What Are a Landlord’s Responsibilities During a Power Outage?
As a landlord, you’re responsible for the maintenance of your rental and the safety of your tenants. Power outages can put both your property and your renters at risk, so it's wise to have a plan in place that allows you to quickly address any power issues.
Property managers with multiple properties across different states should know that some states have more frequent and severe outages than others. In 2023, Texas experienced the most power outages with 740 incidents, followed by Louisiana (697), and Alabama (510). States located in the western part of the U.S., such as North Dakota, Idaho, and Utah, each had less than three.
Natural disasters like hurricanes often come with heavy flooding and strong winds. These conditions can easily interfere with power grids in the area, causing power outages and other utility disruptions. Although southern states are more likely to experience hurricanes due to their climates, no state is immune from power outages. Property owners across the country should know what to do during a power outage.
This article will discuss what causes a power outage, when a landlord can be held responsible, and why it’s important to address one ASAP. We’ll also suggest ways landlords can help prepare their tenants for a power outage to minimize the risk of property damage and unsafe living conditions.
Determining the cause of a power outage
In addition to extreme weather conditions, power outages can be caused by issues with the utility company, the property’s electrical system, or the tenant’s inability to pay their electricity bills. Understanding why the power is out in your rental helps inform your next steps as a landlord and as a tenant.
Utility company issues
When the power goes out due to issues with the power company, there’s not much a landlord or a tenant can do. The utility company would need to address the underlying cause of the power outage by repairing damaged equipment, increasing its supply capacity, or both. Keep in mind that when power plants are hit by natural disasters, response times are often slower.
Electrical system issues
A power outage caused by issues with the rental property’s electrical system is the responsibility of the landlord. One of the most common issues found in malfunctioning electrical systems is overloaded circuits. A circuit can become overloaded when too many electrical devices are plugged into a home’s outlets.
Electrical issues can also arise due to faulty wiring or damaged panels. In any case, the landlord must contact and hire an electrician to resolve the issue.
Failure to pay utility bills
Lastly, there’s the possibility that the power can go out because a tenant isn’t paying the electricity bill on their rented property. Tenants are usually responsible for paying for their utilities. When they fail to make monthly payments, the utility company may cut off the power in their unit.
In these circumstances, the tenant would need to pay off whatever they owe the electricity company to get their power back. As a proactive measure, it’s always a good idea to explicitly state who is responsible for utility payments in the lease agreement.
When is a landlord responsible for a tenant’s power outage?
As you can see from the examples mentioned above, it’s not always possible for a landlord to fix a power outage. However, property owners are required by law to make sure their rentals remain in a habitable condition, even when a utility disruption is not their fault. As a result, landlords need to do their best to ensure tenants have access to basic utilities in emergencies.
Naturally, there are limits to what a landlord can do for their tenants when a power outage is out of the landlord's control. If a utility disruption is due to a large-scale event such as a natural disaster, chances are the landlord is experiencing the same issues as their tenants and won’t be able to restore the power on their rental property.
However, if a landlord is directly responsible for a power outage, they can be held liable by their tenants in court. This is often the case when power outages are due to landlord negligence or retaliation. While it can be frustrating to deal with a problematic tenant, property owners should refrain from intentionally turning off a tenant’s power to avoid legal issues down the road.
Turning off a tenant's electricity can warrant rent abatement claims in the future. Furthermore, tenants who have been deprived of basic utilities may ask for rent reductions in court to compensate for their inconvenience.
Why is it important to address power outages as soon as possible?
Regardless of how a power outage occurs, it's important to respond to it ASAP. Minimizing the amount of time the power is out can help mitigate the negative impacts of a power outage on a property. Here are three major ways your rental could be negatively affected during a prolonged power outage.
When home appliances are plugged into the wall during a power outage, they can experience power surges when the power is restored. A power surge is a sudden increase in voltage that can damage anything plugged into an electrical socket. The longer an appliance is left plugged in and unused, the stronger the effect of the surge.
Unplugging all appliances during a power outage helps prevent power surges and keeps your appliances safe.
