How to Handle After Hours Tenant Calls

Maxitrol Gas Pressure RegulatorOne of the most hated items of being a landlord are the after hours tenant calls, or calls in the middle of the night.  Keep in mind, it is also one of the tenant’s most dreaded items too, calling their landlord after hours.  They do not like to be up with building issues any more than you do.  Here is a recent example of a call that might be a disaster to some landlords, or routine for others.

I had just moved some tenants out, and moved in new ones in for July 1.  The apartment turnovers went well.  One tenant could have cleaned a bit better and will get a $150 deduction from the security deposit (they do not know it yet…); but the other tenant did a pretty good job and will get all of their security deposit back.  They even replaced some items in the apartment that their kid broke; things like mini-blinds, door knobs and refrigerator shelves and handles.  This is the way good tenants handle things, they fix stuff they broke.

Generally, when a new tenant moves in, you get a few calls right away.  Most of the time the calls are questions about how to do things.  They want to know where the community mailbox is, what day is trash day, how do I handle rent receipts, etc.  These calls are easily handed via text, email or a phone call.

I happened to be on the phone long distance with a friend of mine from Massachusetts, someone I went to high school with many moons ago.  (Tangent:  Is any phone call really long distance these days with free long distance?  Area codes mean nothing anymore; you can have different area codes for someone across the street from you.  It wasn’t that long ago long distance meant extra charges and don’t interrupt the call for anything but an emergency…)

I was talking to my friend’s wife about their rental property they were selling.  They only had one property, about a mile from where they live, and there were too many headaches.  This was mainly due to renting to a niece.  They had several great renters, but decided that it was time to give up after this one bad one.  As I was in that conversation, I had three calls from two different renters, from the same building.  When I got the second call from the same tenant in the space of about five minutes, I knew something was up.  So I bailed on the call with my friend and ‘sprung to action’ like a Super Hero Landlord!

I immediately returned the call to the renter that called twice.  They said there was a gas leak in their apartment and they called 911.  They also had evacuated the building.  I immediately drove up to my building to assess the situation.  At that time, it was about 8 PM.  When I got there, there were two fire trucks and a police car.  Many residents were outside the building looking at the ‘Circus’.  The firemen had already called the gas company, who were on their way.

I asked the firemen how serious the gas leak was.  They said they could smell the gas, but their handheld detectors could not pick up any.  The windows and doors were open, ventilating the apartment.  The firemen said they have a gas detector that costs ~$5K, and the gas company has a more sensitive one that costs $25K.  They said when the gas company arrives, the gas company can give a better assessment.  I told them that I would be leery of carrying around a $5K piece of equipment, let alone a $25K piece of equipment.  So we waited for a few minutes for the gas company to arrive.

When the gas company arrived, they determined that the leak was coming from a gas pressure regulator.  Once in a while, due to excess pressure, a weak spring, a piece of debris under the valve, or who knows what, a regulator will leak some gas.  There was never any real danger, although one could argue it was more dangerous that if the regulator was not leaking.  They said the regulator should be replaced.  The guy did not have one in his truck, or he could have replaced it right then.  It would have been ~$100 during the day, but since this was the evening, it would be higher, but he did not have the part available with him.

He shut off the gas inside the apartment due to their new policy.  He said that a year ago, the policy would be he could keep the gas on, and just tell me to fix it.  So, the tenants were without hot water until it was fixed.  They had a full hot water heater, but once that ran out, it was cold water.

The part needed is a Maxitrol 325-1 pressure regulator.  That is a generic regulator that costs ~$30 and takes less than an hour to install.  I purchased one and installed it the next day.  It was a pretty easy fix, assuming you have the necessary tools.  Just make sure you install it with the arrow facing the right direction.  That saved at least ~$100 or so.

When you install gas piping, or anything that connects to gas piping, never use Teflon tape on any pipe joints.  Use only a pipe joint compound.  I use a Teflon pipe thread sealer that is white in color.  It is messy, but it does a great job.  A Teflon tape could flake off small parts and those parts could get stuck in any orifice inside the furnace or hot water heater.

Test the joints with a bit of gas leak detector, or soapy water.  Gas is only ~2 PSI, so it doesn’t take too much to hold it in.  If the pipe leaks, you have a potential for a major issue.  Always test for leaks.

Have you ever had a major issue in your rentals, or place you rented?

7 Replies to “How to Handle After Hours Tenant Calls”

  1. Interesting post, Eric. Practical and educational. I didn’t realize that was the reason not to use Teflon tape for gas pipes. Thank you.

    Only major issues I’ve had have been clogged drain and water overflow issues (I hate the destructive power of water and more so the insidious slow, imperceptible ones).

    I’ve had plenty of tenants who did not respect my property and some horrific pet issues (I don’t generally allow them anymore).

    I just don’t want to mess with this stuff directly anymore, so I have been using a property manager to handle for some years now. I’ll sometimes get an email asking If I personally want to handle a minor issue. Last week for example. Tenant called complaining stove went out and wasn’t working. Do you want to check it out or you want us to send an appliance repairman?
    I wasn’t busy so I ran over there. I looked it over, went out back and reset the breaker. Problem solved. How much did that 20 minutes save me?

    1. Thank you for the comment!

      I am fortunate that I live within three miles of most of my rentals, within eight miles for the other four. Most issues are very easy to resolve, and can be fixed over the phone. Some require a bit of hands on skills and some tools, but are easy as well.

      Each call saves $100, for someone to get over there and diagnose the situation. You may be able to charge them back to the tenant, or not. And the tenant might get mad and leave over $100.

      Good tenants generally have decent pets. Stay away from marginal tenants and the pet issue seems to go away.

  2. It could have been a lot worse. It worked out that you were able to do it the next day like that. We haven’t ever really had issues like that. It’s mostly small things. I am always happy when my tenants call me, but they usually should have called sooner. I want to be able to fix the problem ASAP, as I’m sure you do as well.

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