Wrecked by Neglect: Rental Property Upkeep


Every now and then we revisit this article about heating and cooling equipment maintenance because let’s face it, when it comes to the upkeep of your rental, the buck stops with you!

Monroe, Washington is a pretty little town in the Snohomish River Valley. A while back our company installed a new furnace and air filtration system for one of its homeowners. Sometime later I returned to that same home as a service technician because the furnace wasn’t working. It turns out the home was sold shortly after our install and was now a rental. So, who cares? Apparently, no one. Within minutes I discovered the filtration system we installed had never been maintained since the purchase of the home.

It was clear the no-heat circumstance the renter found herself in was easily avoidable. With the owner’s permission I gladly showed the renter the simple steps needed to maintain a filter. What amazed me was this person’s lack of interest. She couldn’t have cared less and in fact stated it was the owner’s problem, not hers. Wait a minute. Wasn't she the one without heat in the middle of winter? Clearly, I was trying to help her to maintain heat in the home she was renting, but she wanted no part of learning how one simple thing could keep the heat going for her.

Thankfully the equipment was so new, no other problems existed. I replaced the filter and shared some preventative recommendations with the owner, knowing full well the indifference of the renter had already doomed this furnace to fail again unless proactive steps were taken.

This is just one illustration of the "all-too-common" sentiment renters have towards the heating and cooling equipment they live with. The worst part is the long-term effects of treating a furnace like this shortens the life span of the equipment and causes other problems and unsafe conditions that go beyond just a dirty filter.

Now I know property owners don’t want to pay a company to repair a furnace just because a filter never got changed, but as a service technician I see this time and time again. Even though there were some property owners who didn’t want to hear recommendations to help protect their equipment, I would still beat that drum relentlessly, especially in a rental home situation.

Here are some recommendations:

1. Maintenance

Spending extra money to get a guy out there to “find problems” on something that is already working is a legitimate fear. So have your HVAC equipment properly maintained by a trusted professional who will do the complete maintenance on the equipment.

Read reviews of the company, check out their business philosophy and how long they’ve been around, and look them up on the Better Business Bureau. When you call a company for maintenance ask them what is done during the maintenance. Make sure it is a complete maintenance and not just an inspection. Be leery of the lowest price.

Remember, you are dealing with high voltage equipment or combustible fuel equipment, sometimes both. Maintenance should be performed according to the manufacturer’s instructions on all equipment. Here are a few key components of a complete maintenance:

  1. Checking for Carbon Monoxide within the home (for fuel burning equipment)
  2. Checking for proper combustion of fuel burning equipment
  3. Cleaning burners on gas equipment
  4. Check the operation of all controls
  5. Adjusting gas manifold pressure
  6. Inspecting the filter system
  7. Checking for proper current and amp draws on equipment

You should receive a comprehensive report after the maintenance so you can see what was checked and evaluate the condition of the HVAC equipment.

2. Filters

Have the maintenance company tech change or maintain the filters while he or she is on-site. If you or your tenant plan on replacing the filters, ask the tech to evaluate the system and suggest ways to make maintenance easier and less frequent. If the system requires quarterly filter replacement, have them bring out all the filters at once. In my experience, the easier it is to maintain the system, the more likely filters will be replaced. Some filter systems require tools to access, reaching around motors and electrical components, and/or reaching around sharp sheet metal. In this instance, it might be best to have your service tech perform the maintenance.

3. Training

A good technician will want to train those living in the home how to maintain their filter. Some companies have a strict policy (like we do) not to discuss the job with renters without direct permission from the owner of the property or property management company. If you've decided to have the renter help with maintenance, require them to be home during the maintenance on a furnace, boiler, heat pump, or air conditioner and ask the technician to train the renter how to maintain their filter system… every time.

Maintenance is a key component to the overall operating cost, longevity, frequency of repairs, and safety of equipment. Maintenance should be done on every piece of HVAC equipment at least annually, whether it is a furnace, heat pump, air conditioner, or boiler. Going year after year without even having the filter changed, can cause unnecessary repairs and a shorter life span of the equipment. So, who cares if equipment is properly maintained in your rental home? Hopefully it's you!

Bruce is a second-generation plumber and HVAC technician. He earned his Commercial Plumbing License and later became N.A.T.E. Certified and E.P.A. Refrigerant Certified for HVAC service and repair for commercial and residential HVAC appliances. Bruce has years of experience as an HVAC Technician, Boiler Technician, and Plumber. He is now General Manager for the company he has been with his entire career and oversees the Plumbing, Heating, and Air Conditioning business for Day & Nite Plumbing & Heating, Inc.