Partners and Suppliers Steve Barnes 20/12/2022

The complete guide to protecting your property from claims in 2023

Many of the issues landlords experience can be prevented through a combination of regular maintenance, periodic inspections, and clear communication with tenants. But unfortunately, no matter how well prepared you are, the unexpected can still happen. As insurance partner to the NRLA, Total Landlord, has written several guides for NRLA members, which are packed with advice to help landlords understand more about the most common causes of claims and how to prevent incidents occurring in the first place.

 But what are the biggest risks landlords are likely to face when it comes to their rental properties? And what can you do to protect yourself and your investment as a new year unfolds? In this guide, Total Landlord share their top tips for protecting your property from the seven most common and costly claims.

1. Escape of water and burst pipes

The most common claim we see at Total Landlord is for ‘escape of water’ – the technical term used to describe a leak arising from within the property caused by things like a burst pipe, a faulty washing machine or a leaking toilet. Even a small leak can cause significant damage, leading to flooding and mould. Escape of water consistently accounts for over a third of all claims paid out at Total Landlord, and some of these have reached eyewatering amounts. The highest claim we ever paid out for escape of water was for £145,855 after a slow leak underneath a bath rotted the flooring in a building. Most escape of water claims – around 70% - are down to a burst pipe. Fortunately, there are some simple preventative steps landlords can take to minimise the risk of a burst pipe.

Escape of water and flooding

Top tips to prevent burst pipes

  • Check for leaks as part of regular inspections
  • Lag any internal pipes that are located in the colder areas of the property and insulate external pipes to protect them against frost, using foam sleeving
  • Seal any air leaks that are allowing cold air to enter your property where pipes are located, for example around dryer vents
  • Get the boiler serviced every 12 months before winter to prevent breakdowns during cold spells, and make sure you arrange an annual gas safety check
  • Set the thermostat to 13 °C, day and night, between November and April if the property is unoccupied, for example if your tenants are going on holiday
  • Make sure that your tenants know they should contact you as soon as they spot any damage, such as leaks or a blocked toilet, and provide them with the details of a trusted emergency plumber
  • Ask tenants to turn off the water mains at the stopcock if they are going away

For more guidance, read Total Landlord’s NRLA guide, The complete guide to preventing burst pipes in your rental property.

2. Storm damage

Storm claims are our second most common claim type at Total Landlord. Although over the last five years they have accounted for less than half the amount of claims than escape of water (around 13%), as severe weather events and named storms are becoming more commonplace, they have almost doubled in this time, making storm damage one of our top three most increasing claim types. The average storm damage claim is for around £2,500 and the vast majority of claims are for roof damage, typically as a result of high winds causing tiles to fall off the roof. February is the peak month for storm damage claims, so it’s a good idea to prepare your rental property to limit the impact of storms in advance of this time of year.

Top tips to prevent storm damage

  • Include an external inspection, in daylight, on visits to your rental property, paying particular attention to loose roof tiles, guttering, downpipes and trees
  • Once or twice a year, clear gutters and drains of debris (late autumn is a good time to do this), trim trees (this is best done in winter when the leaves are gone), inspect the roof and carry out repairs and check that windows and doors are watertight and secure
  • Make sure fence panels are properly secured as they are usually excluded from insurance policies
  • Check that garden gates are secure and kept closed
  • Check the Met Office weather forecast regularly to make sure you are prepared and can take extra precautions if you know a storm is approaching

For more guidance on how to protect your rental property from storm damage, read Total Landlord’s NRLA guide, The complete guide to protecting your rental property from storms.

3. Flooding

One of the consequences of the increase in the severity and ferocity of storms is a rise in flood claims, which have been increasing year on year. Flooding is one of the top three increasing claim types at Total Landlord, and with the average flood claim totalling a whopping £13,739, floods represent the second highest average claim payment (after fire). One of the highest claims Total Landlord ever paid out was for a flood caused by storm Desmond, when tenants had to be evacuated after an entire street was flooded. The total cost of the claim mounted to a staggering £143,755. With unsettled weather on the increase, particularly the rise in flash floods that occur with very little warning, it’s important that landlords do all they can to reduce the risks and impact of flooding in their properties.

