second to some of the positives of the property management industry. So whether you’ve chosen to be a landlord as a career, or have been lucky enough to have inherited the job of managing rentals, there are many benefits that go along with being in this business.

First and probably most obvious, being a property manager creates wealth. There is no denying that owning and managing property over the long term is a great money earner. There will always be a demand for housing. However, the earning potential will fluctuate with the state of the economic market. In good credit conditions, there will be a higher rate of owner occupation and increasing capital values. In more constrained times, there will be more renters with higher rents. Real estate investments are arguably the most stable and secure types of investments you can make. As property owners, you are able to use tenants’ money to pay your mortgage and build your equity so that you can increase the cash flow to buy greater properties and/or create a stream of retirement income. As a property manager, you can increase rents regularly to match current market rent rates and your management fee based on gross rents will increase simultaneously with your client’s income. It really can be a win-win situation.

Secondly, real estate is real. Managing rentals forces you to become more knowledgeable about property upkeep and home repairs. No matter how involved you may be in caring for the actual residence, when you rent to others, you will have to understand something about repairs and maintenance, even if you hire out the work to be done by others. So whether you’re lining up the contractors, or putting in your own elbow grease, you’ll notice that you are more diligent about ensuring a good job is done. Fixing up an older property, or turning over a rental that had been trashed or damaged by past tenants, can instill a true sense of accomplishment.

Which brings me to the third reason of why I love what I do, and that’s the people. I like my tenants. I would be lying if I said that over the years I’ve like all of my tenants. But if you get the right ones initially then working with them during their tenancy can be quite a pleasure. Some of my tenants have even become friends as well as business acquaintances. Providing nice, well-kept homes at affordable rates is powerful. I’ve had the pleasure of supplying homes to some who otherwise wouldn’t be able to rent anywhere else based on their circumstances. Experiencing their joy of having a place to call home fueled my passion and purpose of being a landlord. I have been able to enjoy watching many families grow together through marriage, children and other life accomplishments. And let’s not forget the hundreds of encounters with some very interesting people who have either inquired about a property or the many contractors that I employed to perform maintenance duties. Many of whom I would have never been able to meet if I were not a property manager.

These are only a couple of reasons why I love being a landlord. I encourage you all to take the time to step back from the weight of the job, and ask yourself, “why am I a landlord?” We all know that being a landlord is complex. But I believe that if you’re able to outline the positives of the industry for yourself, then when the negatives arise, which they will, you will be able to make decisions based on love and not hate.

 

Katie Poole–Hussa is a Licensed Property Manager, Continuing Education Provider, Chair of the Education Committee for the RHA Oregon, and General Manager of the Portland Oregon branch of Acorn Property Management, LLC. She can be reached with questions or comments at Katie@AcornPM.net.

This column offers general suggestions only and is no substitute for professional legal assistance. Please consult an attorney for advice related to your specific situation.

What Renters Want

By Katie Poole-Hussa, Licensed Property Manager, Acorn Property Management

Putting yourself in the tenants shoes may not be something you’ve done often if ever. As our clients, it’s very important to know what tenants want and what will make the good one’s rent long-term. High tenant satisfaction can not only enhance retention and occupancy rates, but also lower expenses and improve your bottom line. With so much riding on the satisfaction of your tenants, it is critically important to stay close to their priorities, perceptions and concerns.

To be heard is a universal human need. And our tenants are no exception. Treat an existing tenant the way you’d treat a new one. From the first meeting through the end of the tenancy, practice active listening. This means don’t interrupt them, maintain eye contact when in person, acknowledge what they’ve said and repeat back what you’ve heard to make sure they feel understood. Take an interest in each tenant’s business and stay in touch with tenants regularly, not just when they complain or it’s time for a renewal. When a tenant calls to complain, you should listen, empathize, and solve the problem. Don’t make excuses. Most often tenants just want someone to listen to their stories or concerns.