Proper ventilation is a key component of preventing mold growth in the home. Most air conditioning systems, dehumidifiers, and fans need to be plugged into some source of electricity to function correctly. When the power is out, these ventilation systems are unable to work. This can lead to mold growth in as little as 24-48 hours.
The risk of mold is even higher if the power outage is due to a hurricane, tropical storm, or intense heat wave. Having some kind of battery-operated ventilation system can help eliminate the risk of mold, or at least slow down its growth in hot weather.
Sump pump backup
Not all homeowners know that sump pumps run on electricity. If your sump pump doesn’t have a backup, battery water can start to accumulate in your basement during a power outage. It’s best to have a backup battery on hand to ensure your home’s sump pump can continue working throughout a power outage.
How to prepare tenants for a power outage
The best way to keep your tenants safe and minimize the negative impact of a power outage on your property is to prepare your tenants ahead of time. Power outages often weaken communication systems, making it difficult to disseminate a power outage notice to tenants. Here are three pieces of advice you should give your tenant regarding future power outages:
Get extra lighting
Advising your tenants to stock up on candles, flashlights, and headlamps can help them navigate the first few hours of a power outage. It’s also a good idea for tenants to have extra batteries and a portable charger in case the power outage lasts longer than expected.
Be mindful of food storage
One of the main problems tenants encounter during a power outage is spoiled food. When the power goes out, refrigerators and freezers are unable to function properly. As a result, meats, dairy products, fruits, and vegetables can quickly go bad. Reminding tenants to keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible can help preserve perishable items for longer periods.
It’s also a good idea to recommend tenants keep non-perishable food and water in their homes in case a power outage lasts several days. Once in-fridge temperatures rise above 40 degrees, tenants should throw out the remaining food.
As a preventative measure, you may also want to suggest renter's insurance to your tenants. Depending on the insurance provider, renters' insurance can cover spoiled food and other tenant losses in emergencies.
Regulate indoor temperatures
Another common issue tenants experience during a power outage is irregular indoor temperatures. Homes located in warmer climates may experience intense heat waves, while homes located in the northern part of the country can experience frigid indoor conditions in the colder months.
Not only is it uncomfortable to be indoors when temperatures are deregulated, but it’s also dangerous for the property. Extreme heat indoors creates ideal conditions for mold to grow, while frigid indoor temperatures put your pipes at risk.
To offset the risk of property damage and minimize discomfort, tenants often use their gas-operated stoves, ovens, or indoor fireplaces until power is restored. While this may provide temporary relief, using these appliances for continuous warmth makes them safety hazards in the long run. Make sure that your tenants are aware of the fire and carbon monoxide hazards associated with these methods before a power outage hits.
Pro tip: Consider installing a generator
Tenants who have solely electric appliances won’t be able to turn on their HVAC systems, kitchen appliances, or fireplaces. Their only option would be to use battery-powered fans or heaters. However, given their size, these items probably won’t do much to protect your property from mold growth or burst pipes.
A better alternative would be to install a generator on your investment property. Generators allow you to keep the lights on, salvage perishable food, and prevent long-term property damage while the power is being restored.
The bottom line on landlord responsibilities during power outages
During a utility outage, maintaining the safety and well-being of tenants is just as important as protecting the property. Ideally, tenants and landlords can work together to minimize discomfort and offset the risk of property damage while a permanent solution is explored.
The power can go out for several reasons, including utility company issues, electrical system malfunctions, or tenant non-payment. Understanding how a power outage occurred can help identify whose responsibility it is to restore power and inform tenants and landlords on how they should proceed.
When it comes to landlord responsibilities, power outage issues aren't always the landlord's job to resolve, but state laws require landlords to provide tenants with safe living environments, which includes access to basic utilities such as water and electricity. Preparing tenants for a power outage and acting quickly when a power outage occurs not only protects you from legal disputes, but also preserves your property.
Prolonged outages can lead to damaged appliances, mold growth, and sump pump failures, which can result in expensive repairs in the aftermath of a power outage. Emphasizing the importance of stocking up on lighting, regulating food storage, and managing indoor temperatures can help mitigate the negative impacts of a power outage for both tenants and landlords.