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    Like many entrepreneurs, you may have begun your catering business as the sole cook and bottle washer. But at some point, you will discover that going it alone not only impedes growth, but is a recipe for burnout and collapse. And you’ll face the question of every successful catering business: How do I find and […]

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I Want to Rent Out My Home. What Do I Need to Do?

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017

Renting is on the rise, and many homeowners are deciding to rent out their old homes rather than sell them. If you fall into that camp, you’ll want to talk to us about changing your current homeowners insurance policy to a rental policy.

Your insurance

A rental policy will protect your home’s structure and a small amount of furnishings in your home. (If you are renting your home furnished, you can add additional coverage for extra furnishings.) So you’d have coverage for your home if lightening ruined its roof or if a visitor slipped and fell on an icy stoop.

Another important benefit is fair rental value. In the event that your home suffers a loss that is covered and your tenant can’t live in your unit until repairs are made, your policy can provide up to 12 months of fair rental value. This means you won’t lose out on the rental income you may rely on each month. And, if you need more than 12 months, there is an endorsement that gives you up to 24 months of this coverage.

A rental policy is important for landlords, and you’ll want to get on in place before your first tenant moves in.

Your tenant’s insurance

Once you get a tenant, it’s a good idea to talk to him or her about a renters insurance policy. A renters insurance policy will protect the possessions your renter brings with them—and it can offer you important protection if you’re listed as an additional insured.

When you ask your renter to list you as an additional insured, the liability protection is extended to you from their policy if something unfortunate happened. For example, imagine your tenant burns a candle, and it causes fire damage in your home. As an additional insured on their policy, you would know they have liability coverage to respond to repair the damage.

You would also have liability protection from their policy. Imagine your tenant’s dog bites someone. The victim could seek reimbursement from your tenant’s policy rather than yours.  Finally, being an additional insured also entitles you to be notified if the policy is cancelled or is modified. For these reasons, you may want to insert wording into the lease about a tenant having a specific amount of insurance.

You can let your tenant know that renters insurance also benefits them in many ways—and it’s very affordable. In fact, sometimes the discount a tenant receives from buying a renters policy from the same company from which they buy their auto policy is enough to cover the renters policy premium.

The Ultimate Guide to Fire Extinguishers

Friday, July 8th, 2016

FireExtinguisherAfter a close call in my apartment–who knew olive oil is bad for high-heat cooking? – it dawned on me that I had never used a fire extinguisher. I’m no fire chief, but learning on the fly while your smoke detector is blaring seems like the wrong time to figure that out.

Fortunately, I removed my smoking pan from the heat before anything could ignite—but the experience left me reeling.

Don’t wait until the heat of the moment to wonder about fire extinguishers. Here’s what smart homeowners (and renters) need to know.

Do I need a fire extinguisher?

Short answer: Yes.

It’s a good idea to have at least one, although many experts, like the National Fire Protection Association, recommend having a fire extinguisher on each floor. Place yours near an exit, in an easy-to-grab spot.

A fire extinguisher can make a big difference in an emergency, but it can’t replace your most important safety tools: working smoke alarms and a fire escape plan.

What if I rent?

If you rent, your landlord is typically responsible for providing smoke detectors in each unit – but not necessarily fire extinguishers. That depends on your state and local fire codes, so ask your landlord to be sure. If you end up buying one, it generally won’t break the bank. Fire extinguishers typically run from $20 to $70, depending on the type.

Types of fire extinguishers

Not all fires are the same, and neither are fire extinguishers. The letters A, B and C on the label refer to the types of fire the extinguisher is capable of putting out.

  • Class A extinguishers are effective on fires in paper, wood, textiles and plastics. (Think “A” for “ash.”)
  • Class B extinguishers are effective on liquid fires, like those involving cooking oil, paint, gasoline or kerosene. (Think “B” for “barrel.”)
  • Class C extinguishers are effective on electrical fires and live wiring. (Think “C” for “current.”)

The best choice for your home is a multi-purpose extinguisher like ABC, which can be used on all types. You can opt for a single-use or a rechargeable model.  A rechargeable fire extinguisher is filled with either water or a powdered chemical—check your extinguisher’s label to see what to refill yours with.

