Most areas of the United States have dealt with some pretty severe cold weather in the past couple of months. Depending on where you live, you may have heard the polar chill referred to as the Polar Vortex, the Bomb Cyclone, or “Snowpocalypse 2018.” In Chicago, we refer to our city during winter months as “Chiberia.” Catchy huh?

If you have properties in the Chicago area, I am certain you, like me and my real estate business, have gotten more than your fair share of “no heat/frozen pipe” calls and dealt with hundreds of incidents of other common issues that arise in these temperatures.

As a landlord, if you’re not preparing yourself for these conditions you are setting yourself up for failure and you could experience some costly repairs. Here are three things I’ve learned this past winter about working in real estate while it’s really, really cold:

1| Watch the Weather for Plummeting Temps

The kind of preparation necessary to come out of Chiberia alive reminds me of one thing: the preparation needed while keeping up with running in the cold. As a marathoner, I dread the winter months because the darker days and colder temps make it hard to drag yourself out of bed when it’s pitch black and you’re pretty sure the temperature is in the single digits. When it’s cold, managing rental properties can feel like a marathon as well. How do we stick to our New Year’s resolutions and training plans? The same way the landlord ponders the cold: with extensive preparation.

As a landlord, you want to be aware of what the temperature will be for the weeks ahead. Set a reminder on your phone or in your calendar to check the weather report weekly, even daily when living in areas that are prone to frigid weather. Then use this information to send an email blast to your tenants. Send this email out every time that forecast dips. I promise you people need reminders.

2| Have the Right Supplies On Hand

As a runner, checking the temperatures ahead of time is crucial, just to have the right clothes laid out for your early-morning training session. I will tell you from experience, if you have to go back inside to get your fleece leggings, it’s going to be hard not to just go back to bed.

As a landlord, you need to “lay out” solutions to cold-weather problems the night before as well. Otherwise, you may find that issues like frozen pipes are nearly impossible to remediate in real time – just like that canceled 10-mile run! Frozen pipes are probably one of the biggest and most frequent issues that landlords deal with, and you can actually solve the problem in advance if your tenants help you. Letting the water drip into the sink during the cold snap will solve the problem, but many tenants forget to do this or do not want to “waste water.” Explain in your email that they are actually saving not just water, but a huge amount of time and trouble if they take this tiny step. Highlight it. Put it in bold. Make sure your tenants see the action they need to take and are motivated to perform it.

3| Establish Grounds for Good Judgment

The best way to makegood judgments and appropriately prioritize problems is to equip yourself with the supplies necessary, in advance, to enable those good judgments. No matter how well-prepared you are, each person on your team can probably only attend to one issue at a time.

That means you need to be in a position to prioritize the most pressing maintenance issue (during cold snaps, this will usually be that the heat is out) over other maintenance reports while still addressing all tenants’ needs. Here are a few ways we’ve effectively “triaged” our tenants and their heating problems to keep everyone warm and, most importantly, safe:

Ask for a picture of the thermostat

This should give you an accurate idea of how cold the house is. People with homes 50˚ Fahrenheit or lower should receive maintenance service before someone whose house is hovering at 65˚Fahrenheit.

Keep heating options on hand

Whenever we see a good deal on space heaters, we jump on it! That way we can drop heaters off to everyone waiting on heat maintenance to help alleviate their discomfort while we resolve the problem.

Change your HVAC filters before the temperature drops

Put a reminder on your calendar for October or November to provide new filters for all your multi-family units. There are a number of services that will deliver filters directly to your properties on a quarterly or bi-yearly basis, so you do not have to remember to order them, just install.

Just as a runner keeps their running shoes in good repair to avoid aches and pains that dissuade them from running, keeping clean filters will help maintain the health

and stability of your furnace, an even bigger investment. You might as well embrace the cold, because every winter it comes back! You might have been caught off guard if this was your first experience with rentals during bitterly cold temperatures, but you won’t make the same mistakes twice.

It only takes one run when your hands go numb to never forget those gloves again. Likewise, a call for burst pipes that could have been avoided is unforgettable. Learn your lesson and be on top of your game for the rest of this winter and for every winter to come.

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Categories | Article | Single Family
  • Jenna Heneghan

    Jenna Heneghan is the director of business development at Secure Pay One MLH. She may be reached at

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