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What Landlords Should Know About Foundation Maintenance

A blog post in collaboration with the Leenan Group

For owners of rental properties in Regina, Saskatchewan, the past three years have been a mixed bag. The rental property market in the area has been unpredictable with increases in rents happening side-by-side with rising vacancy rates. In 2020, the coronavirus epidemic made an already bad situation worse. Owners of one or two-bedroom apartments couldn’t find renters for their homes, while properties with three bedrooms or more struggled to meet the growing demand from families.

In a market with so much volatility, the last thing you want, as a landlord, is a maintenance issue that makes it even harder to find tenants. Foundations problems are bad for a landlord’s business, but in this climate, they can be an absolute disaster for your rental.

Responsibility for most maintenance tasks in a rental is shared between landlords and tenants, with landlords assuming most of the burden. But structural issues fall completely within the domain of the owner’s responsibility.

Landlords need to be aware of the dangers that their home’s foundation is exposed to, how to detect them, and what to do about those problems. This article serves as a short primer on the things you should know about foundation maintenance in your rental property.

The causes and signs of a failing foundation

The home’s foundation does exactly what its name says: it is the base on which the home sits. Without the foundation, the building wouldn’t exist. And a failing foundation endangers every other part of the home. Landlords should make a routine of inspecting and maintaining this structure.

The common causes of foundation damage are:

  • Poor site preparation: If during construction, the soil contains organic or deleterious material, is built up with fill, or is disturbed and poorly compacted, it predisposes the home to foundation movement.

  • Foundation type: If a foundation does not extend below the frost line and/or is not protected from frost, it will be more prone to structural damage or movement. If a spread footing is used in an expansive clay soil, it will also be more prone to structural damage or movement.

  • Existing soil conditions: In some areas, the soil beneath and surrounding a home will naturally expand and contract with seasonal changes in soil and moisture content. This is especially applicable with Regina clay, which is highly plastic. Such conditions may be further aggravated by multi-year wet or dry cycles. This can create stress in the foundation, causing it to bow, move, or crack.

  • Uneven settling: Buildings supported on spread footings will slowly settle over many years as the soil consolidates. If this settlement is not uniform, one part of the home may sink lower than other parts, and/or cracking may occur.

  • Flooding: Flooding from natural and manmade sources will damage the foundation because excessive water around the base of a home will alter the nature of the soil both surrounding and beneath the home. It may cause bowing in foundation walls and heaving in footings.

  • Tree root intrusion: If the branches of a tree can touch a building, its roots will also touch the foundations. Tree roots can pierce and fracture the foundation over time. Further, the roots may impact water retention levels of the soil relative to other parts of the foundation.

What are the most common signs that a home’s foundation is damaged?

Cracks: These may show up in walls, ceilings, floors, and the foundation itself. They could be long horizontal cracks, diagonal cracks, or vertical cracks that get wider over time.

  • Gaps between cabinets and walls: Cabinets may separate from walls and the openings grow wider with time.

  • Slanted mortar joints: During construction, builders ensure that bricks, blocks, and joints are all level. Out-of-level joints show there has been a movement in the structures.

  • Sticky doors and windows: Doors and windows that are hard to close or open may be from movements in the foundation with resulting misalignments in parts of the home.

  • Uneven floors: Uneven floors with high points and low points are usually signs of foundation problems.

  • Unstable chimney: If the chimney is cracking or leaning, you may suspect foundation damage.

How to prevent foundation damage

If a home already shows the above signs, the best solution is to consult a Structural Engineer for foundation remediation options.

If your home’s foundation is still in good shape, how can you protect it and prevent damage?

  • Proper drainage: Protect the foundation from water, including water from the home’s plumbing. If water seeps into the soil below or surrounding the home and the soil becomes waterlogged, it could swell, increasing pressure on your foundation walls and/or your footing. Ensure you have a proper weeping tile system tied into a sump pit with pump that discharges away from the building.

  • Repair and maintain gutters and downspouts: Gutters and downspouts should channel water away from the structures of the home – walls, roofs, and foundations. If gutters and downspouts are discharging water toward the building, it could predispose it to foundation damage.

  • Proper soil grading: The soil around the base of the home should slope away from the building, ideally with a 6” clay cap or other impervious material. The intent is encourage as much overland flow away form the building as possible, to avoid water from seeping into the soil surrounding the foundation.

  • Protect the foundation from tree roots: Tree roots damage the foundation in two ways. They take water out of the soil causing uneven soil moisture content along the foundation. They may also penetrate the foundation, cause it to crack, or in sever cases, push it upwards.

  • Keeps shrubs short: Shrubbery around the home should not be allowed to grow beyond three feet tall. If the growth of shrubs is not controlled, their roots can do as much damage to the home’s foundations as tree roots.

  • Watch lawn sprinklers: Lawn sprinklers should be positioned in such a way that they are not drenching the home’s foundations with water. Excessive water around the home’s base is the number one cause of foundation damage.

  • Property Management: If you aren’t managing your property personally, make sure you’ve invested in a property management company who knows what to look for and when to notify you of evidence of a potential issue.

Have questions? We’d love to chat.


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