Keep all lines of communication open with your tenants. Don’t be a stranger. It’s not enough simply to provide a lot of services to tenants. Being available in person can sway that renewal decision. Be timely in your responses to requests or questions your tenants will have. Not only are we bound by laws in our response times to some repair requests, but it is also a good business practice to respond within a reasonable time. Recap conversations in writing to maintain a paper trail of important communications. And if you’re going to be unreachable at any time, be courteous and let them know how to handle any emergencies in your absence as you would expect this of them contractually.

While it’s important to stay in touch and build a good working relationship with the tenants, you also need to respect their need for privacy. Don’t make up excuses to “stop by” or leave notes for your tenants at the property unless absolutely necessary. Not only could this be construed as harassment but it can also be annoying. The rental is their home. By law, you must give tenants plenty of proper notice before paying any visits to the property. Make clear your inspection policies and practices at move-in so that it is clear when they can regularly expect you.

And lastly, would you live in your rental comfortably if you had to? Is the yard manageable? Do the appliances work consistently and to their potential? Is the unit weatherized to help keep the energy bills reasonable? Your rental should be a place that you can be proud of and that tenants will maintain with integrity. If you make sure that your property stands out as well-kept, then you can ask for slightly higher rent rates than those that don’t. Be flexible in your concessions. If tenants are offering to make improvements and they won’t be able to take with them at move-out, help them out. Help can mean purchasing the materials for a desired project while the tenants pay a contractors labor. Or split the costs with your renters to add new internet jacks to a back bedroom. Spending on upgrades may hurt the bottom line over the short term, but improvements will pay dividends in long-term tenants. Offer a fair deal, use comps to explain your offer, and communicate your position clearly. If a property is well-maintained, it gives tenants a reason to stay.

As we’ve established, tenants are our customers. Without them, we’d be out of business. Implementing basic customer service principles, The Golden Rule, and care for your property can help you achieve low turnover rates and a high level of tenant retention.

Katie Poole–Hussa is a Licensed Property Manager, Continuing Education Provider, Chair of the Education Committee for the RHA Oregon, and General Manager of the Portland Oregon branch of Acorn Property Management, LLC. She can be reached with questions or comments at Katie@AcornPM.net.

This column offers general suggestions only and is no substitute for professional legal assistance. Please consult an attorney for advice related to your specific situation.

 

Top New Year’s Resolutions for Property Managers

By Katie Poole-Hussa, Property Manager – Portland, Acorn Property Management

Here is a list of four resolutions that property managers should have on their list for 2018. None of them are difficult or require an immense amount of work, and all of them would bring rewards throughout the coming year.

Start the New Year off organized.  An organized landlord is a more profitable landlord. File your documents and paperwork logically and neatly in a file folder with brackets on each side of the folder. Two-hole punch the top of each document and file them in a way that works for you. Some landlords put all “pre-move in” documents on one side, and all other documents on the other. Being organized is simply a good business practice. Whether you manage one rental unit or a thousand, being organized and consistent will make you a better landlord and put more of the profit in your pocket.

Aim for more work/life balance. Build down-time into your schedule. When you plan your week, make it a point to schedule time with your family and friends, and activities that help you recharge. Drop activities that zap your time or energy. Take stock of activities that don’t enhance your career or personal life, and minimize the time you spend on them. You may even be able to leave work earlier if you make a conscious effort to limit the time you spend on the web and social media sites, making personal calls, or checking your bank balance. Rethink your errands. Consider whether you can outsource any of your household chores or errands. Could you order your groceries online and have them delivered? Hire a kid down the street to mow your lawn? Order your stamps online so you don’t have to go to the post office? Even if you’re on a tight budget, you may discover that the time you’ll save will make it worth it. Get moving. It’s hard to make time for exercise when you have a busy schedule, but it may ultimately help you get more done by boosting your energy level and ability to concentrate. Try to exercise at least 30 minutes 2-3 times per week. Don’t assume that you need to make big changes to bring more balance to your life. Set realistic goals, like leaving the office earlier one night per week. Even during a hectic day, you can take 10 or 15 minutes to do something that will recharge your batteries.

