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Managing Electrical Issues for Rental Properties

Key Takeaways

  • Have the lights been flickering around your rental property? Or maybe you’ve noticed outlets that are warm to the touch. These are all telltale signs of potential electrical issues that could cost you.
  • Other common electrical pitfalls to watch out for include loose-fitting outlets, forgotten or unattended cooking, and old appliances.
  • Create a checklist to stay ahead of electrical issues. Both landlords and tenants can prioritize electrical safety when loading power strips, plugging items into old outlets, and using electrical equipment.

Published on Jul 17, 2023 | Updated on Jul 18, 2023

A man is examining a device on the ceiling and managing electrical issues for rental properties.

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Any home built before the 1950s or wired by an inexperienced handyman instead of a certified electrician could be at risk of electrical issues. The common culprits for electrical fires are faulty electrical systems, unattended cooking, and space heaters.

Whether you’re a property owner considering a complete electrical rewiring on an older home, or making less substantial electrical updates, here’s everything you need to know about securing your home from fire hazards.

Risks of electrical issues for rental properties

Electrical home appliances that give us light, keep us warm, help cook our meals, and wash our clothes all have potential and inherent fire risks. The U.S. Fire Administration reports that the United States fire departments documented an estimated 24,200 residential building electrical fires in 2021. These fires caused $1.2 billion in property loss.

Fires originating from electrical issues are sometimes the result of using old receptacles and outdated cooking appliances, installing faulty wiring, using an extension cord to power major appliances, and plugging power strips into other power strips (daisy-chaining). In fact, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reported that cooking equipment accounted for the largest percentage of fires from 2017 to 2019.

If you’re a building owner looking for ways to prevent damages and fires, installing smoke detectors in each rental unit is essential. Hearing the piercing sound of smoke alarms will alert tenants to impending risks and is an effective way to stop fires from happening. 

Property managers can drive down the cost of repairs by taking preventative measures. For instance, if you see a damaged electrical cord, replace it immediately. Call an electrician if an old electrical outlet is causing circuit breaker trips. 

One of the purposes of a circuit breaker is to protect the electrical circuit, so when an outlet trips whenever you use it, the circuit breaker detects something faulty. Don’t delay electrical repairs when pinpointing a problem, like a malfunctioning outlet. Ignoring a frayed cord or bad outlet can lead to trouble and will be more costly if a fire ignites. Upon replacing an old outlet, the only damage to your wallet will be  the cost of an outlet replacement, which, at less than $200, is a small price to pay. 

Conduct regular electrical inspections in rental properties

Protecting your home and future tenants from potential hazards is one of the utmost vital duties of a property manager. Hiring a certified electrician to inspect electrical systems while the property is vacant will help you assess the state of your home’s electrical wiring and identify any safety concerns.

When an electrician succeeds in spotting and repairing an issue, they are sparing landlords future, significant financial headaches caused by more severe electrical problems. Also, electrical inspections promote tenant safety, as any identified electrical issues in rental properties can be addressed before tenants move in.

Once a person moves in, property managers must notify the tenant before scheduling routine electrical inspections.

Checklist of electrical safety items for rental properties 

Creating a visual checklist around every corner of your rental property will help you spot developing problems and ensure electrical safety. Meet housing codes and work with your tenant to check and document any issues related to electrical safety. Here are common electrical items to review together: 


Old or faulty wiring is a significant issue. A residential inspection implemented by a certified electrician can determine whether circuit breakers are overloaded or if the home needs to be rewired. Other signs of imminent breaker box issues are flickering lights, breakers tripping, and signs of erosion. A breaker box can deteriorate over time. When there are noticeable signs of physical damage, this could be a sign that your breaker box needs maintenance or repair. 


When you use a switch, does the light begin to flicker? Is the switch warm or hot to the touch? We recommend consulting with an electrician if you answered yes to either of these questions. A flickering light can indicate a loose connection in the circuit, which a professional should handle. A warm-to-the-touch light switch occurs when too much electrical power runs through it. If a light switch is overloaded, it can cause the breaker to flip or, in a catastrophic event, start an electrical fire due to wires generating more heat than they can handle. 


