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How can I use safety checks to limit my tenant liability for a rental house?

Friday, September 28, 2018

We have developed the following 12-item safety checklist based on our experience as both home inspectors and rental property owners, trying to keep our investment house buyers, tenants—and us—out of harm’s way. If you own an investment house, your tenants expect to receive a reasonably safe environment in exchange for their monthly rent check. You may decide not to implement every one of these checkpoints, or possibly add several more of your own. But, whatever you do, it is important to demonstrate that you make an ongoing effort to maintain a safe property should a problem arise.

1) Smoke alarms installed and tested regularly. The minimum requirement is a smoke alarm in each hallway or room that accesses a bedroom, and a minimum of one on each floor of the home. Test them regularly. If you change the a/c filters for your tenant, that is also a good time to push the test button at each smoke alarm. Smoke alarms that are ten years old or more should be replaced. Although the alarm may sound when the test button is pushed, the internal smoke sensor has a ten-year serviceable lifespan.

2) CO alarm installed if home has gas appliances or garage. Carbon monoxide is often called “the silent killer. Unlike smoke alarms, they do not need to be installed on or near the ceiling, but combination smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are available that can be switched out with a regular smoke alarm at the hallways.

3) Window locks are functional. Make sure that all windows can be locked closed with either the original manufacturer’s device or a clip-on type device retrofitted to window.

4) Anti-tip bracket installed at kitchen range. It’s primarily for child safety, and secures a free-standing range to the back wall or floor to avoid the possibility that a youngster sitting or standing on an open oven door will cause it to tip over and crush or scald them. But the elderly, too, can be injured while using an unsecured range for support while cleaning. An anti-tip bracket is included with every range sold in the U.S., but many do not got installed.

5) All door locks should be functional and secure. No double-deadbolt locks at exterior doors—the kind that require a key in order to exit the home. In a fire, the tenant can become trapped in the house while fumbling for a deadbolt key.

6) No trip or fall hazards. Any cracked driveway or walkway concrete that has an abrupt change in the walking surface of more than a half-inch is a potential trip hazard.  Also, a fall hazard is created when an indoor-rated tile with a smooth surface is installed at an outdoor location. Tile for exterior installation is required to have a slip-resistance rating, called a “coefficient of friction,” of 0.60 or more. Ramps require a rating of 0.80 or more. The manufacturer lists the coefficient of friction in their specifications on the packaging.
    Single steps at an unexpected location and not clearly defined visually, such as in the photo below, are a safety hazard for visitors to the property. The tape in the photo below was added by us.

7) Stairs and steps are safe. This is a lengthy subject unto itself.  See a listing of our other blogs posts on this important safety subject at STAIRS. The railing at the entry stair below does not have an adequate handgrip, for example.

8) Railings in place where necessary and secure. Railings should be in place for any walking surface more than 30-inches above the ground or an adjacent floor. Give them a good shake once in a while to make sure the railings are secure.

9) No exposed or damaged electrical wiring connections. Replace any missing or damaged receptacle and switch cover plates. Any electric panel should have a cover plate around the breakers without any openings to the interior of the box.

10) GFCIs at kitchens and bathrooms. They may not have been required at the time the home was built, but are now an accepted safety standard.

11) Dryer vent exhausts to exterior and not clogged with lint. Clogged vents can cause both mold and fires. 

12) Garage door opener safety stop devices, both the beam and pressure-reverse mechanisms, working correctly. The garage door is a heavy and suspending moving object. 

   Sometimes a tenant is reluctant to tell you about a safety issue in the home. So we make a point to always ask if there is anything that is not functioning properly when we visit a property for a safety check. 

    Also, see our blog posts When should I replace my smoke alarms? and Are old vinyl tile floors dangerous?

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • 

Here’s links to a collection of our blog posts about SAFETY: 

Why is it important to use "cabinet screws" to mount the upper cabinets in the kitchen?

Is the door between an attached garage and the house required to have a closer (self-closing device)?

Can the smoke sensors in a home security/fire alarm system replace the smoke alarms required by the building code?

Should I get a lightning rod system to protect my house? 

What are the "Aging In Place" features to look for when buying a retirement home?

What is aging in place? 

How do I safely remove a dead rodent (rat, mouse or squirrel) from the attic?

Does pushing the test button on a smoke alarm test the smoke sensor device inside? 

What is the minimum height of a ceiling fan above the floor?

Should a smoke alarm be installed in the kitchen? 

Why is a double cylinder deadbolt lock on an exterior door a safety hazard? 

Why are rubber washing machine hoses a safety risk?

What can I do to avoid kitchen accidents and injuries?

Where are smoke alarms required to be located? 

Are carbon monoxide alarms required to be installed in homes in Florida?

Are old vinyl tile floors dangerous?  

How can I use safety checks to limit my tenant liability for a rental house?

Do you inspect for trip hazards around the home? 

When should I replace my smoke alarms?

• Why is an anti-tip device now required behind the range? 

• What are the hazards to avoid when going into an attic? 

    Visit our SAFETY page for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles.

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