Top tips to prevent flooding

  • Check your risk of flooding at GOV.UK
  • Particularly if the property is in an area known to be at higher risk of flooding, there are a number of preventative measures landlords can take:
    • Use permeable paving surfaces, install water-resistant windows, doors and flooring instead of carpets and wooden floors, and use waterproof wall sealant
    • Keep lightweight, modern versions of sandbags for tenants to use to stop water entering through exterior doors and vents
    • Install non-return valves for toilets and sewer pipes, to prevent water from backing up into the property if groundwater rises (particularly in properties susceptible to sewage overflow)
    • If a property is very high risk, it may be worth having a built-in sump and pump system to pump out water from below floor level
  • Make sure tenants know to make you aware of any maintenance issues that may increase the risk of damage if there were to be a flood
  • If your property is in a high flood risk location, talk to your tenants in person about what to do in the event of a flood, and provide them with this information in writing in their information pack
  • Make sure tenants know how to turn off the gas, electricity and water
  • Be sure to carry out regular maintenance, as flood insurance does not cover maintenance issues, damage occurring gradually over time or any pre-existing damage or wear and tear
  • Keep drains and gutters clear of debris so that, in the event of a flood, water is enabled to run away from the property

For more guidance on how to protect your rental property from flooding, read Total Landlord’s NRLA guide, The complete guide to protecting your rental property from flooding.

4. Accidental damage

Despite landlords’ best efforts to carry out regular maintenance and provide a safe home for their tenants, accidents will happen. In fact, as well as being our third most common claim at Total Landlord, accidental damage is also one of our top three increasing claim types and accounts for one of our highest ever payouts - £135,665 - for the structural failure of a section of a property. ‘Accidental damage’ can be defined as damage that occurs suddenly, as a result of an unintentional act from an unexpected and unforeseen action. It could be anything from a child kicking a ball through the window to a tenant banging a nail into a water pipe. Even if the accidental damage was caused by the tenants, it is the landlord’s responsibility to pay for the repairs. Although the causes are wide ranging and difficult predict, there are some actions landlords can take to reduce the risks and impact of accidental damage.

Tops tips to prevent accidental damage

  • Regular and thorough property maintenance is key to reducing the risks of accidental damage
  • Vet tenants carefully through a robust referencing process, and carry out regular inspections (this will also make sure you don’t invalidate your insurance policy if you need to make a claim)
  • Make sure tenants know to report any accidental damage to you as soon as possible, so that you can carry out any repairs promptly
  • Make sure tenants know that they are responsible for providing their own contents insurance
  • Accidental damage cover isn’t always offered as standard so it’s vital to check whether it’s included in your landlord insurance policy, and to take out extra protection if needed

For more guidance on how to protect your rental property from accidental damage, read Total Landlord’s NRLA guide, The complete guide to accidental damage insurance.

5. Break-in

In the UK, burglary following a break-in is one of the most common crimes committed, with an estimated one burglary happening every 108 seconds. Rented properties are generally less secure than owner-occupied properties due to the higher turnover of occupants. Fortunately, there are quite a few obvious things that both landlords and tenants can do to protect themselves from break-in, which is the fourth most common claim at Total Landlord. Although landlords are ultimately responsible for keeping their rental property safe and secure, it’s in both tenants’ and landlords’ interests to work together to minimise the risk of break-ins. Going the extra mile to maintain a good relationship with tenants so that you can establish clear expectations and lines of communication, can help protect your property and your tenants from break-in. The more precautions you both take, the more effort required by a would-be intruder, and the more likely they are to get caught.


Top tips to prevent break-in

  • Install good quality doors with deadbolts and locks – we recommend five-lever mortice deadlocks where possible. A chain and peephole on the front door will provide peace of mind and an extra layer of security to tenants
  • A smart doorbell can help increase security by detecting motion
  • Install window locks which can be operated from the inside, particularly on the ground and first floors
  • Make sure you change passwords on any digital locks between tenancies
  • A burglar alarm is an effective deterrent – visual alarm systems that combine a sonic alarm with a visual deterrent such as flashing lights are the most effective
  • Use motion sensors outside the property to illuminate dark areas and detect the movement of any intruder, and keep shrubs and trees well-trimmed to deter would be intruders from attempting to hide or using trees to gain access through upstairs windows
  • Create a ‘noisy’ front garden by having a gravel driveway and a front gate
  • Get to know the neighbours - communities that work together are much more likely to be vigilant and notice anything out of the ordinary
  • Make sure your tenants know they should report any security issues to you immediately so that you can rectify them as promptly as possible
  • Talk your tenant through any security measures and give them to your tenant as part of a ‘welcome pack’ along with the tenancy agreement and inventory. This could include:
    • Making sure they activate any security systems when they go out
    • Asking them to pay particular attention to garden security
    • Keeping valuables out of view
    • Making sure they lock all doors and windows
    • Letting you know if they are going to be leaving the property empty

For more guidance on how to protect your rental property from break-ins, read Total Landlord’s NRLA guide, The complete guide to protecting your property from break-ins.

