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Xenia's property management quick Tip - Fan heaters and circuit breakers

Discussion in 'Property Management' started by Xenia, 1st Aug, 2016.

  1. Xenia

    Xenia Adelaide Property Manager Business Member

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    Every season brings new challenges to the property management industry and in winter it's dealing with tenants tampering with fuse wires.

    It happens - tenants will replace fuse wire within circuit breakers with something harder wearing like copper wire.
    Yes it is malicious damage to the property
    Yes it does pose a danger to the tenants lives and increase the risk of fire within a house.
    Yes it is a breach of lease
    Yes tenants need to pay all associated electricians bills to rectify any damage caused to the house or electrical wiring as a result of this behaviour.

    So why do they do it?
    The common scenario is an unheated house, this is more common in houses where there is no heating or reverse cycle air conditioning.
    Tenants will use fan heaters in multiple rooms to warm the house.
    A normal (modern) circuit board can take 16 -20 Amps. Multiple fan heaters operating at the same time will exceed the limit and cause the circuit to break.

    Off course this is a protective mechanism suggesting that the board is overloaded. Despite this, tenant sometimes get fed up with replacing fuses and will instead replace the fuse wire with copper so that they can continue to use the fan heaters without the circuit breaker interfering with their ability to warm the house.

    This almost always ends in disaster, the circuit gets overheated and because the circuit cannot break at the weak point - the fuse, it finds the next weak point ie - a power point within a house and will cause damage there.

    Property managers need to be weary of call outs for:
    light globes exploding
    Power points sparking or catching on fire
    Ovens or other appliances over heating to the point where they are glowing hot and cant be turned off.
    any other call outs for out of the ordinary electrical repairs

    Our office policy is to first check fuse boxes to determine if anyone has tampered with the wires. There have been two incidences in the past month where tenants were found to tamper with the fuse wire. Property managers will not know this unless they have checked, it is not OK to just repair the electrical items without knowing how they are caused.
    If it is determined that the tenant is tampering with the electricity, there are consequences and one of them is that the call out and associated costs are not the landlords expense but the tenants.

    Check first - it does happen within rentals, I know because we check.
     
  2. Joynz

    Joynz Well-Known Member

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    The solution is a switch board upgrade - including safety switches.

    Or if that is too expensive (my upgrade cost $800), at very least replace the fuses with the modern 'plug in' circuit breakers with switches that pop up when overloaded instead of wires.

    These are inexpensive.
     
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  3. D.T.

    D.T. Adelaide Property Manager Business Member

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    Check if up to date box at listing.
     
  4. DaveM

    DaveM Adelaide Buyers Agent & KFC Strategist Business Member

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    Part of my inspections as a BA is to check the board for age, condition and presence of rcd protection.

    You cant skimp on electrical safety as its peoples lives at stake. At a minimum personally I replace fuses with slot in breakers, and add rcd
     
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  5. sash

    sash Well-Known Member

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    Are you a licensed electrician?........I would want a electrician to give me the low down....

    Too many people out there being suckered into replacing stuff which is perfectly legal.....

    For the record even the Building Inspectors have an out clause when it comes to issues with Electricals or Plumbing.

    I personally leave this my agents...to make the call. A good agent should be able to detect any mischief if they have been around a while by the tenants. There have been cases where tenants have changed electricals without the owner knowing....
     
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  6. sash

    sash Well-Known Member

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    Absolutely correct.....lots of tradies conning people....the safety switch is the essential item which a real estate agent would cover off. Usually an inexpensive fix.
     
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  7. DaveM

    DaveM Adelaide Buyers Agent & KFC Strategist Business Member

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    You dont need to be a licensed electrician to look at a board and see what is there. New board with breakers vs old asbestos/ausbestos backed with ceramic fuses, presence of rcd protection etc, all obvious to an experienced eye.

    From there if the client proceeds they know that a rewire, new board etc may be needed and to allow for it in their budget or get a quote before going unconditional.

    Legal vs practical are two different things. Replacing ceramic fuses with slot in breakers is a cheap solution which helps prevent electrician callouts for no power, and far easier for a PM to get a tenant to check/reset than pulling out fuses and replacing fuse wire.
     
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  8. Xenia

    Xenia Adelaide Property Manager Business Member

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    This is not about having proper switches, it's about understanding the property at exactly where it is at and informing owners of any unethical, malicious behaviour by the tenant. Also putting the responsibilty and repair costs back onto the tenant.

    Most PMs would just bill the landlord for burnt power points without looking at the costs.

    And as for just ringing my landlords and saying "well you should have just had one of those modern power boards with flick switches and this would not have happened" NO that's just blame and I won't go there, I don't run my business this way!

    Yes I can suggest improvements but each property is individual and needs to be managed exactly how it is not how I want it to be
     
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  9. Greyghost

    Greyghost Well-Known Member

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    As my property manager I would expect suggestions like that....

    House is cold.
    Tenant uses heaters
    Fuses blow...