Increase Productivity. Move just one routine task online such as creating an online maintenance request form for your tenants. There is a host of property management software available to make every day management a little easier. Whether you manage one unit or 25, property management software can help you manage your rental properties more effectively and fill vacancies faster. With features like self-service customer portals, powerful accounting and advanced marketing, you’ll not only save time and increase productivity, but also reduce costs. Property management software helps you easily manage tenants, leases, contracts, documents, vendors and more.

Go Green. One strategy a landlord can employ to stand apart is going green. Using environmentally responsible practices can save money, attract more prospective tenants and help the environment. A landlord’s office should be as green as the rental units themselves. Using email and telephone to communicate with tenants saves paper and also speeds up the process. Energy-efficient computers, fax machines and scanners all use less electricity. Print fewer checks and pay bills online or sign up for online bank statements.

While you may have many other resolutions set for 2017, definitely consider these as they are simple to implement and will no doubt benefit your business moving into the New Year.

Katie Poole–Hussa is a Licensed Property Manager, Continuing Education Provider, Chair of the Education Committee for the RHA Oregon, and General Manager of the Portland Oregon branch of Acorn Property Management, LLC. She can be reached with questions or comments at Katie@AcornPM.net.

This column offers general suggestions only and is no substitute for professional legal assistance. Please consult an attorney for advice related to your specific situation.

Assistance Animals: Best Practices for Landlords

Assistance Animals: Best Practices for Landlords

By Tia Politi, General Manager with Acorn Property Management, with assistance from  

Victoria Smithweiland, Former Operations Director with Acorn Property Management

 

A recent spike in Helpline calls about assistance animals highlights the need for owners and managers to have a good handle on this vexing part of reasonable accommodation requests and how they relate to Fair Housing law.

Federal Fair Housing laws prohibit discrimination against people who are members of protected classes, in the advertising, sale or leasing of real estate. For rental owners, that means making exceptions to your standard policies or allowing a modification of the premises in order to allow a member of a protected class (in this case a disabled person) the opportunity to enjoy the dwelling unit the way a nondisabled person could by allowing the keeping of an animal that is not a pet. Under the law, an animal that assists a disabled person is seen as an assistive device.

When it comes to things like wheelchair ramps, visual smoke alarms or shower grab bars, rental owners by and large have no objection to making an exception. Some accommodations such as longer grace periods for rent payments or a dedicated space in a first-come, first-served parking lot, can generate some grumbling. But absolutely nothing causes more upset and opposition than the idea of assistance animals – especially for “no pet” rental owners.

Much of this attitude is based on hard experience in regard to the damage that animals can inflict on a rental property. In my experience, more than half of all residencies involving animals generate at least some animal-inflicted damage to the house or grounds. With pets, rental owners can charge higher deposits and higher rent to offset the financial risks. They can also restrict the size, breed, or types of pets, as well as the number of pets on the property. With assistance animals, rental owners lose a lot of control over those decisions. This seems unfair as they are the ones faced with the expense of repairs that may go beyond the amount of a traditional security deposit. Even though assistance animal owners are responsible for any damage caused by their animal, it can be frustrating to pursue them to repay damages, and difficult to collect.

Also tenants seem to have become more aware of their rights in this regard, leading to a noticeable increase in those who report disabilities and are able to obtain a prescription or other care provider authorization. While we can all see the need for a blind resident to be allowed their seeing-eye dog, a diabetic their blood sugar-detection dog, or an epileptic their seizure-detection dog, the surge in “comfort” animals is creating bad feelings among landlords whose perception is that residents are blatantly abusing the system.

As a rental owner, I completely understand the angst this generates, but guess what? I personally have two dogs and find great comfort in their presence. Numerous studies have shown that the presence of an animal in a residence leads to better mental health for their owners. Dog owners enjoy a markedly reduced risk that their home will be burglarized or that they will become the victim of a violent crime. Now if I were a person seeking a rental, could I make the case that without Stella and Bandit I would suffer? Probably. I certainly would feel more vulnerable to crime and miss their comforting presence. Does that mean I’m disabled and could not get by without them? Maybe. I don’t feel disabled, but I’m thankfully not in a position of having to choose either. I guess the point of telling you that is we often can’t see the invisible anxieties, disorders, fears, conditions, and past traumas of another person that necessitates an assistance animal, and under federal law meets the definition of a disability.

