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View Full Version : How long and what temperature before my pipes freeze


DebMcDonald
03-03-2011, 09:22 AM
I have a rental house in CT that I am in the process of getting the tenants evicted from and as of yesterday the electricity got turned off for failure to pay. How long can a house sit cold before my pipes are in jeopordy. Last night was very cold about 13 degrees and by this weekend we will be in the 50's. There is also no oil in the tank as they ran out of that in January and bounced their check, so can't get more, and until yesterday was heating the house with the stove and electric heaters.

I'm at my wits end and every day this just gets worse and worse and from a legal standpoint my hands are tied, but my house is in jeopordy.

Any opinions appreciated!

Pooh_Friend#1
03-03-2011, 09:36 AM
Hopefully they will be smart enough to let the faucet drip and open the cabinets. If I do not open the cabinets and let the faucet drip, my pipes freeze when it gets to single digit temperatures for a couple of days and then takes a day to thaw out. My only pipes that freeze are the ones that are on the outside wall.

Jeff_G
03-03-2011, 09:37 AM
If they still have water running, ask them to open a facet at night and allow a small dribble of watter out, it needs to be more then a drip but not a lot.

I have heard other suggest paying the tenant to move out, some say it ends up cheaper then eviction and you get them out quicker and on your terms. Give them 1 week, if you are out by next Friday (you would need to visit the rental to verify) you pay them $xyz.

DebMcDonald
03-03-2011, 09:42 AM
Thanks, but it's too late to pay them, the leasee moved out and left her son behind and we're in the middle already of the court battle which is costing $$$.

They won't answer their phone, email, etc. so I don't think they will even consider letting the water drip and I can't go into the house - no matter what - as per my attorney, even if the house is burning down, you do not have permission to go into that house.

philm
03-03-2011, 09:49 AM
The only thing you can do then is sue for damages when they leave. But document everything, and take pictures when you regain access to the property.

mtblujeans
03-03-2011, 09:54 AM
I'm not sure a dripping faucet will keep pipes from freezing when the heat is off. And it won't take long for water sitting in pipes to freeze. I agree with the PP to document everything. If the pipes in the walls had water in them, you could have a bad situation already forming. I hope it works out well for you. :goodvibes

Muushka
03-03-2011, 10:14 AM
Back in the day when I lived in the frozen tundra called New England, we experienced pipes freezing. It was down to -10 (no wind chill factor, actual temp) with a high of -2 for the day. Yup, they froze. Good luck!

PS these pipes of mine that froze were the heating system that went through a cabinet. It depends on where the pipes are located. Good luck!

msmayor
03-03-2011, 10:59 AM
You are in a situation right now where I don't think you have any choice but to pay whatever it will cost to get the power back on and heat in the house. Not for your tenants, but for your own protection, because unless you have a pot of money to pay for repairs out of pocket, you could find yourself with a denied insurance claim.

If your homeowner's insurance finds out that you knew there was no heat and power in your home and you did nothing to rectify the situation, they can deny a claim for damages if something happens.

This doesn't mean you can't continue the eviction process...it means you are protecting your asset.

You can still sue the tenants for what you are paying to get the heat and power back on, but at least you are doing all you can to make sure nothing happens.

hipchickie
03-03-2011, 11:53 AM
It really depends on the house - in our old house, a cold night with the heat set back and our pipes would freeze. In our new house, our furnace recently went and we had no heat for 2 - 3 days and had no issues.

Anyway, just because they didn't pay the oil bill doesn't mean your can't get oil - just call a new oil company

good luck

DebMcDonald
03-03-2011, 12:13 PM
You are in a situation right now where I don't think you have any choice but to pay whatever it will cost to get the power back on and heat in the house. Not for your tenants, but for your own protection, because unless you have a pot of money to pay for repairs out of pocket, you could find yourself with a denied insurance claim.

