Don’t Touch That Dial!

I dislike the winter months, personally and in my rental business.  I get away to warm weather whenever I get the chance — yes, we landlords do take vacations!  The key is having a trustworthy maintenance person to take care of emergencies while you’re gone.

I detest the cold weather in my rental business for two reasons: frozen pipes and heat bills.  If you’ve read my book, The Landlord Chronicles: Investing in Low and Middle Income Rentals, you know I write a tenant letter at the end of every month and hand deliver it, along with pre-addressed, pre-stamped envelopes for my tenants to send in their next month’s rent payments.  (Many of them pay bi-weekly.)  In that letter, I remind them to run a thin stream of water from all faucets when the temperature dips below 15 degrees.  Most of them remember to do this.  That monthly letter serves as a great reminder for a myriad of issues that arise at the rentals, from noise issues between tenants, to changes in trash pick-up days, etc.

For years, I battled the heat bill horror.  At many of my multi-family rental houses, the heat wasn’t metered separately, so the tenants couldn’t pay their own bill.  It’s on one meter and I paid it, and I simply charged higher rent to help cover the cost of the heat bill. 

This is fine except when I ended up paying for some of my tenants to be oh, so comfortable in their t-shirts, shorts and bare feet, while it’s 10 degrees outside.  How could this be, you ask?  Why, they just cranked up the thermostat to about 85 degrees, and that took the chill right off.  When I’d drop by and they’d greet me at the door in their summer attire, I just wanted to scream. 

In my tenant letters, I admonished everyone to keep the thermostats at 72 — don’t touch that dial! — and many of them followed my suggestion, since I hinted that higher heat bills would most likely result in higher rents.  But there were always a few that just wouldn’t stick with it.  I was complaining about this problem to my furnace guy and he solved the problem — Accustats!

I’d never heard of them but now I have them everywhere I pay the heat bill.  There is no dial, just an on/off switch.  When it’s in the “on” position, it heats up to 72 degrees, and when that temperature is reached, the furnace kicks off.  What a beautiful thing!  Now, my high heat bill nightmares are gone and my homes are certainly warm enough.  I think 72 degrees is generous; the gas co. recommends 68, and you can purchase different temperature sticks for the Accustat.

For cooler rooms, I allow my tenants to use small, safe space heaters, and for rooms that may get too warm, I give them heat vent covers, which can be bought inexpensively at any home improvement store.

I try to keep costs down for myself, so that I can keep rents at a reasonable level for my tenants.  The Accustat solution saved me a ton of money and, in turn, saved my tenants as well . . . I didn’t have to raise rents to cover the high heat bills after all . . .

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