It may require more than a flashlight to make it through safely.
By BreAnn Stephenson
Are your tenants TRULY prepared for a power outage? I now know I wasn’t. It was going to be a great Father’s Day weekend. We had plans to take Dad out for a nice meal, see a movie…maybe even play a round of miniature golf at our favorite course. That relaxing weekend quickly turned into a very stressful one when a band of intense thunderstorms (including a weak tornado!) moved through our area, knocking down trees and disconnecting power to over 100,000 homes in the Kansas City metro.
For many of us a power outage may seem like a minor event, but depending upon the weather conditions and the duration of the outage, it can be a dangerous time for your tenants and your property. I hope the personal lessons I share below will help you avoid losses related to summer storms and keep your tenants safe too. And remember…these tips can also apply to your family and you!
The power will only be out for a few hours – no big deal…
I am used to summer power outages only lasting a few hours – just long enough to make the temperature in the house a little uncomfortable and make you wonder if you are going to have to throw out the contents of your refrigerator. Father’s Day weekend, we were out of power for about 48 hours while others in Kansas City were out of power for 72 hours or more. While that may sound like a relatively short period of time, going without air conditioning in 90-plus degree heat and high humidity can be surprisingly exhausting and brings with it serious health risks for the elderly or those with medical needs. The lack of electricity was more problematic than a mere inconvenience of no lights, TV, computer, or ability to charge a phone; it was a matter of physical safety. And in this case, I was concerned about my Dad’s health.
Heat – Just how dangerous is it?
According to the National Safety Council’s 2017 report, “Injury Facts 2017,” 244 people died in the U.S. from exposure to excessive heat in 2014. The NSC states heat-related illnesses “can escalate rapidly, leading to delirium, organ damage and even death.” Health Research Funding reports heat injuries occur when the body reaches temperatures of 104° or higher. After just 30 minutes or so, this heat can cause damage on the cellular level. The good news is the odds of survival are 100% when rapid, proper treatment is given to someone suffering from heat exhaustion. Heat stroke, however, will likely require a visit to the ER.
The only things we’ll need are a flashlight and some batteries, right?
For a short power outage, you may only need your flashlight and some fresh batteries, but the longer the outage, the more supplies your tenant (or you!) are going to need. In our case, we did have headlamps, which were super helpful in navigating the dark while keeping our hands free. Candles are great, but they also present a fire hazard, and we’ve seen many costly fire claims involving unattended candles. Which method will your tenant choose?
Luckily my husband is a remodeler so he was in-the-know about inexpensive battery-operated puck lights. Though they usually mount to walls with a paint-safe adhesive, you can also set them on any counter in the house to provide light. This safe candle-alternative can be turned on and off to save battery power, acting just like a normal lamp. And…they only cost an average of 3 dollars or less per light!
Cooling down a poorly insulated house
In addition to light, in the summer you will need to cool it down! And oops, remember you can’t plug anything in….! So, it’s off to Wal-Mart (or Target if you prefer…) to buy some battery-powered fans and a ton of batteries. While shopping, we used the electric company’s Facebook page to stay informed of updates in regards to power restoration. Though it was helpful to see the numbers of people without power going down, it wasn’t very helpful in letting us know when OUR power would be working again.
With rising temps, we decided to seek the air conditioning of the local sporting goods store, a restaurant and the movie theater. (Happy Father’s Day?) However, we didn’t want to stay away too long as we have two cats and a dog. Yes, they have been approved by our landlord, but my main point here is that tenants may have others to care for in a time of distress, whether it be a pet, child or an elder. All need special care so they can get through an emergency safely. In fact, retreating to a city-provided cooling shelter may be the smartest option if a relative or friend’s house is not available. (But did we even know the Red Cross had set up a shelter? And would they let us bring our pets?)
Once we had suffered through the stifling air overnight, we decided to go on the hunt to borrow a generator. This helped us at least be able to turn on a few lights, plug in the fridge, a couple MORE fans and charge our cell phones so we could stay connected with everyone. After a trip across town and a half an hour set-up, we seemed to be in business…somewhat. Dad was cooler and we were entertained thanks to using our cell phones as hot spots to run YouTube and Netflix on our tablets. In the end, a multitude of fans powered by the borrowed generator got us through, but looking back I wish we had been more prepared. It took more than a flashlight and a few batteries to endure the 48 hour blackout. And had it lasted longer, we would have needed and even more extensive plan…
What I wish my landlord had done
Before: Sharing is caring.