If your homeowner's insurance finds out that you knew there was no heat and power in your home and you did nothing to rectify the situation, they can deny a claim for damages if something happens.

This doesn't mean you can't continue the eviction process...it means you are protecting your asset.

You can still sue the tenants for what you are paying to get the heat and power back on, but at least you are doing all you can to make sure nothing happens.

When you don't live in a house, you don't have typical home ower's insurance for that house, you have what's called a fire policy, so if the house burns down I am covered or if someone slips and fall's I'm covered, but for water damange, vandilism, etc. I'm not covered anyway.

Over my dead body :headache: am I going to pay for their electricity to be turned on when they have written checks on closed accounts, and currently owe me $5500 not including what I have paid for my attorney and honestly I have no idea who is even living there, because the original tenant moved out. If they can't pay the electricity, maybe then this will be the straw that forces them out.

And regarding suing them, you can't get blood out of a stone, so that would be more money out of my pocket for NOTHING in return.

LoveBWVVBR
03-03-2011, 12:35 PM
When you don't live in a house, you don't have typical home ower's insurance for that house, you have what's called a fire policy, so if the house burns down I am covered or if someone slips and fall's I'm covered, but for water damange, vandilism, etc. I'm not covered anyway.

Over my dead body :headache: am I going to pay for their electricity to be turned on when they have written checks on closed accounts, and currently owe me $5500 not including what I have paid for my attorney and honestly I have no idea who is even living there, because the original tenant moved out. If they can't pay the electricity, maybe then this will be the straw that forces them out.

And regarding suing them, you can't get blood out of a stone, so that would be more money out of my pocket for NOTHING in return.

UGH, I am so sorry. You are really between a rock and a hard place right now. How long will it take you to get them out? In FL eviction is very quick and straightforward, but back when I lived in MA my former boss had been going to court for 2 YEARS to get the deadbeat, non-paying tenants out of his townhouse:sad2:

How can these people be living in your house with no heat anyways? Are you worried that they will do something very dumb that will result in either carbon monoxide poisoning or burning your house down? I'd be worried about that...maybe worried enough to get the electric turned back on.

angwill
03-03-2011, 01:04 PM
We had our pipes burst while on vacation one year when our oil company forgot to fill our oil tank. It ended up being a pipe on an inside wall from our upper floor that burst and did a lot of damage. From what the plumber told us there should be no problem if it warms up slowly. Ours burst when we got the heat going and it warmed the pipe up too quickly.

That really stinks that this is happening to you. Sadly, lots of people are out of work and doing desperate things to have a roof over their heads. I hope you can get the utilities back when they are out without having to pay for their past balance.

msmayor
03-03-2011, 01:32 PM
When you don't live in a house, you don't have typical home ower's insurance for that house, you have what's called a fire policy, so if the house burns down I am covered or if someone slips and fall's I'm covered, but for water damange, vandilism, etc. I'm not covered anyway.

Over my dead body :headache: am I going to pay for their electricity to be turned on when they have written checks on closed accounts, and currently owe me $5500 not including what I have paid for my attorney and honestly I have no idea who is even living there, because the original tenant moved out. If they can't pay the electricity, maybe then this will be the straw that forces them out.

And regarding suing them, you can't get blood out of a stone, so that would be more money out of my pocket for NOTHING in return.

I would re-read your policy to make sure. Some policies today include more than just fire damage protection.

Regardless, I cannot believe that you would simply permit that risk to remain. The damage and costs to you could be significant and as you said, you may not ever be able to collect from the tenants.

Is it really worth the risk of extensive damage to your house to "hope" that the lack of heat and power will get them out faster - damage you will have to pay to fix? Suppose they end up causing a fire at the house by heating with the stove and again, the scenario I present regarding the insurance: you KNEW they had no heat and didn't do anything to ensure a safe condition, and the house burns down from the stove being used for heat. Your insurance company has a reason for denying any claim.

Maybe its worth the risk to you. It wouldn't be to me.