What is a disability?

“The term “disability” means, with respect to an individual a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual; a record of such an impairment; or being regarded as having such an impairment.

Major life activities include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working.

A major life activity also includes the operation of a major bodily function, including but not limited to, functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions.

An individual meets the requirement of “being regarded as having such an impairment” if the individual establishes that he or she has been subjected to an action prohibited under this chapter because of an actual or perceived physical or mental impairment whether or not the impairment limits or is perceived to limit a major life activity.

The ADA does not apply to impairments that are transitory and minor. A transitory impairment is an impairment with an actual or expected duration of 6 months or less.

The definition of disability shall be construed in favor of broad coverage of individuals to the maximum extent permitted.

An impairment that substantially limits one major life activity need not limit other major life activities in order to be considered a disability.

An impairment that is episodic or in remission is a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active.

The determination of whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity shall be made without regard to the ameliorative effects of mitigating measures such as medication, medical supplies, equipment, or appliances, low-vision devices (which do not include ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses), prosthetics including limbs and devices, hearing assistances and cochlear implants or other implantable hearing devices, mobility devices, or oxygen therapy equipment and supplies; use of assistive technology; reasonable accommodations or auxiliary assistances or services; or learned behavioral or adaptive neurological modifications.”

-ADA website

Additionally, the term physical or mental impairment includes, but is not limited to, such diseases and conditions as orthopedic, visual, speech and hearing impediments, cerebral palsy, autism, epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Human Immunodeficiency Virus infection, mental retardation, emotional illness, drug addiction, and alcoholism.  This definition doesn’t include any individual who is currently using illegal drugs or is a current user of alcohol who poses a direct threat to property or safety (24 CFR 100.201).

Fair Housing law provides that rental owners shall, without regard to normal rules imposed on tenants, allow for an accommodation to relax those restrictions in order for a disabled individual to enjoy the rental unit the way a non-disabled person could. To the extent that a specific request is “reasonable” a rental owner must allow an exception to accommodate an individual’s disability. That includes allowing animals when they would otherwise be prohibited. Both rental owners and residents have misconceptions about what requirements are lawful to impose upon the owner of an assistance animal. I hope you find the following FAQ helpful in achieving a better understanding of your rights and responsibilities as a landlord:

Is a resident required to ask for the accommodation for an assistance animal in advance? A reasonable accommodation request may be made at any time, including during the eviction process, and the failure to do so does not mean you have a right to automatically decline the request whenever it’s made.

Am I obligated to inform residents of their right to an assistance animal if they have a disability? No, the request must be initiated by the resident or by another on the resident’s behalf, but rental owners are obligated to consider all reasonable accommodation requests from their residents.

Does the request have to be in writing? No, a verbal request is also required to be honored.

Is there any difference between a service animal, an aid animal, a companion animal, a comfort animal or an assistance animal? Not under the law. Any of the above terms may be used to describe an animal that meets the disability-related need of a resident.

Can I restrict the size or breed of an assistance animal? No.

Can residents have both pets and assistance animals? Yes, if your policies allow for pets.

Does an assistance animal have to be specially trained? While many assistance animals are specially trained to assist their owners with physical disabilities, many assistance animals simply provide comfort and peace-of-mind to their owners, ameliorating the effects of mental, psychological, social, or anxiety disorders in the affected party. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a common diagnosis for combat veterans, rape or assault survivors, or protected classes who have, historically, experienced discrimination. Often children with disabilities find great comfort and stability by relating to and caring for animals. The bottom line is, you are not qualified to determine whether or not someone needs this type of accommodation and should never try to be the final arbiter of whether an individual’s condition requires an assistance animal for purposes of considering a reasonable accommodation request. It is the care provider alone who determines whether or not someone meets the definition of a disabled person.

Can I ask what the disability is? No. That is private information and you are not entitled to have it. At my company, however, we are seeing many doctors, nurses and social workers telling us what the condition is in direct violation of HIPAA privacy statutes, yikes! But that’s their liability, not ours.

