A guide to winter maintenance for tenants and landlords

10th December 2022 posted in Landlords Tenants

Advice for tenants and landlords: Here's why you should keep a house warm in winter

The colder months of the year pose unique challenges for both tenants and landlords.

The most recent English Housing Survey found that the private rental sector now accounts for 19% of all households in England, so keeping families warm over winter is a growing concern in this market. But when it comes to maintenance in rental properties, things work slightly differently than they might do for private homeowners.

So, look at our guide for the rental sector – it offers essential winter maintenance tips that will help ease you through winter however cold it gets.

Winter tips for tenants: Why is it important to heat a house in winter?

Whether you're a private tenant or landlord, you should take precautions to protect properties from cold conditions. Using draught excluders, thick curtains, and blankets might help you to stay a little bit warmer, but they might not contribute enough to the overall temperature of your house.

To ensure that you're living in a safe, comfortable home, you should be using your heating through winter. Keeping your heating on a timer for the evenings and early mornings ensures that you'll feel warmth when you need it most. But with the ongoing surges in domestic energy prices, some forecasts predict households across the UK could see an average annual energy bill of £3,702 from April 2023. For this reason, many families have been thinking about cutting back on their energy use.

However, not using your heating could be dangerous for both your health and your home. Keeping a house warm can help prevent major issues like damp, mould, and frozen pipes, along with decreasing your own risk of certain health issues.

What is damp?

Damp thrives in warm, moist conditions and seeps into new and old rental properties. If you can create steam while showering or drying laundry inside the house during winter, moist air quickly turns into damp when insufficiently ventilated.

Left untreated, an accumulation of damp can promote the growth of harmful fungus (mould) inside your home. International medical research has shown that the spores produced by mould can aggravate asthma. As they're breathed in, the bacteria they carry can worsen respiratory infections. This hazard poses more of a threat to vulnerable groups.

What causes damp?

Condensation is a major cause of damp.

When moisture trapped in warm air hits a cold surface it becomes water again – so that's why it appears as water running down walls. Damp can also be caused by broken or blocked guttering. When it overflows, water from guttering can soak external walls. Leaking pipes inside can also cause damp wall patches.

How can I stop my house getting damp?

Preventing damp is always better and more cost-effective than the cure. And there are a few things you can do to promote a warm, dry environment in your home.

So, to help keep your house clear of damp, we'd recommend that you:

· Ventilate: try to open your windows at least daily, and keep them open if you're drying laundry inside

· When taking a bath or shower, make sure that your extractor fan is switched on or a window is open (or both)

· If condensation forms on the inside of a window, wipe it dry with a cloth

· Check for blockages in guttering and inform your agent if you suspect them. Autumn/winter is when fallen leaves block gutters

· Notify your local agent immediately if you notice any damp patches on your internal or external walls

· Look out for roof tiles being out of place or missing – this can allow rain ingress, leading to internal damp

· Fitting air bricks on external walls can improve ventilation inside a property

When should I contact my landlord?

Your maintenance responsibilities will depend on the type of rental agreement you have.

You can contact your local branch or check online with Citizens Advice if you're unsure which kind of contract you've signed. In most cases, you will only need to take on minor repairs like replacing light bulbs and fuses . Nonetheless, as a tenant you'll still be responsible for day-to-day maintenance and keeping your property in good condition.

If you're an assured shorthold or protected tenant, it's likely that your landlord will be responsible for major household repairs. These might include:

· Damage to sinks, baths, and toilets

· External property structure – including doors, windows, walls, and the roof

· Electrical and gas appliances, provided by your landlord

· Pipes and wiring

· Heating and hot water

Never attempt to undertake complex repairs by yourself. You should get in touch with your landlord if your home needs maintenance or replacement appliances.

If you're renting with us and you spot any urgent issues like a leak that could be causing damp, please contact us immediately. And if you think you can smell gas, find and contact a Gas Safe engineer as soon as possible.

Winter maintenance for landlords: Helping tenants and their properties

How can I prepare my rental house for winter?

Whether you're letting out a newbuild or a Victorian terraced property, it's still important to prepare it thoroughly before the harsh weather hits. Your first priority should be inspecting your property – and then seeing to any known or identified external issues.

From roof damage to cracks in windows, it's crucial to make sure that repairs are completed to a high standard. Winter weather conditions make it more difficult for contractors to complete repairs, so make sure that your property is in good condition before any harsh weather.

And if you've just taken on some new tenants, there are a few things you can do to help them settle in over winter. Make sure they're provided with the right instructions for their heating system to ensure that they can use it properly. If you live locally, ask if they'd like you to visit and explain how it all works in person, answering any questions they might have.

Are energy efficiency improvements worth the cost?

Improving your property by installing new insulation could help to prevent damp and damage caused by an unheated house. Your tenants will be more likely to use the heating effectively if they know that heat won't be lost quickly to a poorly insulated home.

Installing the latest energy efficiency upgrades to your rental property could be a brilliant investment. If you're a private landlord in the UK, you won't be able to let your property without a valid Energy Performance Certificate rated 'E' or above, unless you're exempt.

You might also be able to access grants for your property to help improve its overall energy efficiency. If you're eligible to apply for the Boiler Upgrade Scheme, for example, you could get £5,000 towards an air source heat pump – with an allowance of one grant per property.

How can I maintain an empty property over winter?

As temperatures fall below freezing, your property will be at risk of damage if it's uninhabited.

Plumbing systems rely on water flowing through the pipes regularly to prevent them from freezing up. Frozen pipes can later crack, which can be an incredibly costly and time-consuming repair.

To reduce the risk of burst pipes, you should:

· Keep water moving through the system to prevent sub-zero temperatures and an accumulation of pressure. This can be achieved by:

o Adjusting the thermostat to a low temperature but a minimum of 13°C

o Setting the heating timer to come on each morning and at night

o Running one or two taps slowly for a duration of time each day

· Leave cupboard doors open underneath the kitchen sink and bathroom cabinets to allow warm air to circulate inside

If you need any more advice for maintaining your property throughout the year, we're happy to help. You can access our full selection of landlord services to learn more about how to excel in your career as a landlord with Hunters.

What should I do if a pipe bursts in my rental property?

If you've discovered a burst pipe in your property, adhere to the following steps urgently:

· Turn off the water mains at the stopcock to reduce the pressure

· If the flow of water can't be stopped, turn on all the cold taps to drain the system – this should also relieve any remaining water pressure

· If the water could reach electrical equipment, turn off power at the fuse box  

· Never touch any electrical devices or connections

· Move any furniture and belongings away from the affected area

· Clear away the excess water as soon as possible to minimise damage

If you've not visited your property in a while and it's in urgent need of heat, you could try blowing heat into cold areas with fans. Keep the heating on for a few consecutive days, leaving doors open so that the warm air can reach pipes under sinks and in cupboards.

Burst pipes are usually caused by unprotected piping, which is more vulnerable to low temperatures – so it's always a good idea to ensure that your pipes are well insulated.

Contact your local Hunters office for more advice

We've offered general advice throughout this guide, but it's important to remember that winter maintenance requirements may vary for each individual property.

If you're unsure on how to take appropriate measures to protect your house in winter, please don't hesitate to get in touch.