Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Winter Risks for Tenants & Landlords

This article is intended to help the new landlord as well as the new tenant and provide a reminder to everyone about the risks associated with winter freezing in apartments, apartment buildings and all rental units.

The biggest winter related issues that my clients typically face are problems that arise from freezing pipes that burst and cause floods. The consequent losses can be substantial with many thousands of dollars being spent to repair the damage caused by water as well replacing the items in the rental unit that are destroyed by water.

The point today is to highlight to new landlords that tenants do not automatically assume that they are responsible to shut off outside water taps, drain water from any standing pipes (sprinklers & hoses). Even though storm windows may be "in the shed" or that a certain door should not be closed in winter, or that the clay pots need to be emptied, you must allow for the fact that many tenants will not have the experience to know what to do or alternatively they may not believe that it is their responsibility to do the winter prep or maintenance. Beyond that, it may be prudent to discuss winter maintenance with your tenant or provide a fact sheet about winter use of the property. It may very well be that your tenant is new to the local climate and that they have little experience with the potentially wide temperature swings during a 24 hour period. Tenants who are unfamiliar with the climate may not think twice about opening a window and "forgetting" about it because it feels warm out. These same tenants, in the interests of saving heating costs, may not appreciate that turning off the heat or turning it down really low may cause a part of the apartment to freeze and therefore cause a water pipe to burst.

So, landlords, for your own protection, ensure that the winter maintenance is done and don't presume that the tenant has done it even though it may seem reasonable. Further, make are that the tenants are warned about the local climate and of what constitutes reasonable behaviour in the local climate.

To the new tenant. Be aware that in Eastern Ontario you can not leave windows open for any length of time in the winter. Wildly fluctuating temperatures can freeze an apartment and the pipes, and burst the pipes, even if the window is open just a crack. Be aware that a window that is only open a little bit can spot freeze pipes in the walls around the window and cause an undue amount of damage.

Care should also be taken with the furnace to ensure that you don't turn it off or down too low. In some apartments closing a bedroom door or laundry room door or the back of the house can restrict air circulation enough to freeze a room and the pipes in that room. This can be a problem if you go away for a few days and the air doesn't get to move around the house.

For tenants, the biggest surprise can be that they are responsible not only for the loss of their own property but the landlord or its insurance company can also sue you for the cost of repairs and the losses sustained by other tenants in the building. This is a good reason to have tenant's insurance to cover you for any mistakes that you might make.

On the point of insurance, homeowners or a tenants package, take a close look at the wording and requirements of the policy for holidays and leaving the unit for extended periods of time.  Most insurance policies require the owner or tenant to have a  responsible person enter the unit on a daily basis if the tenant or owner is absent for more than a few days.  Check your own policies to see what the time-line is---it is often 48 hours or less and not the 7 days that many people assume.

Avoiding freezing damage when away from home or the apartment may also be accomplished by turning off the water in the premises at the main and draining the water from the pipes by opening a tap at the lowest position in the premises after turning off the water (once drained close the tap again).

Damage caused by freezing happens regularly and often in Ontario.  It's not always the result of fault--sometimes the furnace breaks or the thermostat gets stuck.  However the freezing happens though, the expense can be substantial.  Take a little time to make sure that your property/apartment has been properly winterized and that you are ready for the below zero temperatures that are just around the corner.

Michael K. E. Thiele

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Any answers provided are intended to reflect the Law of Ontario, Canada. The answers are not legal advice and no one should rely on the answers provided as legal advice. The answers are intended to be general information about Ontario Law and are the personal view of the author based on the limited facts provided to the author. The answers may not be legally accurate and may indeed be contrary to the law of Ontario. Answers and conclusions drawn may have been different if facts had been shared that have not been disclosed in the comment/question. This blog is intended to assist people in learning about Ontario Landlord and Tenant Law. However, if you have actual legal problems this blog should under no circumstances replace proper legal advice obtained by retaining a lawyer or licensed paralegal to advise you. Nothing in this blog, comments submitted or answers provided, gives rise to a solicitor and client relationship. Comments are published as submitted and commenters should be aware that if they identify themselves in a comment that their identity will become public upon the comment being published. Comments that have been published may be deleted upon request to the author.

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About Michael Thiele

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Ottawa lawyer and partner at Quinn Thiele Mineault Grodzki LLP.  Graduate of Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario.  Called to the bar in Ontario in 1997.  Undergraduate degree at Colby College, Waterville Maine, U.S.A.