For reasons only Murphy himself would be able to explain, bad luck and breakdowns have no respect for the 9 to 5 work day. Since there’s no way to escape the odd emergency situation in your role as a real estate investor, it’s best to have a plan in place before an emergency occurs.
Having a plan in place and sharing it with tenants, managers and key staff will ensure calm heads prevail, preventing panicked reactions and reducing potential injury and damage.
What Constitutes an Emergency?
One of your first steps in planning will be to establish your definition of emergency. A leaky faucet at 3am is significantly different from a flood at any time of they day. One can be filtered through your property manager (if you have one) and the other will likely require your personal involvement, even if that is merely to authorize the necessary expense of the emergency plumber.
It’s a good practice to provide tenants with an emergency plan that includes this information at move in. You want them to know what to do and who to contact depending on the type of emergency they might face.
You may also want to include this emergency plan on your website, so that they have a reference to consult and to reprint if they lose the handout.
In case of Burglary or Vandalism, instruct your tenant to first call (911) and then to call you if repairs to the unit or lock change are required or to arrange repairs after Police Report.
If they experience a Fire or Carbon Monoxide Leak, they should again call (911) and then call you immediately.
In the case of Flooding, instruct them to turn off the water valves and then call your emergency plumber.
Problems to Report During Business Hours
You’ll also want to include a list of those things that you expect to be informed of but that do not constitute emergencies to be dealt with immediately. These are the things you’d want to hear about during business hours.
For instance, you don’t need to attend immediately to storm damage that hasn’t resulted in an immediate leak, such as a couple of shingles coming of the roof. A slow drain will need your attention within a reasonable amount of time, but doesn’t require an emergency visit.
Along with the emergency handout, consider posting or including a wall sign or refrigerator magnet with emergency numbers, including your own 24 hour number or your 24 hour answering service. Be sure to include the building’s address. The frazzled nerves of an emergency situation can be disorienting so having the address can be very helpful in a tense situation.
In making your plan, make sure you include who YOU are going to call in the event of any of the emergencies. Do you know reliable and ethical contractors who you’d call if the furnace fails? Assuming it’s more than a pilot light issue, you don’t want to be stuck with Yellow Page and Google offerings in the middle of the night.
Finally, don’t forget to have a back up plan for vacations and business trips when you aren’t physically available to attend to emergencies that require it. This could be a business partner, a reliable employee, or a trusted friend who is willing to attend in your place. It’s important to make sure your expectations are clear before you need to rely on them.