Property Safety Checks A Landlord Should Do

By Amanda Cohen on August 15, 2018

If you have tenants moving into a house, or even an apartment, there are a few things that you need to take note of. As a landlord/property manager, you have an obligation to college students to ensure that they are living in a safe, comfortable home. In other words, you must complete all of the property safety checks that should be done before your tenants move into their new home. For many college students, typical safety checks may go over their heads. My dad, luckily, is in the real estate business and he helped me ensure that safety checks weren’t getting skimped over. Yes, a college student might think a simple Google search may suffice, but oftentimes on Google, as you know, there is a lot of competing and differing information being put out there. So, how do you make sure that college student tenants are safe? After doing my research and talking with my dad, I found some major safety checks that should be done before your tenants move into their new digs. Here is what we came up with:

  • Proper lighting
  • Security cameras
  • CO (carbon monoxide) sensors
  • Smoke detectors
  • Fire extinguishers
  • Safety ladder
  • Proper fencing
  • Proper locking doors
  • GFI receptacles
  • Hot water heating setting (not too hot)

Some of this list may seem self-explanatory, and other parts of the list you may not have heard of. Just to be sure that we have all of our bases covered, I will be going through each item in more detail. Don’t leave your tenants in a vulnerable situation: read on so you know what to do as a landlord/property manager before your tenants move in.

Image via. https://pixabay.com/en/camera-monitoring-813747/

Proper Lighting

Every light bulb, light fixture, etc. should have new lightbulbs in it and the correct light bulbs in each light fixture. There are so many different types of bulbs and you want to ensure that you did your job and made sure every bulb is secure and that the bulbs are the correct ones to place in certain fixtures. Certain light bulbs are too big, too strong, or the incorrect material for certain light appliances in your home. There is no reason why a light bulb should go out right when your tenants move in and there is absolutely no reason why a light bulb should suddenly deteriorate, or “explode.” Ensuring that this work is done correctly may seem tedious, but if this is all done correctly the first time, you will be saved from a lot of visits to your property.

Security Cameras

This may not apply to everyone, but if you are in charge of an apartment that is supposed to have security cameras, make sure they are up and running and make sure no camera is placed in a sketchy, private area. Some main places that cameras should be places are (1) in the entrance of your building, (2) in the elevators, (3) in the garage (this may not apply to you), (4) in all of the hallways, and (5) in shared areas—i.e. the gym, the rooftop, the study rooms, etc. Lastly, if “having security cameras” is a part of your apartment’s description, make sure you know where every camera is supposed to be and no extra ones are placed in an area (or areas) that your tenants may not be comfortable with. If you are unsure about where it is legal to place security cameras, read up on the rules/laws of security camera placement.

CO Detectors

CO detectors are different than smoke detectors. By code/law, CO detectors must be in at minimum every bedroom of your house/apartment, but they can also be built in other rooms of your house/apartment and they may even be built into the walls. Most older CO detectors are battery powered, but new CO detectors should be hardwired. Most of your properties probably have battery-powered CO detectors. Not only do you want to make sure the CO detectors work, but you want to make sure that each detector has brand new batteries and you want to know the location of all of the CO detectors in your property. You want to know how they work and you also should know how to tell if they all of a sudden stop working. If the batteries are new, they really shouldn’t stop working, but it’s obviously better to be safe than sorry.

Smoke Detectors

There should be a smoke detector in every room of your property. No ifs, ands, or buts. All smoke detectors should have fresh batteries… you will know if it’s working correctly if it’s blinking green. If your smoke detector is blinking red, that means it’s low in battery and that the batteries must be changed. You also should talk to your tenants about the sensitivity of the smoke detectors. When I say sensitivity, I’m not worried about you hurting the smoke detector’s feelings. Some smoke detectors are set off more easily than others. For instance, one of my apartment’s smoke detectors starting beeping every time I cooked salmon. The batteries were changed multiple times and the detectors were all reset, but it went off like clockwork. If you know this is something your new tenants should be aware of, tell them. Don’t wait for them to ask because they might not know to ask.

Image via. https://pixabay.com/en/fire-extinguisher-security-1128461/

Fire Extinguishers

The amount/location of your fire extinguisher (or extinguishers) is dependent on the size and occupancy of your house/apartment. Last year, I lived in a two-bedroom apartment… each hallway of the building was equipped with multiple fire extinguishers (mind you, we did not have a fire extinguisher in our actual apartment). My friends, who lived in a 16-person house divided into three floors/three separate units, each had a fire extinguisher in the hallway and each unit had its own fire extinguisher. The more tenants you have in your property and the bigger the property, the more fire extinguishers you should have. However, you want to ensure that all fire extinguishers are secure and safely placed/locked up so that no one accidentally sets one off or knocks one over (this can be very dangerous as well). If you are working with college student tenants, accidentally knocking over a fire extinguisher is a great concern because college students are oftentimes running around. Just ensure that all fire extinguishers are safely placed and secure.