    It's cause and effect..
    What do you expect them to sit in the cold with a blanket? They are also paying good money to be in the house.

    1. Fuses blowing due to heater usage
    2. Suggest installing split system heater or something like that
    3. Fuses may still go, due to split system usage
    4. Back to where we started...

    Houses had 1 power point per room in the 70's. Had 1 lamp if we were lucky.

    These days, iPhones, plasma tv, lights, heaters, fans, etc etc etc.. Something has to give on these old houses.

    Extreme to ask for modern wiring to be installed but I see no issue whatsoever with suggesting either:
    1. Safety switches be installed in all properties as a policy or
    2. Review of entire power board and obtain a group price discount for getting a bunch modernised..

    To be safety switch is a given.. A power board review is good management suggestion IMO.

    Nothing to do with pushing tradies on to property owners, but many landlords may not be aware thier property doesn't have something as basic as a safety switch...

    But back to the original post, it's cause and effect in relation to power usage by the tenant. Overuse by them and outdated hardware in the property..
     
  10. sash

    sash Well-Known Member

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    All I can say is not thanks.....would rather have a professional opinion in case...it goes down a legal or tribunal angle. You could be charged with criminal negligence if you get this wrong....guess what...you could also void your insurance.

    Maybe is it my practical and risk averse side...but I would rather have a evidence I tried to resolve this and got proper advice. The ramifications if you get this wrong and something happens is not great......
     
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  11. hobo

    hobo Well-Known Member

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    How could you be charged with negligence for simply suggesting it? From my reading, @DaveM isnt saying he would do the actual INSTALLATION of any new board himself.... so where would he have been negligent??
     
    Last edited: 2nd Aug, 2016
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  12. WattleIdo

    WattleIdo renovating Premium Member

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    Great thread with various useful points made by all. I have a handyman who likes to play wiht the fuses - quite annoying. Sparkie offered to replace some with RCD. Now I will agree to this.
    Heating is a problem when there are several small rooms seperated from each other. Tried gas but couldn't stand it. May have to install wood burner - but where?
     
  13. DaveM

    DaveM Adelaide Buyers Agent & KFC Strategist Business Member

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    Do you get an electrician out to any house you want to buy for a professional opinion on if the switchboard is OK? If not why not? You would then open yourself up to all those items you point out yourself. Same for getting a plumber to test gas supply etc etc. You could look at it yourself and say "yeah looks ok" or not even look at it at all before you rent it, then it gets a fault and burns down.

    I am not suggesting that if a house has electrical problems to go out and do a DIY hack job. Slot in breakers to replace fuses are legal and straight forward, but should not be used in an instance where an old board needs replacing regardless... you cant put lipstick on a pig, so to speak.
     
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  14. WattleIdo

    WattleIdo renovating Premium Member

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    It's information I would appreciate from someone researching a property for me, for sure!
     
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  15. DaveM

    DaveM Adelaide Buyers Agent & KFC Strategist Business Member

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    Yes its an observation based on experience, not a professional opinion of compliance. If there is any obvious signs of poor electrical installation or DIY hacks I recommend an electrician be engaged to assess and issue a compliance certificate. Can assist with decision making for clients, if signficant issues are apparent and 3-5k needed on rewiring.

    As a side note, in SA, you actually cant connect power to a property which has been disconnected >12 months without an electrician issuing a compliance certificate. SAPN policy.
     
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  16. Xenia

    Xenia Adelaide Property Manager Business Member

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    Sometimes you just need to advise clients about the issues and risks concerning their property as it is.

    Not every landlord wants to upgrade switchboards.
     
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  17. Xenia

    Xenia Adelaide Property Manager Business Member

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    As an additional note, insurance will consider this deliberate damage to property. The cost of rewiring back to a safe standard is un claimable.

    Any fire or damage resulting from tenants tampering with the wiring however is claimable.
     
  18. Zepth

    Zepth Member

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    How do you prove it was the current tenants that changed the fuse wire and are the cause of 'malicious damage'?

    In the past I have been in a rental where the owner was the previous occupier. I found that every fuse from light circuit to oven circuit had been wired with 32A oven fuse wire.

    Lucky I, as a tenant, decided to check. But most wouldn't and it isn't exactly a condition report checklist item
     
  19. Xenia

    Xenia Adelaide Property Manager Business Member

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    You really can't prove it if you haven't checked.

    I'm glad you know what I'm talking about - people do have a tendancy to change the wiring. Shocking that it was the owner though.,
     
  20. Anthony416

    Anthony416 Active Member

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    All good advice here. My comment would be that if the plug in circuit breakers were installed, they would still trip where 3 fan heaters were on simultaneously (say 3 x 2400 watts for example).

    So the tenant would be out resetting the circuit breaker, which is easier than re-wiring a fuse holder, but still they would come to the point where they would get sick of that and buy a bigger rating plug in circuit breaker and then the original issue is there again.

    The safety switches look a leakage to earth mainly rather than over current so there may be some situations where they may not give the safety in relation to fire risk.