Typically, fire extinguishers are sold in 2-pound, 5-pound or 10-pound canisters. Larger sizes pack more punch, but choose a size that you can lift easily. If it’s too heavy, you’re not doing yourself any favors.

How to use a fire extinguisher

First things first: If there’s a fire of any size in your home, call 911. Remember that fire spreads rapidly – even if you end up extinguishing the fire yourself, it’s a good idea to have the pros on the way to check your work.

If you do need to use your extinguisher, the National Fire Protection Association uses the handy acronym PASS:

  • Pull the pin. Grab the extinguisher, point the nozzle away from you and release the locking mechanism.
  • Aim low, pointing the extinguisher at the base of the fire.
  • Squeeze the lever slowly and evenly.
  • Sweep the nozzle from side to side.

Use your extinguisher on a small fire that’s not growing – for example, a fire contained in a wastebasket. When fighting the fire, keep your back to a clear exit so you can make an escape if you need to. If the room fills with smoke or the fire grows, leave immediately.

If you’d prefer a hands-on learning experience, call your local fire department. Most offer training on how to use a fire extinguisher.

When to replace a fire extinguisher

Fire extinguishers don’t last forever. All models can lose pressure over time. Depending on the model, they last between 5 and 15 years – even if no expiration date is listed.

To make sure your fire extinguisher is in good working order, check the pressure gauge monthly. If it’s in the green, it’s functional. If it’s in the yellow or red, it will need refilled or serviced. Replace yours ASAP if you notice any of these things:

  • The hose or nozzle is cracked, ripped, or jammed.
  • The locking pin is unsealed or missing.
  • The handle is missing or unsteady.
  • The inspection sticker or service record is missing.

Also talk to an insurance professional at Melendez Insurance. He or she  can help make sure your home has the right homeowners insurance in case a fire happens despite your best efforts to prevent one.

What is the City Responsible For?

Monday, October 5th, 2015

What_your_City_Will382x189When things go wrong inside your house, you know the burden’s on you (or your homeowners insurance) to get things fixed.

Things can get a little confusing when something is kind of yours and kind of your city’s responsibility. Who pays then?

While there’s usually no clear-cut answer, the following information can give you some clarity around the issue.

Trees

Trees cause more than $1 billion of property damage in the United States every year. Who pays for that damage can be tricky. And that’s true whether your neighbor’s tree falls in your yard or a tree straddles the line between your property and your city’s property.

If a tree is located between your street and your sidewalk, it is typically owned by the city. So it would probably be your city’s responsibility to remove it if it fell or became damaged. Many cities have an arborist on staff who can let you know for sure.

Trees that fall elsewhere on your property are likely your responsibility. Your homeowners insurance often covers the cost of tree removal, so make sure to check in with your insurance agent to see what your policy covers.

Sidewalks

In years past, cities would typically pick up the tab for any sidewalk repairs. Today, nearly every major American city places at least some—or all—of the responsibility on the homeowner. Your city may have a limited amount of funds to repair sidewalks or a shared cost program in place. No matter what your city offers, it’s a good idea to get a damaged sidewalk repaired ASAP—falls are a major source of homeowners liability claims.

Car damage after hitting a pothole

Many—but not all—cities let you file a pothole claim if your car sustains damage from a pothole on a city roadway. The process varies by city, so check with your city’s roads department to see if they accept claims. Keep in mind there’s no guarantee your claim will be accepted and that payments for damages can have a cap.

Snowplow damage

Snowplows (and other city vehicles) perform essential services for communities.

Unfortunately, city workers who operate these vehicles can cause damage as they perform their duties. Some of the most common incidents include running into a fence or mailbox while snow plowing. If this happens to you, the city’s insurance company will most likely cover the damage. Just make sure to promptly report the incident—some cities only let you report a claim a specified number of days after an incident took place.

These kinds of situations highlight the importance of having the right homeowners insurance and auto insurance. Talk to an insurance professional at Melendez Insurance to learn more about the right coverage and to get a free quote.

Eight Tips to Help Avoid Costly Slips, Trips & Falls

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015

No one wants to see employees hurt on the job, especially if an accident was preventable. Unfortunately, slips, trips and falls can be major and costly accidents in the workplace.

