If you own rental property, repair costs can really add up. Especially when the furnace quits in the middle of the winter and you have to pay for emergency repair, those costs can be pretty substantial and eat into your profits. As in many aspects of life, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Here are three things you can do to reduce the amount of money you spend on heating and air conditioning repair in your rental units.
Make sure the filter gets changed.
Furnace filters in rental units often go unchanged. Renters are rarely told to change the filter, and even if they are, they may not do so because they see this as a maintenance task and don't feel they're obligated to care for the property owner's furnace. However, one of the best things you can do for your HVAC system is ensure that filter gets changed monthly. If the filter gets overly dirty, the furnace and AC unit have to work extra hard to push air through it, and this can lead to breakdowns.
One option is to change the filter yourself every month (or have your maintenance team, if you have one, do it for you.) This will require you to enter the unit monthly, so make sure you give your tenants proper notice. You could set up a regular day of the month, for instance the 15th, that you always come to change the filter, so tenants know to expect you.
The other option is to actually put the requirement that the tenants change the filter in the lease. If they sign a document that states they are required to change the filter as a part of their rental agreement, they'll be more likely to do so. If you wish, you can purchase a big stack of inexpensive filters and leave them in the apartment, so tenants have them on hand.
Make sure tenants know to contact you when something strange is going on with the system.
Often, something little goes wrong with the system, but tenants don't realize it's a big deal and don't contact you until the HVAC system is completely non-functional. It costs more to repair this big issue than the little one that contributed to it. Make sure tenants know that if there is anything abnormal going on with the AC unit or furnace that they should contact you right away.
A great way to do this is to give your tenants a flyer when they move in. This flyer can list signs of a malfunctioning HVAC system, such as:
- Frequent on-and-off cycling of the furnace or AC unit
- Banging or dinging noises
- A strange smell when the system is turned on
- The furnace or AC unit switching off before the temperature set on the thermostat is reached
- Water pooling under the unit
The flyer should also instruct the tenant that if they notice these signs or have any other suspicion that the furnace or AC is not working properly, they should contact you immediately.
Restrict access to the furnace or AC unit.
You want to hope that your tenants know better than to try to mess with or try to fix the furnace or AC unit, but this is not always the case. There's also a chance they could accidentally damage the equipment -- especially the outdoor AC condenser if they're playing in the yard. To ensure your equipment is not damaged, make sure tenants cannot access it.
This may mean building a separate "room" with some drywall around the furnace in the basement and locking it, or if your furnace is in a separate room already, simply locking the door and not giving the tenant a key. In regard to the AC condenser, building a lockable cage around it is a good choice. There are even pre-made cages you can purchase for AC condensers.
By ensuring the filters get changed, telling tenants to alert you to small problems before they get worse, and restricting tenant access to your furnace and AC unit, you can reduce your chances of needing to repair your HVAC system.