When I asked an applicant for a care provider authorization, they presented me with a card saying the animal was a service animal and told me it was illegal to require more. Is that true? No, there is often a misunderstanding among disabled people with service or assistance animals that they are allowed to bring an animal onto a rental property with only a service animal ID card they obtained legitimately or one they printed off the internet. While that is often all that is required for access to public stores and buildings under the ADA, it is not true for assistance animals in housing. You can require a care provider authorization in most cases, but remember, if a person’s disability is obvious, it is considered a violation to require that they verify their obvious disability.

What kind of paperwork or verification can I require of a tenant with an assistance animal? You may require a verification from a qualified care provider who has direct knowledge of the disability (unless the disability is obvious, then you may not require the verification). You may require that the animal be vaccinated and licensed as required by law or ordinance. In most cases you may also request that the animal be spayed or neutered (more on that later), and proof of such provided to you. You may request a photograph of the animal. You may request that the tenant name a responsible party who agrees to take the animal and care for it should the tenant be unable to do so.

What is the definition of a “care provider”? A care provider can include a medical doctor, a psychiatrist, a counselor or clergy person, a social worker, or a parent or other family member. Basically, any other individual who provides or has provided care to the disabled person, has direct knowledge of the applicant’s or tenant’s disability, and verifies that the animal is needed to allow the disabled resident to enjoy the unit the way a non-disabled resident could. If an applicant or resident provides a recent care provider verification, it is okay to contact the care provider for verification that they issued the verification, as long as you don’t use that as an excuse not to allow the animal to move in in a timely fashion. Also, it can be construed as improper to require them to re-verify their prescription in writing.

What if the verification says the person would “benefit” from an animal? Well, I would benefit from a million dollars, but that doesn’t mean I’m disabled. It is required that the care provider verify that the person meets the definition of a disability and that they need the animal to meet their disability-related need. You could decline a request when the care provider has determined that the individual does not meet the definition, but be prepared for them to correct the deficiency in their verification, which then obligates you to reconsider the request.

Can I require that the paperwork be completed prior to the animal taking up residency? That depends. You may not place unreasonable barriers in the way of someone seeking an accommodation, but if an applicant makes a request as opposed to an existing tenant, I usually request that they get their care provider authorization in prior to the animal taking residency. But I also work with people whose records are packed away or need time to get their dog licensed because they just moved to town.

One of the more irritating things rental owners have been experiencing are last-minute notifications that an approved applicant makes (often at the time of move-in) that they have an assistance animal. But many tenants are rightfully wary to disclose this due to concern that a rental owner will find another way to deny their application, so they wait until the time of move in to disclose, or wait until they move in and you discover the animal. To try to prevent some of this, we have changed the ORHA application (ORHA form #1) to ask the question: Do you intend to bring an animal onto the property? Yes/no. If so, does the animal require a reasonable accommodation? Yes/no. This can help avoid surprise requests, giving both parties enough time to take care of the paperwork prior to the animal taking up residency. If you have older applications you should get new ones.

Can a rental owner have an assistance animal removed pending a care provider verification of the need for the animal? That is extremely risky and could be seen as placing a barrier in the way of a disabled person. Remember, the disabled individual is asserting that they need that animal to assist them with their disability. You don’t want to be guilty of creating a breakdown for the resident or otherwise causing them to fear discriminatory treatment, which could result in a claim against you even if you eventually approve the accommodation. It’s best to assume, until proven otherwise, that the request is legitimate.

What if a guest brings an assistance animal onto the property, do I have to allow that? Likely, yes, but the visitor is also required to prove that the assistance animal is legit by completing the same paperwork as a resident.

Can I charge a deposit or higher rent for an assistance animal?   No.