Nearly 20 percent of the workers’ compensation claims filed last year were due to slips and falls. About one-third missed work for a significant time because of their injuries, which can increase the cost of claims dramatically.

With a proper safety plan in place, you could avoid accidents or reduce the severity of accidents, decrease an injured employees’ time away from work and avoid productivity drops. You could also keep your costs in check.

What are the common causes of slips, trips, falls?

Slips, trips and falls can occur on a variety of walking surfaces as well as on ramps and stairways. Some of the major hazards associated with these accidents can include:

  • Slippery, broken or uneven surfaces
  • Inadequate spill cleanup
  • Poor drainage
  • Weather conditions
  • Loose rugs or wrinkled carpet
  • Clutter, poor lighting or obstructed views

8-question checklist for evaluating floor safety

So are the floors at your business safe? To help you find out, answer yes or no to the following questions, developed from Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines.

  1. Has your organization selected a floor material that is appropriate for the environment in which it will be used?
  2. Are the adjacent walking surfaces in your business similar?
  3. Does your business have a program for regularly cleaning its floors? Is your floor cleaner certified by the National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI)?
  4. Does your business use different mops for cleaning and disinfecting?
  5. Are your floors treated with a high-traction finish?
  6. Does your organization strip an old finish following the manufacturer’s instructions before applying a new one?
  7. Does your organization require employees to wear appropriate footwear?
  8. Does your organization use proper warning signs for slip/trip/fall hazards?

Based on your answers to these questions, what are opportunities for improvement? What actions do you need to take?

Don’t slip up

Erie Insurance’s staff of risk control consultants can help you identify slip, trip and fall exposures and solutions to help prevent them. Ask Melendez Insurance about how to develop a customized risk control plan for your business.

What Happens If My Neighbor’s Tree Falls in My Yard?

Monday, August 31st, 2015

Trees can be tricky, but for the most part homeowners, building owners and landlords are responsible for what falls into their own yard. So if your neighbor’s tree falls in your yard, your homeowners insurance would typically help cover the cost of removing the tree and remedying the damage it caused, after your deductible.

The same is true in reverse: If a tree on your property falls in your neighbor’s yard, your neighbor should file a claim with his or her insurance company.

In most cases, neighbors are able to work things out without too much trouble. If there’s ever an issue, you can rely on your claims adjuster to help straighten everything out.

The claims process

If a tree falls on your house, make sure to take some photos. Then call your claims adjuster, who will evaluate the damage and explain how your homeowners coverage comes into play. It’s recommended that you call your claims adjuster before you contract to have the tree removed.

Sometimes trees fall on cars. If it’s not safe or possible to remove the tree from the car yourself, you should call a professional to remove it. (Again, talk to a claims adjuster first and take a few photos of the fallen tree on your car.) Depending on the damage, both your homeowners and the optional comprehensive coverage you may have under your auto policy could provide coverage for the loss.

Preventing tree damage

Preventive measures matter when it comes to trees. Start by looking for signs of distress such as dead limbs, cracks in the trunk or major limbs, leaning to one side and branches that are close to a house or power line. Mushroom growth on the roots or bark can also signal trouble.

“A homeowner should be concerned about the health of their trees,” says Gary Sullivan, vice president of Property and Subrogation Claims at ERIE. “The best thing to do is to regularly have large trees trimmed.” (The Tree Care Industry Association lists accredited tree care professionals.)

To learn more and to ensure you have the right coverage for your home, contact Melendez Insurance.

Five Steps for Landlords to Safely Rent to Dog Owners

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015
Couple_with_DogiStock_000001092724Small(2)What Keeps You Awake at Night?

If you are a landlord, perhaps you’d like to rent to people with pets, but the implications worry you too much. In fact, concern about what could happen keeps you awake at night. You imagine that new hardwood floor scratched to pieces, antisocial barking, and tenants with a vicious dog that refuse to leave. Then there is your worst nightmare of the dog attacking another tenant and you being liable. But you can stop worrying because by following these five simple steps, you can rent to pet owners and rest easy.

