What is it like to go through a hurricane as a property manager and landlord? Each week veteran landlord and property manager Hank Rossi answers questions from other landlords and property managers around the country about their rentals. This week he talks about his own hurricane experience.
Dear Landlord Hank:
What happened to your tenants and rental properties in Hurricane Irma? Since you both own and manage rental properties in Florida, how did you handle things for your tenants and your properties? Did everyone come through ok? What happened?
Dear Other Landlords:
Thankfully everyone is ok.
You know when I decided to be a real estate investor in Sarasota and manage properties in Sarasota, I wanted to know long-term what the issues were. I talked to a lot of old timers here who said “We haven’t had a major storm here in 100 years.”
The folklore is that the Seminole Tribe of Florida, when they knew storms were coming, they would come to the Sarasota area. This area was their refuge.
I did some modern-day checking too on the FEMA website where you can see what your risk is for flood in different areas and what type of flood insurance you may need to carry.
I remember the governor saying the whole state of Florida was at risk, but for people who have been here for a while, those in this area felt there was not that much to worry about. Wind and rain yes, but the weekend before Irma got here we had eight to 12 inches of rain. So the ground was already saturated. That is a cause for flooding right there.
All my personal properties are probably 10 miles from the water so I wasn’t worried about storm surges from the hurricane, but the wind and debris flying at 100 miles per hour could be a definite cause for concern.
Getting shutters up on rental property windows
It was my first hurricane, so I don’t have a lot of experience with this.
But as a property manager, I had a lot of stuff to worry about.
The first thing I did for those properties near the water was put up shutters as a precaution. Some of these places it’s pretty easy. You just go in and flip the switch and the shutter comes down because it is electric. They just roll on down and lock in place and that’s it.
Others are like an accordion door. You slide them in place and bolt them and that’s it. Other places you have to get wood cut to fit the window and secure outside the window, to minimize impact and keep broken glass from causing harm as it blows into the home. Now they have all kinds of storm-rated, supposedly hurricane-proof windows that will take an impact wind of 120 miles per hour – but who knows?
I did get my properties buttoned up with the storm shutters, just in case. Some tenants left town, and piled sand bags in front of their doors.
So that is one thing.
Decide early what you are going to do
You have to decide early if you are going to stay and ride it out or evacuate. You could board up your place, turn off power and water and hit the road, but you must leave early. If you are in a single-family home (no basements in this area of Florida) and on the water, you may want to evacuate. Hopefully you have good insurance and will have no worries. If you wait until everyone is going to run, the roads will be jammed, gas could run out, hotel rooms all booked, etc.
If you are going to stay, you need to prepare for the worst case scenario. You want to be safe through the hurricane and don’t know what to expect. Will your power go out? Probably. You need to have plenty of water, and food, that does not require cooking (a grill would be nice), plenty of regular medications, first aid and a battery-powered radio. Then have your home prepared for a major assault.
It is costly. It is a pain in the butt. And you may end up taking it all down two days after you just put it up. In my opinion, it needs to be done with your properties for your safety and to protect your asset.
So after you prepare your rental properties, you need to take everything that could be a projectile out of the yards – planters, yard art, and patio furniture – all of that has to go someplace, like the garage.
Tenant communication important
Tenant communication went real well. I contacted all the tenants to find out what they were doing, and what they were feeling. Many of them were inland and did not feel like they were in any danger.
I did call to see who was going and who was staying. Some tenants had no experience with this at all they had just moved here. Others said, ‘I can’t take a chance. I got kids. I got to go.’
Maybe two-thirds of tenants stayed.
In some cases there were storm shutters at the properties and we got them up.
In some cases there were no storm shutters available. And three or four days before the storm, there is no plywood available either. It is all gone. Home Depot has none, Lowes has none, 84 Lumber none. You can’t find it.
So if you don’t have your preparations done early it’s not happening.
Other places they were calling for evacuations if you lived along the coast. And if you don’t do it early, you are screwed. Three or four days before Irma hit all the water is gone out of the stores, a lot of the groceries are gone.
Surveying rental properties after the storm
The storm was due to hit about 8 p.m. and a mandatory curfew was put in place from 3 p.m. for 24 hours. After the storm hit, due to the curfew, I really could not get out right away and check things.
The curfew was lifted a few hours early, so once I could, I did go and start checking on properties.
If the tenant was home I would call the tenant and ask them to go outside and look and see if there was any damage – branches sticking in the roof, any obvious damage. Also I asked them to make sure the windows were all tight and there was no water intrusion.
If there was nobody at the property, then I would go look. And the first thing I would do is walk around the outside to see if there was any kind of roof damage or anything obvious, then go inside and look and make sure everything was fine. It was more than a drive by.
I had some homes relatively close to the water that had the barrel-tile type roof and some of the tiles had blown off. Others had big trees come down on parts of roofs.
Other people in condos, nothing damaged.
Nobody was devastated.
Nobody lost their home.
Lots of drama and inconvenience but the damage was all relatively minor stuff.
We did maintain water throughout the storm. A lot of people were still without power many days later.
If people were going to stay in their houses, they need to prepare to be without power for some time.
None of my tenants had generators.
Overall, we were very fortunate and I spell that LUCKY!!!!
About the author Landlord Hank:
“I started in real estate as a child watching my father take care of our family rentals- maintenance, tenant relations, etc , in small town Ohio. As I grew, I was occasionally Dad’s assistant. In the mid-90s I decided to get into the rental business on my own, as a sideline. In 2001, I retired from my profession and only managed my own investments, for the next 10 years. Six years ago, my sister, working as a rental agent/property manager in Sarasota, Florida convinced me to try the Florida lifestyle. I gave it a try and never looked back. A few years ago we started our own real estate brokerage. We focus on property management and leasing. I continue to manage my real estate portfolio here in Florida and Atlanta. “ Visit Hank’s website here.