The New York Times is calling the early fire season of 2018 the new normal as more than 100 wildfires burn across the United States.
These devastating fires are burning homes and structures, destroying forests, fields, and hillsides, and taking lives.
According to the National Interagency Fire Center, as of Aug 10, 2018, there are currently 100 active fires burning over one million acres in the U.S. Most of them are in the western states. This number changes daily as fires are extinguished and started during the hot summer months.
When a wildfire rips through a community, there is not much one can do besides listen to official evacuation orders and prepare for safety measures.
But before a fire starts, there are things every homeowner should do to make sure they are as prepared as possible for fire season. Rental property owners and managers should be prepared to inform tenants of proper safety measures to take during fire season. Fire prevention for rental properties includes preparing the property for fire safety, both inside and out.
Here’s a look at some important fire prevention tips and safety measures for rental properties.
Interior Fire Safety
1. Smoke Alarms
Your home should be equipped with smoke alarms on every floor, in every bedroom, and outside every sleeping area. As a landlord or housing provider, you are required to provide working smoke detectors in your residences per your state and local laws.
Smoke alarms should be tested each month. You should include a condition in your lease agreement asking your tenants to test the smoke alarms every month and to inform you immediately if one is out of order. Additionally, it is a good idea to personally test smoke alarms during your routine inspections.
2. Fire Extinguisher
It is a good idea to have at least one fire extinguisher on every level of your home. Landlords and property managers may choose to provide fire extinguishers to their tenants. The lease agreement should outline who is responsible for keeping the fire extinguisher maintained if it’s provided by the landlord.
Check your state laws to see if you are required to provide a fire extinguisher. While most states require smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors, there are few laws about fire extinguisher requirements. The exception is multifamily properties, where code requires fire extinguishers in hallways and outside entrances.
Regardless of if you provide a fire extinguisher or not, remind your tenants of the value of their important fire safety devices.
Related: How to Recover From a Fire in Your Rental Property
3. Escape Plan
Encourage your tenants to establish an escape plane in the case of a fire. As a housing provider, you should prioritize your tenants safety at all times. Provide your renters with information on fire safety, including information on the importance and value of creating an escape plan.
An escape plan will include speaking with every household member, identifying smoke alarms and fire extinguishers, marking exist points for different fire situations, knowing how to use escape ladders if necessary, designating a meeting place outside the house, and informing kids and practicing what to do and where to go in case of a fire.
4. Document Valuables
The right insurance will be extremely valuable when disaster strikes. Insurance will help replace belongings that are destroyed in a fire. In order to get the most out of your policy, however, it will serve you best to have a comprehensive inventory of your things. Your renter will most likely rely on their renter’s insurance policy to replace their items. As fire season approaches, remind your tenants to go through their home and write down out a list of valuables, take pictures of items, and keep copies of receipts.
5. Your Insurance
A landlord insurance policy will cover the exterior of the building and any belongings you keep on the property — like appliances or maintenance equipment — that could get destroyed in a fire. Additional coverage can also include loss of rent insurance, which will pay rental income while a property is getting repaired if it’s uninhabitable due to a fire.
6. Renter’s Insurance
Renter’s insurance is an affordable option to give your tenants peace of mind that their belongings will be replaced if damaged by a fire. Landlords and property managers can require their tenants carry a renter’s insurance policy as a condition of the lease. Remind your tenants of the value of renter’s insurance, and encourage them to specifically talk to their provider about a coverage for fire damage.
Exterior Fire Safety
7. Firewise Landscaping
When considering the outside of a home, firewise landscaping is extremely important for preventing the damaging effects of wildfires to a property. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), wildfire researchers created the concept of the home ignition zone (HIZ). The HIZ is the area around a home that can ignite and destroy a structure due to radiant heat.
There are three zones that make up the HIZ: the immediate zone (up to five feet from the home), the intermediate zone (five to 30 feet from the home), and the extended zone (30–100 feet from the home).
While it is unlikely to prevent wildfires from occurring, the goal of a firewise approach is to improve a home’s chance of surviving a wildfire with little or no damage.
Related: 5 Real Estate Investing Lessons Learned From Building a Campfire
8. Firewise your Property
Keep the first three to five feet around the base of the house clear of flammable material that could fuel a wildfire; things like tall grasses, shrubs, leaves, pine needles, straw, firewood, and organic landscaping mulch should be kept away from the house.
You should clear roofs and gutters of dead leaves and debris or anything else that could spark a fire from a floating ember. Anything that can burn should also be removed from underneath decks and porches.
As you move further away from the house, you want to keep landscapes free of pine needles, leaves, and dead grass. Keep vegetation green, healthy, and manicured.
You can include conditions in your lease for your renters to landscape the property in a firewise way, but it might serve you best to follow up in person to make sure the job is done correctly as you approach fire season. Send reminders to your residents to remove flammable objects that might be stored under decks or near the home.
The NFPA provides additional tips for types of trees and firewise landscaping advice to prepare your property for fire season.
The effects of wildfires on communities is devastating. As a housing provider, you must prioritize your tenants’ safety. One of the best ways to keep your tenants safe is to include fire safety and firewise efforts in your management plan. It is a good idea to communicate fire safety to your renters and send reminders before fire season begins.
If a wildfire threatens or reaches your community, keep in touch with your renters during the difficult time. Your renters will be looking to you for guidance and help regarding their housing situation.
Do you have any other tips for making your properties fire safe?
Share them below!