When a plug no longer fits snugly in an outlet, that is a sign that the outlet needs to be replaced. A loose connection doesn’t carry current efficiently and generates more heat, leaving an outlet predisposed to catching on fire. Any outlet that is beyond normal wear should be examined. 

Breaker panels

If you smell smoke or smell something fishy (literally), that is a warning of an overheating circuit. When a circuit overheats, it permeates a fish-like scent. Take note if panels feel warm to the touch, or if you see water damage and rust. If water enters an exposed panel, electrical wiring can corrode.

Electrical appliances

While loading up a power strip with plugs is not recommended, it is less of a concern since most modern appliances plugged into a power strip may take up less than five amps. Do not load up a power strip if you use it for an older appliance or a high-energy-consuming appliance, like a TV or fridge.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) requires a typical household receptacle not to exceed 12 amps of current. Though modern appliances and devices have become more energy-efficient in the last two decades, always pay attention to how many amps your appliances use.

Reducing the load on your power strips and outlets can also minimize risk. Another benefit of not overloading power strips and being mindful of energy usage is cutting your electric bill costs and reaping environmental benefits. The best rule of thumb is to minimize the number of appliances plugged into power strips, as power is still drawn from plugged-in devices even when they’re not being used.

Appliances in the home that draw significant electrical currents include space heaters, microwaves, and refrigerators. And when carpenters or hobbyists set up a shop in their garage, there are various safety measures they should take, especially regarding extension cords and power strips. For example, the NFPA suggests not overloading extension cords. If your  tenant is setting up shop on your property, ensure they are using the correct AWG wire with a table saw or other high-energy tools. 

Having written documentation and a checklist for tenants to reference is ideal. The CPSC has developed a comprehensive electrical safety checklist for rental units and homes.

Create an emergency plan for electrical damage and house fires

Property managers should seek legal advice before drafting a lease agreement for a rental unit. As an extra precaution, landlords can inform tenants in the rental agreement of procedures that can be taken to avoid electrical fires.

Here are steps landlords can take to help tenants create a plan in case of an emergency or to prevent fire risks: 

  • Ask your tenant to report any imminent signs of electrical risks.
  • Equip the home or rental unit with a fire extinguisher and let your tenant know where it is.
  • Remind your tenants to check the batteries in the smoke detectors to avoid house fires.
  • Instruct tenants to check electrical equipment to confirm they are functioning properly.
  • If a life-threatening electrical emergency should occur, ask the tenant to prepare an evacuation plan that includes leaving the property immediately and calling for help.

Keep contact information for more than one reliable electrician readily available if a tenant reports an electrical issue. All building owners are responsible for covering the repair cost, including any electrical updates to the rental.

FAQ: Electrical issues for rental properties

There are several tell-tale signs of electrical issues. If a tenant or a property manager notices any of the following issues, we recommend contacting a certified electrician or inspecting the source of the problem: 

  1. Damaged or old outlets
  2. Old appliances that are not functioning properly
  3. Faulty wiring
  4. Flickering lights
  5. Frequent light bulb blowouts
  6. Warm outlets or switches
  7. Tripping circuit breakers
  8. Damaged extension cords
  9. Dead outlets
  10. Foul odor 

A dirty air conditioning filter may compromise airflow and potentially be a fire hazard. Always change and clean the air conditioner filter and dryer filter. Fall is also a good time to clean the dryer vent.

Hiring an electrician to conduct an inspection is a foolproof way to learn of any electrical issues. Here are other signs that there may be problems:

  • Frequent circuit breaker trips
  • Warm or vibrating wall outlets
  • Burning smell
  • Frayed wiring

You can take steps to troubleshoot whether an electrical problem exists, including: 

  • Replace old cords and outlets
  • Schedule an inspection from a certified electrician. Property managers must give tenants proper notice before scheduling routine electrical inspections to reduce the risk of fires. 

Our final thoughts

When it comes to electrical issues, it’s wise to leave it to the professionals and hire a certified electrician. Maintaining electrical systems will reduce risks to tenants and the rental property. Here are more home maintenance checklists to ensure your rental property is in tip-top shape.

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