Can I require that the assistance animal be spayed or neutered? That is disputed. Even among well-educated people within the Fair Housing agency itself, there is some disagreement on this matter. It is certainly okay to REQUEST that the animal be spayed or neutered, but be open to an explanation of why that may not be possible or advisable. For example, I have a tenant with a balance disorder who has a large specially trained purebred dog that walks beside her to provide stability and keep her from falling. She has a contract with the breeder that prevents her from spaying the dog until it is at least five years old, so I made an exception for that. Also, once an animal is beyond a certain age, it can be physically risky to subject them to that surgery, which could be another good reason to make an exception. Remember, you can’t place unreasonable barriers in the way of the person seeking accommodation.

Can I require that the assistance animal be licensed and current on vaccinations? Yes, if applicable. Owners of assistance animals must still comply with all codes and laws regarding vaccination, registration and licensing of their assistance animal.

How many animals can be allowed per person? That is not defined under the law. Each animal must qualify on its own in regard to the service it provides to the disabled person. And, no, assistance animals are not entitled to their own assistance animal!

What types of animals are allowed to serve as assistance animals? Domestic animals are clearly allowed, but vermin can be excluded. Review each request on its own merits and make exceptions when reasonable to do so. For example, under current law you are not required to allow farm animals as assistance animals, but one of the more popular animals for visual assistance for the blind is a miniature horse. They are no larger than many dogs, can be house-trained, and live up to three times as long as a seeing-eye dog, making them a better long-term investment. Current rules don’t require that you consider allowing vermin species such as most rodents, snakes or even fish, but this area of law is always evolving and if you don’t want to end up as a test case, best to consider ALL requests and grant them when it is reasonable to do so. There was a recent case where a guinea pig was determined to be a valid assistance animal. Could I see a scenario wherein watching fish swim in their tank or have a boa constrictor squeeze your arm have a calming effect related to a resident’s disability? What do you think?

What if I have a severe allergy to a specific type of animal? All requests must be reasonable. The definition of reasonable is open for debate, hence the opportunity for litigation, resulting in case law that provides clarity as to what is or is not allowed. I had a potential client once who had purchased her dream home and intended to live in it during retirement which was a few years away, but wanted to rent it out in the meantime. She had a life-threatening allergy to cats and asked me if she could exclude cats from residing at the property even if they were assistance animals. I discussed it with staff at the Fair Housing Council of Oregon, who agreed that it could be justification for declining assistance cats, but that the woman should be very sure she could prove it if a complaint were filed against her. I would go further and recommend that you obtain your own verification of disability from your care provider in advance, so that if this issue ever arises you will be prepared.

What if the assistance animal damages the property or the resident won’t clean up after it? Assistance animals, just like pets, are not allowed to be destructive, dangerous, or disturb the covenant of quiet enjoyment. Residents are required to take proper care of the animal and clean up after it. Non-compliance fees may be charged and tenancies terminated for failure to clean up animal waste outside the dwelling unit. Residents must pay for any damage caused by their assistance animal and their tenancy may be terminated for failure to pay.

What if an assistance animal disturbs the peaceful enjoyment of neighbors? After a good faith effort to allow the tenant to fix the problem, you would be justified in having the animal removed or ending the tenancy. I got a complaint from a resident in a four-plex that his neighbor had a dog and when she left it would bark continuously, interfering with his right to quiet enjoyment. She was also failing to clean up its waste. I served her a Pet Violation notice and she contacted me to let me know her daughter had brought her the dog and it was an assistance animal. I sent her our assistance animal paperwork, but told her that since this animal had already proven itself to be disturbing the peaceful enjoyment, she would either need to find a way to stop the incessant barking or find a different assistance animal. I also reminded her of the obligation to clean up after the dog and that any further instances would result in the possible assessment of non-compliance fees, leading to either the removal of the dog or a termination of her tenancy. She removed the dog, but of course we remained open to her obtaining another assistance animal. If she had kept the dog, but continued to allow it to disturb the neighbor’s right to quiet enjoyment or failed to clean up after it, I would have served a Notice of Termination with Cause (ORHA form #38) for the violation(s), resulting in either a cure of the notice or termination of the tenancy.