6. Subsidence

Subsidence is the downward movement of the ground beneath the property, which can make the foundations unstable. Subsidence claims, like those for storm damage, are on the rise due to climate change, and while they only account for around seven percent of all Total Landlord’s claims, they have one of the highest average payouts of all claims, at almost £7,000 per claim. It’s important for landlords and tenants to be aware of the warning signs of subsidence, as treatment sooner rather than later is critical to stop it from escalating. You can find out more about how to spot subsidence and what to do about it in Total Landlord’s guide, here.

Top tips to prevent subsidence

  • Check the surveyor’s report for signs of subsidence before buying a buy to let property
  • Be extra vigilant if your property is built on clay soil - properties in the south east, where most of the ground is clay or part clay, are most susceptible to subsidence
  • Clear gutters and down pipes and make sure drainage systems are well maintained, to prevent water leaking into the soil beneath the property
  • Avoid planting any trees or shrubs close to the property, by making sure that they are at least five to ten metres from the building
  • Remove any trees that are too close to the property, and regularly prune tree branches
  • Investigate any cracks in the walls promptly
  • Look out for any cracks, particularly following hot weather, during regular inspections

For more guidance on how to protect your rental property from subsidence, read Total Landlord’s NRLA guide, The complete guide to protecting your property from subsidence.

7. Fire

Fortunately, fire claims are rare – only around four percent of all the claims Total Landlord receives are for fire. But while they are not common, fire claims are costly, topping the list for average payouts at a hefty £22,558. And, according to Firemark, people who live in rented or shared accommodation are seven times more likely to experience a fire. Tenant education is very important when it comes to fire safety, but landlords, particularly those renting out HMOs, have a number of legal responsibilities. For example, providing smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, making sure that furniture and furnishings supplied are fire safe, making sure tenants have access to escape routes, carrying out regular portable appliance testing, making sure that all gas fittings are well maintained and in good condition and that annual safety checks are carried out by a Gas Safe registered tradesperson. For full up to date guidance on fire safety requirements, refer to GOV.UK.  


Top tips to prevent fire

  • Carry out a fire safety risk assessment, through a third party fire safety specialist if necessary
  • Make sure all smoke and CO alarms are working at the start of the tenancy and ask tenants to check them on a monthly basis. It’s also a good idea to check them during inspections and keep a written record that you have done this
  • Install fire doors in high-risk rooms such as the kitchen, to prevent fire spreading
  • Make sure tenants know how to exit the property and include a clear emergency exit plan in their information pack
  • Make sure that electrical safety checks are carried out, and warn tenants about overloading sockets
  • Extinguishers and fire blankets are not legally required in single-let rented properties, only HMOs, but it’s a good idea to provide them in case of an emergency
  • Ban smoking inside and either ban candles too or make sure your tenants know how to burn them safely

For more guidance on how to protect your rental property from fire, read Total Landlord’s NRLA guide, The complete guide to protecting your property from fire.

The seven scenarios we’ve explored here are not an exhaustive list. For example, claims for malicious damage are not only on the rise, but also account for one of the highest average claims amounts, at over £6,000 per claim. And one of the highest claims we’ve ever paid out at Total Landlord was for liability, at just short of £100,000.

But if you follow the advice offered here, you can rest assured that you are starting the year on the right foot and reducing the risks of some of the most common and costly claims we receive at Total Landlord. Forewarned is forearmed – if you know what the most common claims are, you can take action, for example by lagging pipes and making sure the roof tiles are secure. As we’ve seen, the best way to reduce risks is to make sure you carry out thorough tenant referencing, regular inspections and maintenance, and establish a good working relationship and clear lines of communication with your tenants. By dealing with any issues promptly, you can often prevent minor problems escalating into bigger ones and eating into your profits.

But of course, prevention can never be guaranteed. Having tenants living in a property is considered higher risk than an owner-occupied property, so most buy to let mortgage lenders will require landlords to have appropriate insurance in place. And since normal home insurance won’t cover you for the risks associated with renting out your property, it’s a good idea to take out specialist landlord insurance that will provide comprehensive cover for rental-specific events, such as malicious damage by tenants or their guests. NRLA property insurance provider, Total Landlord, has a dedicated in-house claims team of expert advisers who are on hand to help you should the worst happen.

Steve Barnes

Steve Barnes Head of Broking, Total Landlord

Steve Barnes has worked with landlords and leading landlord associations for over 25 years and oversees the HFIS group as Head of Broking for Total Landlord. Our award winning landlord insurance offering has been providing comprehensive cover for landlords since 1996. Whether you have a single property or a portfolio, Total Landlord has a property insurance policy that will give you value for money and the required protection to support your business requirements. Our dedicated claims team of expert advisers deal with more than 82% of claims in-house and provide customers with a sole point of contact should the worst happen. Named 'Best Landlord Insurance Provider' five times at the Insurance Choice Awards and with a rating of 4.8 out of five on Smart Money People, you can rest assured that you are in safe hands.

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