The National Weather Service has all kinds of safety information related to weather. They have a great brochure on heat safety that you can print or e-mail to your tenants. Learn more about the difference between a Heat Watch and Heat Warning, what to do during a Heat Wave and how to prevent common heat-related illnesses on their special Heat Safety Resource Page. Your tenants may be very dependable, responsible people, but more information never hurt anyone and when it comes to learning survival techniques, repetition is key.
During: Check on your tenants and be prepared to make emergency repairs or offer assistance as needed.
If your tenants are in an emergency situation, they may not think to call you as they are likely preoccupied with making it through an unfamiliar and possibly dangerous situation. They also may not be able to call if weather has damaged cell towers in the area.
I will be honest, because we have such a good relationship with our landlord and we take quite a bit of ownership in our home, we just soldiered on like we owned the place. We may have made it through the situation a lot more gracefully had we called our landlord. Who knows, he may have had the generator we were looking to borrow and could have helped us set it up properly.
Since my husband is mechanically inclined and knows a thing or two about electrical, we didn’t hook too many items up to the generator, but someone who doesn’t have an understanding of power usage could potentially start a fire. They may also not be aware of the dangers of CO2 poisoning that can occur if a generator is kept inside the house. Point being, there may be no end to how creative your tenants get to weather the storm. That creativity may further endanger your property and them, so it’s in your best interest to get involved. If you visit, be prepared to offer help or make any necessary repairs.
After: Confirm that everything is back to “normal” and they are ok.
Emergency situations, no matter how small, are stressful. Checking in to make sure your tenants are safe and their household is back to “normal” can go a long way. It may even turn a sour relationship the other direction. Building a good business relationship during their tenancy can encourage your best tenants to stay when it comes time to renew that lease.
- Appliances – If your tenant’s TV gets “fried” in a thunderstorm, that may not be your problem, but if you own the appliances, they could also be in danger from surges that may occur when power is restored. Replacing appliances is always a significant expense under the best of circumstances, so making sure they are unplugged during a power outage may save you from replacing them prematurely.
- Sump Pumps – If your sump doesn’t have a back-up battery, where’s all that water in the basement gonna go? With strong storms may come a lot of rain. And with downed trees and other plant debris, city drains may get blocked and then you have additional drainage issues. Remember, Flood is a separate coverage from your property coverage, so though you may not live on a flood plain, you still may need Flood coverage for a heavy rain event. Did I mention Sewer Back-Up is also a standard exclusion from most policies too? Be sure your sump keeps hummin’!
- Mold Issues – Add heat to a damp basement and you can quickly be in mold heaven…well, it’s heaven for the mold anyways. Another reason to get to your property timely is that mold can begin to grow in as little as 24 to 48 hours. Mold is typically excluded in insurance policies so it is in your best interest to get things dried out as soon as possible. And please don’t use bleach. It can only exacerbate the problem, say the experts from Green Home Solutions.
- Vacancy Issues – Even if an event isn’t catastrophic in nature, but lasts several days, residents may retreat to city shelters and homes may be left vulnerable to vandals. After all, ALL the power in the neighborhood is out, so who is going to see them? And, seeing a flashlight bobbing around inside a dark house isn’t really suspicious at this point because everyone is using flashlights. Not to mention, some tenants (maybe not your best ones) may decide this is the perfect time to relocate to somewhere more comfortable.
- Trees – Trees can be one of the most valuable or destructive items to your “curb appeal.” Be sure you stay on top of maintenance before storm season arrives. It may not only cause tens of thousands of dollars of structural damage, but a tenant could also be seriously hurt or die when a large tree falls on the house.
So let me sum up…
Your tenants may not be prepared for an emergency situation, but you can help. Education before an event occurs is key. Even if they think you are a little lame for being so safety-conscious, they will be better able to respond and more likely to contact you if they are less stressed when the unexpected comes their way. In the event of an emergency be ready to assist and act on any necessary repairs. Making plans for crisis situations before they happen will enable you to respond more effectively and potentially lessen or eliminate any damage to your property or pocketbook and keep your tenants safe. Happy investing!