What steps should I take if I see an unauthorized animal in my unit? I start by serving a 10-day Pet Violation Notice (ORHA form #6), requiring the tenant to remove the animal or their tenancy will terminate after 10 days. I also send along a Warning Notice (ORHA form #35) letting them know that if the animal is not removed within 48 hours, they will be assessed a $250 noncompliance fee, with additional fees being charged for every 48 hours the unauthorized pet remains on the property. That usually gets a response. About half the time the resident asserts that the animal is an assistance for a disability.

When that happens, take at face value that it really is an assistance animal until proven otherwise, then provide the necessary paperwork (Reasonable Accommodation Request and Verification – ORHA form #53). Follow up with the resident to make sure that their verification is valid and the animal is spayed or neutered (unless you have made an exception), current on vaccinations, and licensed if required by law. Once the verification is complete, the tenant fills out and signs the Assistance Animal Agreement (ORHA form #46), recording the pertinent information about the animal as well as a Responsible Party Certification. The form also reminds the resident about the rules for their assistance animal and the consequences of violating those rules. Get a photograph of the animal for your records and keep it with the tenant’s file.

Sometimes providing verification of things like spay/neuter records, vaccinations or licensing can take time to accomplish, especially if all the requirements haven’t been met and the resident doesn’t have the funds. There’s no set timeframe within which the resident must fully comply, and there are conflicting thoughts on what is reasonable in regards to compliance, so err on the side of caution. If you terminate a tenancy based on a resident’s failure to provide assistance animal documentation, make sure you are not placing barriers in their way. For example, requiring that everything be completed in two weeks may not be a problem for one resident, but could be a burden to another on a fixed income with no transportation. Sometimes it can take time to get a vet appointment, or come up with the money for licensing.

What is the risk to me for denying an assistance animal? The potential consequences are expensive. The Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) is the enforcement arm of Fair Housing in our state. The system is complaint-driven. What happens after a complaint is filed depends on the nature of the complaint, but testing is often the first step in determining whether or not discrimination has occurred. In one prominent local case a few years back, a rental owner who was advertising their “no-pet” rental was contacted by a prospective applicant who told the owner he had an assistance animal. The owner responded by saying, “We don’t take pets.” The individual filed a complaint with the Fair Housing Council of Oregon, who tested the rental owner several more times. He failed and was fined $16,000 by BOLI for discriminating against the disabled. Discrimination penalties are often much, much higher, going into the tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars for large cases where a pattern of continuing discrimination is identified.

So, what have we learned?

This is how things are. You may not like it, but you have to follow the law or risk very painful consequences. Can’t bear it? Then go into a different business. Never try to dissuade someone from making a request for an assistance animal. If you get a call on your no-pet rental and are asked whether it’s okay to have an assistance animal, just repeat the following: “I do not discriminate based on any protected class, and I will consider a reasonable accommodation request for an assistance animal at any of my properties. Would you like an application?” Evaluate each request in relation to the reasonableness of the request and the verification provided, and do not make any decision before you have all of the information.

Despite the risks, rental owners are obligated to follow fair housing law, so my best (non-legal) advice to you: Deal fairly. Inspect regularly. Enforce consistently.

This column offers general suggestions only and is no substitute for professional legal assistance. Please consult an attorney for advice related to your specific situation.

The Rain is Coming – Don’t Delay Your Roof Maintenance

By Jim Straub, Owner/Property Manager, Acorn Property Management

One of the biggest “delayed maintenance” items I see on rental properties (and one of landlords’ biggest exposures to property damage) is roof maintenance and repairs.  Not much can do greater long-term damage to your investment than a leaky roof, and do-it-yourself maintenance is easy and inexpensive if you or a trusted friend is able-bodied and willing to get a little dirty.

I like to go around and inspect the roofs on all of my places after the last leaves have fallen from the trees but before the big rains hit.  This is usually around November.  Go after you have had several dry days in a row so any clogged gutters have had a chance to slowly drain.

First, I inspect around the roof vents & pipe flashings for cracks.  (Never walk in the valleys or on the ridges of roofs, as this can actually create leaks.)  Leaf or moss build up in valleys or around vent pipes and roof vents is actually a very common spot for leaks.  Make sure these areas stay very clean.  If you find debris, never use a pressure washer to remove it. This will shorten the life span of your roof.

