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What Landlords Must Know about Ice Dam Removal

Ice dams are enough of a pain for single-family homeowners.  Owning a building that other people live in can create special problems when ice dams show up on the roof.

Here are some steps that will help you, as a landlord, avoid paying too much rent to Mother Nature during the winter:

1. Take ice dam calls seriously.

If a renter calls you to let you know there’s a big block of ice on the roof or a leak in the house, do NOT ignore the call.

You may think, “Well, it’s my property and my roof.  I’ll just let it leak, and the insurance will repair the damage.”  They may cover some of the repairs, or they may not.  How lucky do you feel?

Even if the insurance company helps pay for the disaster, you still have a responsibility to provide a safe living space.  God help you if you fail to do that.  You can get your pants sued off if a piece of ceiling falls on your renter’s head, or if water leaks into the toaster and gives your renter a new hairdo.  After the lawsuit, you’ll be on Craiglist searching for a place to rent.  Hey, maybe your ex-tenant has an opening in the duplex he bought with the money he won from you.

Even if you don’t get sued into the Stone Age, don’t forget that your renter has property at stake, too – property that is not covered by your policy and that may be in jeopardy.  Your renters may not want to fork over for a new TV, computer, stereo, antique stamp collection, and Pet Rock.  If they don’t have renter’s insurance, then they’re coming after you personally.  Maybe your renters try to screw over their insurance company by claiming the $400 TV was a $2000 TV, for example.  When their insurance company denies the claim, your renters may want to take you down because they asked you to fix the problem and you chose to ignore them.

Even if your insurance company pays the claim, there’s a good chance your premiums will increase as a result of the claim.

The renter might even choose to sweep you into a rather nasty lawsuit.

Your renters may even choose to pay the rent into escrow (instead of to you) until you have dealt with all the damage to the roof and ceiling.  That’s a common fallback renters resort to when landlords don’t live up to their responsibilities.

By the way, unlike governmental powers-that-be, we’re not taking sides here.  Landlords have a tough job, and if you’re reading this you’re probably a good landlord.  If anything, we’re on your side, because we know what havoc ice dams can wreak and want to tell you about the hard lessons we’ve seen other landlords learn.

It’s understandable that you want to avoid writing a big check to the ice dam removal professionals, but in so doing you may end up writing a much bigger check and wasting many hours you’ll never get back.  Ice dams have a way of creating problems that don’t go away and often compound.

In the end, you’ll spend far less money if you go ahead and get a professional on-site to remove the ice.  At the very least, have all the snow removed from the roof – before it becomes an ice dam.

2.  Be present during the ice dam removal.

 That is crucial for two reasons.

The first reason is that choosing the right ice dam removal company is most of the battle, but you still need to make sure you get what you were promised over the phone.  If some meth-head or scammer shows up at your property, you won’t be there to avert disaster.  Rare is the renter who will call you up to debrief you.  They’re panicking over the leak and they just want it gone, and they figure you knew what you were doing when you decided whom to hire.

Make absolutely certain the company is properly insured, and the words “Ice Dam” are somewhere on the policy.  If their insurance isn’t in order, your liability can ruin you.

The second reason you need to be present is that you’ll want to make sure your ice dam removal technician (not his company) has your mobile phone number.  Otherwise, you’re leaving the renter in charge of spending your money.  The renter will assume he’s got a blank check.  “Yeah, my landlord’s a great guy, and he wants every speck of snow and ice off the roof.  Knock yourself out and he’ll be happy to pay for a job well done.”

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t remove every crystal of snow and ice.  But you probably want that to be your call, not your renter’s call.  If you can’t leave a mobile phone number, or will be in a meeting, or expect to travel somewhere with no cell coverage, then it’s best to give explicit instructions to the person who takes down your appointment details.  I also recommend you speak with the technician personally once he is on-site.  You’ll want to speak with him after he’s had a chance to remove some snow and be able to tell you exactly what you’re dealing with.  Remember: ice dams are almost always covered in snow.  Until the snow is removed, neither you nor the technician has a clue how gnarly the ice dam is and what it will take to remove it.

3.  Know and remember our billing policies, and be prepared to pay in-person on the spot.

We bill the customer – in this case you, the landlord.  We do not work with insurance companies at all.  You pay us, and they pay you if they’ve got generous hearts.  Call your agent if you think you’ll be eligible for some reimbursement.

If you’re not going to be on-site for the completion of your ice dam removal, then you’ll need to leave some method to pay.  We can’t leave you property until we get paid, whether that takes 1 hour or 10 hours.  And we’ll continue billing you for all that idle time, because it’s time we could have spent on other ice dam removal projects.

We don’t do reservation deposits.  We don’t do half down upon arrival.  All we ask is that we’re paid upon completion.  You called us to protect your property, and we’ve safely removed your ice dams.  To do that, we had to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on equipment and 20 winters on slippery roofs.

So please have a check ready. Put a credit card number on-file. Do whatever you’ve got to do to get us paid the moment we’re finished.  We don’t want to charge you for sitting in your driveway.  We simply want to be paid promptly, so we can quickly move onto the next emergency.

Ice dam removal doesn’t have to be a giant hassle for landlords, but it does take a little more time, planning, and care than it might for a single-family  home.

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