Residential Property Management/electrical code compliance
QUESTION: Hi Mike,
We are in the process of renting our mother's house (she'e in a senior living place) and have some very good, eager tenants (young couple with kids, good income, known by neighbors). We have an agreement that they can do some modest remodeling at their expense (with our permission). The issue is whether the electrical wiring is in compliance as far as our responsibility as landlords. The California Civil Code Section 1941.1 states that the requirement is to provide electrical outlets that "conformed with applicable law at the time of installation".
Our question is; what is the most efficient way to a) determine whether the electrical is up to required code (private, city inspectors?), b) what upgrades may be necessary (the house was built in the late 50s/early 60s) and c) how to find a good contractor to do the necessary rewiring.
Hope this is clear and thanks for your help.
ANSWER: I would be remiss if I didn't mention that this is one of many reasons to consider professional property management. Navigating through issues like this (and many others) is a compelling reason to consider hiring professionals.
That being said, is there a reason why the electrical system is suspect? Older houses rarely meet current codes (not only in electrical, but other systems as well). That isn't usually an issue, unless there are safety concerns. For instance, there was a period of time where aluminum wiring was used, which is now considered to be unsafe. Other than safety concerns, you might encounter situations where there are not enough outlets; the system is too small to handle today's electrical demands (remember there were a lot less electrical devices used back in the 50's/60's); and lighting fixtures won't be energy efficient.
You can hire a private inspector to identify deficiencies, but in a house of that age, I would instruct them to only focus on safety issues. Or, simply have the electrician or general contractor that will be doing the remodeling to provide their analysis. If you choose to hire an electrician, simply make sure they are competent (you can check references and the BBB), insured, and licensed (you can also check the status on their license and whether there's been any disciplinary actions against them).
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: Thanks for the response. As landlords, are we responsible for providing increased capacity (more, larger circuits) as a safety issue? If the existing electrical system meets safety requirements, then I assume that if the tenants plug in too many appliances then it will trip the circuit breakers but not be a safety hazard. This situation would be annoying, of course, but, is it our responsibiltiy to upgrade? We would be willing to let them pay for an upgrade (meeting code, of course).
Your help on this is much appreciated.
Depending on the terms of your lease, it probably is not your responsibility to upgrade the system (unless you embark on a substantial remodel, which will probably trigger the city to require it). However, if there are safety issues/hazards, then you would be required to deal with those. And from a risk management standpoint (not to mention moral considerations), you should address that anyway. Capacity of the system isn't necessarily a safety hazard, so long as the existing system is functioning properly.
Having your tenants do the work is fine, but of course they should be required to use licensed and insured contractors and obtain city approvals/permits.