Advantages of Pet-Owning Tenants

There is a large pool of responsible people out there with good, regular income who are desperately seeking accommodation just like yours. You’d be happy to rent to them, right? If the only thing stopping you is their pet, think again.

Statistics show that pet owners are more likely to have a good, regular income than non-pet owners, and that pet owners are more commonly long-term tenants who move less frequently.

Indeed, responsible pet owners are just that, responsible. Renting to pet owners vastly increases the pool of potential tenants available to you. If your property is in an area where there is a lack of pet-friendly residences, then you may also be able to charge premium rent.

What’s not to like about tenants with a sense of responsibility, who can pay the bills, and stay a long time?

Proper Prior Planning

Still not convinced?

With a little proper prior planning, the barriers to renting to pet owners can be safely dismantled. These five common-sense steps reduce the risks and ensure potential liabilities are covered.

Step One: Interview Tenant and Pet

Cut the risk right at the beginning by watching how the prospective tenant interacts with his pet. Badly behaved pets are a product of poor owner discipline. Watch how they get along: Does the owner have control? Is the dog a model citizen or more suited to a canine penitentiary?

Ask questions about the pet, such as how long the owner has had him, if he is up-to-date with vaccinations, how old he is, and how many hours he’s left alone a day. All of this fleshes out the picture of how responsible the owner is.

Don’t forget to ask direct questions about the pet’s behavior, such as whether he has ever bitten anyone, what damage he has done to previous property, and confirm that the owner has dog liability insurance. If you have asked in good faith and received positive answers, this helps protect you should something go wrong.

If you are planning to move forward with a contract, take a photograph of the pet. This helps confirm his identity should there be any dispute about a future dog attack.

Step Two: A Clear Pet Policy

The lease is your opportunity to lay down ground rules. Make your pet policy clear. Write down what constitutes damage to the property (such as scratched woodwork, stained carpets, and damaged furniture). Record the consequences if the pet behaves antisocially, including under what circumstances the tenant must vacate the property (first bite, excessive barking, fouling of the neighborhood, that sort of thing).

The latter provides you with legal authority to evict a tenant should something go wrong. If the lease does not specifically state these terms, then you may have a harder time shifting the tenant should you need to.

Step Three: The Pet Owner’s Liability

Make it clear that the tenancy is conditional on the pet owner maintaining dog liability coverage. Put it in writing in the lease and make sure the owner reads the clause and signs off on it.

The pet owner is liable for medical expenses and costs arising from a dog attack and having bite liability coverage to ensure they can pay these expenses and still cover their rent.

Step Four: Refundable Pet Damage Deposit

It is sensible to hold a refundable deposit specifically against damage caused by the pet to your property. This acts as a reminder to the owner to ensure their pet behaves. However, check state law first, because in some states it is illegal to charge a tenant separately for their pet.

Step Five: Landlord Liability Insurance

Take out your own coverage against liability for personal injury caused by the tenant’s pet. Although the dog is the tenant’s responsibility (in the same way they, not you, are responsible for their children’s antics), there are some circumstances in which you may be vulnerable.

The worst case scenario is if a dog with a history of aggression bites another tenant and you do nothing to ensure the future safety of other tenants. If another attack then happens, as the landlord, you may bear some responsibility because you did not protect the other tenants.

Part of protecting yourself includes having previously assessed the pet’s good nature and acting as soon as an incident occurs to evict the client, have the dog removed, or take other measures appropriate for public safety.

When taking out liability coverage, be sure to check out details, such as any exclusions that apply to particular breeds. Pit Bulls or other breeds deemed to be dangerous may not be covered under standard policies. In that case, you have the choice of putting height and weight restrictions in the lease about the size of dog a tenant can keep (most dangerous dogs are larger breeds), or seeking out special insurance.

Not all insurance companies are interested in providing landlord dog liability coverage. You can spend a lot of time calling around to many different companies, or you can make one call to Melendez Insurance. Our agents have a wealth of information at their fingertips to help find the best policy for you, and can write policies for a number of different carriers, thus ensuring they can find the right fit for your needs.

And Finally…

Renting to pet owners is a potentially lucrative business and one that need not keep you awake. By following these five simple steps, you can rent to pet owners and still get your beauty sleep.