Q. I rent out a small house to a couple who like to do a lot of Christmas decorating. They string lights around the perimeter of the roof and in outdoor trees that are close to the house. Inside they light the Christmas tree, wreathes, and garlands. They leave the lights on all day and all night. During the daytime hours, they are both away from the house and I am concerned that if a fire should start it would go unnoticed until there was a blaze. Nothing about Christmas decorations or lights was mentioned in the lease they signed in March when no one was thinking about the holidays. I think the lights should in some way be tested and certainly turned off when no one is home. Also, electricity cost is included in their rent…should there be an additional assessment for all the extra electricity consumption?
A. Wow, this is a great question for this time of the year. There are two issues here…electricity costs and safety. Let’s talk about the electricity costs first. When electricity is included in the rent it is always a
good idea to cap the amount you are willing to pay. For example, if you know that ‘normal’ usage is about $80 a month, then include in the lease that tenant will be responsible for paying any amount over $100. The amount can vary, so we usually cap it at 25 percent of the normal usage. That discourages tenants from running the A/C all day long – or keeping Christmas lights on all the time! If you don’t currently have a provision like that, then the next time you extend the lease you can add it. Otherwise, you are helping to spread the Christmas cheer!
Safety. Christmas trees account for over 200 fires annually, resulting in six deaths, 25 injuries, and more than $6 million in property damage. Typically shorts in electrical lights or open flames from candles, lighters, or matches start tree fires…and dried out trees are particularly susceptible. Leaving the lights on all day and all night is not a good idea.
According to Standard Term S, Item 1, tenants cannot make alterations to the unit without your permission. I would go to them and point this out. Give them permission, in writing, to hang the lights as long as they are turned off while they are not there. Outdoor lights should be plugged into a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet and the tenants should make sure the sockets and plugs are not cracked and cords are not frayed, split, or crushed. Also, they should avoid using an excessive number of extension cords. Suggest that they use surge protectors and make sure they do not run cords under rugs. Light strings and extension cords should never be nailed! Ask the tenants if they have inspected each decoration for bare or loose wires, cracked plugs or sockets, etc. And finally, all trees, real or not, should be kept away from sources of heat as well as entrances and exits. – Carl L. Frazier (R)
Answers to questions in Landlord Tenant Q&A, a weekly feature, are provided by members of the Oahu Chapter of the National Association of Residential Property Managers (NARPM).
NARPM is the only real estate organization dedicated exclusively to residential property management. Its stated mission is to support the professional and ethical practices of rental home management through networking, education, and certification. The organization is now represented in approximately 24 states and has a total membership of over 2,000.
The Oahu Chapter, founded in 2004, has become the largest in the nation with 145 registered members.
Disclaimer: The answers provided in this column by Realtors address individual cases and should not be construed as interpretations of the law. For specific information on Hawaii State Law, go to http:// hawaii.gov / dcca / areas / ocp / landlord_ tenant or contact your attorney.
Principal Broker, Cornerstone Properties
Past President, Oahu Chapter National Association of Residential Property Managers
The owner and founder of Cornerstone Properties, Carl Frazier has been a Property Manager for 15 years and a licensed Realtor since 1988. The company, located in Aiea Town Square, manages over 500 units of houses, town-houses, and condos with four Property Managers and a staff of eight. He is a Charter Member, Director, Past President of the Oahu Chapter of the National Association of Residential Property Managers, and a speaker at this year’s National Convention.