I use a leaf blower to clean the debris off of the roof and to clean the gutters.  This can be a bit messy until you get the hang of it, and even then it’s still little messy.  I like the leaf blower, because I can do a whole house in about 15 minutes and I’m not stooping or constantly going up and down a ladder.  I feel the little bit of mess outweighs the risk of falling off the roof.  If you get any debris on the house or walkway, just grab a hose and spray it off before it dries.

Moss on the roof is not your friend.  Instead of using name brand moss control agents you buy at the hardware store, buy the active ingredient in bulk.  This is what all the roofing professionals do.  The active Ingredient is zinc sulfate.  Make sure you get the powder and not the granule. I buy mine at Gray’s Garden Center in Eugene (call and verify for current prices).  You may want to buy early, because store supplies can get a bit short that time of year.  It is a big bag, but you should get 6 to 8 houses out of it.  All you need to do is sprinkle a little bit of the zinc sulfate along the ridgelines, and the rain will dissolve it and wash it down over the rest of the roof. If you have a lot of moss accumulation, try a direct application to the problem areas.

It is also good idea to prune back any branches that are getting close to the roof, because the branches can bend and rub against the roof in a strong wind.  If you have gutters older than five or eight years, they are probably attached with long aluminum nails every two feet or so.  I like to make sure they are not working their way back out.  Just tapping them with a hammer a few times should do the trick.

When you are doing roof maintenance, some people use this time to do a walk through to inspect for roof and water leaks. You’re at the property and have to give 24 hour notice to enter anyway.  You may as well take the opportunity to be proactive and catch any roof leaks that weren’t apparent from on top of the roof.  Don’t count solely on your tenants to alert you of leaks.

Finally, I send a weatherization letter to all my tenants this time of year telling them what to do in the cold winter months.  It may seem self-apparent, but some tenants genuinely don’t know how to prepare for cold weather and some just need a quick reminder.  A copy for your reference is included below.

Sample Weatherization Letter

Dear Tenant:

We are entering our cold weather period here in the Willamette Valley.  I would like to remind you that it is the responsibility of the renter to weatherize his/her home and keep the water running inside the building during cold weather.  The following are a few suggestions I would like to make:

  1. Plug Foundation Vents. These are the holes around the perimeter of the house.  They should be blocked off to stop wind and cold from getting under your house and to your pipes.  Snug-fitting cardboard works very well for this.  This will also probably help keep your house warmer.
  2. Disconnect All Outside Hoses. Anytime outside weather is freezing all hoses on the outside of the house should be disconnected.  This helps prevent your outside faucets from freezing.  It is also a good idea to wrap the faucet with rags or newspaper and secure with string or rubber bands when the outside temperatures drop below freezing.
  3. Keep all Water Inside the Building Running. It is important to keep water moving in all of the water pipes to prevent freezing.  It requires more than just a drop — keep the stream approximately the width of a pencil lead (both hot and cold) from every faucet especially when outside temperatures are freezing or below.  If you are worried about wasting hot water, turn off the electric breaker to your hot water heater.
  4. Leave Cupboard Doors Open under sinks. This allows some heat near the pipes.
  5. Washing Machine Faucets. There are usually two short rubber pieces of hose from your faucets to your washing machine.  Disconnect these from your machine and run them into the drain pipe in the wall.  This will allow you to leave both of them running also.
  6. Locate Your Water Meter. The meter is sometimes difficult to find with several inches of snow on the ground or if you are in a hurry.  Be sure to note its location before you need to find it.
  7. Keep heat on and at a reasonably warm temperature. If you are going to be gone be sure to leave the heat on and the water dripping.  Also, let your landlord know if you are not going to be home for several days.

Your efforts to prevent freezing before your pipes freeze will save you both discomfort and expense.  Many times it takes up to a week to get a plumber, and they will charge you approximately $75.00 an hour.

This column offers general suggestions only and is no substitute for professional legal advice. Please consult an attorney for advice related to your specific situation.

 

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