This article was posted on Friday, Jul 01, 2016

While it is human nature to presume that tenants inherently share the same perceptions and competencies as buildings owners or property managers, all too often there can be a substantial variance between what is presumed and how a tenant will actually act or react both under normal circumstances as well as unusual or emergency situations.

Tenant Orientation Scripts can be an extremely valuable and effective tool in efforts to increase the consistency and appropriateness of tenant behavior and can contribute in a very positive way to reducing the frequency and severity of losses.  The development of a standard written orientation script provides several benefits:

  • Consistency of Message – Regardless of who conducts the check-in orientation of a new tenant, every tenant receives the same information.
  • Documentation – Typically upon completion of the orientation process, the new tenant will be asked to sign a copy of the script acknowledging that the contents of the script have been discussed with them.  The signed copy is kept on file and provides clear confirmation of the scope and detail of the orientation process provided to each tenant.
  • Reference – Upon completion of the orientation process, the tenant is provided with a copy of the orientation script for their records.  This copy can also subsequently serve as a reference for the tenant.

While the scope and detail of a particular orientation script may vary depending on the nature and features of the property and the priorities of the building owner or property manager, the following are fundamental/core items that should be included on any orientation script:

Emergency Phone Numbers

These numbers should include an emergency contact number for the building owner or property manager that is responsive 24 hours a day, an emergency number for the responding police or sheriff’s department and the appropriate number to be dialed for medical emergencies.  Given the low price at which they can be fabricated and purchased, refrigerator magnets are a practical and effective way to distribute and display this information.

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The proper and appropriate functioning of door and window locks should be reviewed with the tenant and emphasis should be placed on the importance of locking all entry doors at night, while alone in the apartment and when away from the apartment.

Water Shutoffs

Main water shutoff valves located in basements or utility areas should be clearly identified and referenced with regard to the apartments to which they pertain.  The tenant should be shown their main shutoff valve and the shutoff valve for sinks, toilets and washing machines and instructed as to how each of those valves are closed.  The tenant should be advised of the circumstances that warrant turning off the water supply.  Any such action should be immediately followed by notification of the owner or building manager.

Electricity Shutoffs

Whether the apartment’s electrical panel is located within the apartment or in a utility area, the tenant should be shown the main breaker and branch circuit breakers and advised of the circumstances warranting shutoff of the main breaker or a branch circuit breaker.  Any such action should be immediately followed by notification of the owner or building manager.

Repetitive Circuit Breaker Tripping

Repetitive tripping of circuit breakers is indicative of a serious electrical problem and repetitive resetting of circuit breakers is a common cause of fires.  The tenant should be instructed to inform the owner or building manager of any circuit breaker requiring multiple resets.

In the Event of a Fire

The vast majority of tenants have never operated a fire extinguisher and valuable fire department response time can be squandered in ineffective efforts to do so.  In the event of a fire, the tenant should be instructed to evacuate the building immediately, call the fire department once outside the building and then call the owner or building manager:

If a Smoke Detector is Beeping

This condition is typically caused by a battery requiring replacement or a defective smoke detector.  The tenant should be instructed to contact the owner or building manager as soon as possible following the onset of this condition and should be specifically instructed not to remove a battery without notification of the owner or building manager.

Candle Use

Candle use should be prohibited if at all possible and strongly discouraged if prohibition is not possible.  If candles are allowed, the tenant should be cautioned to place candles on non-combustible surfaces, isolated from drapes/curtains, combustible furniture and located so as to reduce the potential for upset of the candle by animals.  Use a battery LED candles is strongly suggested as an alternative.

Plugged Toilets

The tenant should be specifically instructed that the appropriate response to a plugged toilet is to use a plunger rather than re-flushing the plugged toilet.  It is strong recommended that all apartments be provided with a plunger.


The tenant should be instructed that in the event of an injury or accident to the tenant, tenant’s family or guest, the owner or building manager should be notified as soon as possible and always within 24 hours of the incident.  A standard injury/incident reporting form should be used by the owner/manager.


Smoking within buildings should be prohibited if at all possible.  If smoking is allowed outside of the building, the tenant should be instructed as to the location of the designated smoking area or areas and the appropriate means by which to dispose of smoking materials.

Michael Hughart is with Winooski Insurance.  Reprinted with permission of the Vermont Apartment Owners Newsletter.