Safety Ladders

Even though you should technically take care of all repairs, we all know that you can’t make it to every single one of your properties all the time. Therefore, your tenant may have to take certain repairs and safety checks into their own hands. College students are thrifty and safe, they know how to use a ladder and, therefore, there is no reason why your property should not be equipped with a safety ladder. Safety ladders aren’t like fire extinguishers: you don’t need multiple in your property… all you need is one durable, sturdy ladder and you’re all set. Whether a fuse breaks, a lightbulb cracks, or something gets caught in the pipes, your tenants should be able to access all areas of the house without having to bother you with the tiniest little thing. However, before letting your tenants use a safety ladder, be sure to have them read up on ladder safety.

Infographic by Amanda Cohen

Proper Fencing

This particular safety guideline may not be applicable to your property. If you are unsure, here is how you will know if proper fencing applies to you: if your property has a patio or if your home has a surrounding fence, this applies to you. Period. No questions asked. If your home has a patio and/or balcony, you need to double check the railing/fencing around said patio/balcony and need to make sure that all hardware is secure and that there are no loose or out-of-date/too old to work screws holding your fencing together. If you have a patio or balcony, it must be secured with fencing around the perimeter. Your tenants will also need to know how much weight is allowed on the patio and if they are allowed to place things/hang items on the fencing. These questions may seem silly, but the safety of your tenants in their new home should always be taken seriously. If there is supposed to be a full fence or partial fence around your property, make sure its sturdy and that there are no rusty/old screws popping out.

Doors/Locks

This is another safety check that may make you say, “Well, duh,” but believe it or not many people just take doors locking too literally. In other words, there are so many more variables to having proper locking doors than just the doors locking themselves. Yes, it is obviously important to make sure your doors lock securely, but there are also other questions your tenants may ask you about the door situation:

  • Is there a backup system if the lock is broken?
  • What if the lock gets stuck and I can’t open my door?
  • Am I allowed to make copies of my key?
  • How do I change the lock code on the keypad? (Only applies if your door has a keypad).
  • What do I do if the keypad stops working? Do you provide a key to manually unlock the door?

If the door uses regular keys/fobs and your tenants are allowed to make copies, have them give an emergency copy to one of their roommates and another close/trustworthy friend who they don’t live with. You also need to make sure that you are available at night if your tenants are locked out (regardless of what time it is). If you don’t plan on being available, give your tenants instructions on what to do as a temporary fix. Let’s be real, everyone forgets or loses their key at least once in your life, you just need to make sure that your tenants have a backup plan if this does happen. If you are unsure about the best locks, take a look at what consumers have found to be the best (and safest).

GFI Receptacles

GFI receptacles are outlets that are already in the walls of your property. When the outlets were installed, they were hardwired into the electrical makeup of your home. You should make sure all GFI receptacles are working and secure (you don’t want any risk of shock or electrocution). Once you ensure that the GFI receptacles are secure, you should talk to your tenants about how to ensure that they do not overload the receptacles, which could result in (1) blowing a fuse, (2) overheating of the outlets and appliances using the power, (3) shock, and (4) electrocution. You should also tell your tenants ahead of time the type of GFI receptacles that are installed in their home and what the voltage is of each receptacle. If you want to learn more about GFI receptacles and how to be safe when using them, go to the Electrical Safety Foundation International website for more information.

Hot Water Heating Setting

There are two different views on how to set the hot water in your properties: The Environmental Protection Agency believes that it should be set at 120 degrees (EPA), but the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) says that you should have it set at 140 degrees. Talk to your tenants about the setting and be sure to do your research so that you have all of the information before approaching them. OSHA says that if your hot water has an odor of any sort, the temperature should be raised to 140 degrees. Let your tenants know that if the hot water is set at 120 degrees, and an odor starts to develop, have them call you to change the setting. Settings can vary and be changed depending on whether you have an electric water heating adjustment or a gas water heating adjustment. This is a job for you, not your tenants because it takes expertise and practice to adjust the hot water setting.

If you are a landlord or a property safety manager reading this article, be sure to do all of these safety checks to ensure that each of your tenants has a safe and comfortable living experience on your property. If you are a student, it never hurts to run through this list a few times with your landlord and/or property safety manager. When it comes to your living arrangements, be smart, be safe, and be thorough!

By Amanda Cohen

Uloop Writer
University of Michigan
I am currently a junior at the University of Michigan.

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