Mixie
03-03-2011, 01:36 PM
If the home is on well water, electricity is required to run the pump. No electric, no water.

The home is an investment. I suggest you do something to restore heat to it asap. Those pipes will burst quickly in CT with no heat.

dfchelbay
03-03-2011, 01:42 PM
Cant you call the city and have the water shut off? Then, there will be no water in the pipes to freeze. If you live close by, go over to the house after you've shut the water off and turn on an outside spiget to let the last bit of water out of the pipes, and leave it open. Hopefully, there will be such a small amount behind in the pipes that if it freezes and expands, it wont be enough to burst the pipes.

mickeysmyboy
03-03-2011, 01:50 PM
I really have no advice for you but I wanted to say I'm so sorry!!! my In laws own a few rental properties and have a string of terrible tenants!! They spent a fortune evicting people from one house and then spent more $$ fixing damage that had been done to the house by the tenants! Now they have deadbeats living in the house again!!! It's complete bull!!

Singledad
03-03-2011, 02:00 PM
I second dfchelbay's advice. with no heat and no electric, there should be no water either. no water in the pipes to expand when frozen and you should be fine. I just don't understand how someone you don't even know can stay on your property... isn't that criminal tresspassing? If they are not on the lease, they are not the renters. at least that was my layman understanding, as a renter.

MEM
03-03-2011, 02:24 PM
Thanks, but it's too late to pay them, the leasee moved out and left her son behind and we're in the middle already of the court battle which is costing $$$.

They won't answer their phone, email, etc. so I don't think they will even consider letting the water drip and I can't go into the house - no matter what - as per my attorney, even if the house is burning down, you do not have permission to go into that house.

Maybe this is specific to CT, but I live in MA and the landlord is allowed to enter the property if he/she has just cause to do so - in your situation it might not be safe since you don't know for sure who is living there. If the original renter moved out and isn't paying her rent, she cannot give anyone permission to stay there, it doesn't matter if its her son...isn't that "squatting" or like a PP said, "criminal trespass"? Have you spoken to the police about it?
I don't have a lot of faith in most attorneys.

dfchelbay
03-03-2011, 02:28 PM
Can you call the police because he's a trespasser. Your lease is with his mother...never him. Have him dragged out of your house. Or, at the risk of being nasty, have a couple guys go in there and pack his crap up and escort him out. You have no contract with him. Pay for 1-2 months of storage, give him the keys to it and have the men take him and his belongings there...change the locks.

DebMcDonald
03-03-2011, 03:33 PM
You all make me smile :goodvibes and thanks for the thoughts. The police won't get involved because it's a "civil" matter that needs to be taken up with the courts. This person, who we assume is her son, is referred to as a squatter and I have to go to court and legally take the house back. Now my father tells me on a daily basis to just go and change the locks (he's not even using a key, just leaves the front door unlocked - with his computer sitting in the living room to boot), but if I do that I risk being taken to court myself, so I'm trying to follow to rules, and the rules are breaking me down.

To Msmayor: Let me know when you have a law degree or when you are an insurance underwriter reveiwing my claim because you are great at pointing the figure at what is right vs. what is wrong, but I'm following the advice of the professionals. Thanks everyone else for the support and just listening.

Mixie
03-03-2011, 04:18 PM
I second dfchelbay's advice. with no heat and no electric, there should be no water either. no water in the pipes to expand when frozen and you should be fine.

This is incorrect. Even with city water, the house would have to be drained for there to be no water in the pipes. Well water, as many homes in CT are using, is no difference.

Water will still be sitting in the pipes unless it has been drained.

BellePrincessBelle
03-03-2011, 04:27 PM
This is incorrect. Even with city water, the house would have to be drained for there to be no water in the pipes. Well water, as many homes in CT are using, is no difference.

Water will still be sitting in the pipes unless it has been drained.

Plus the house would have to be winterized(antifreeze put into pipes)to prevent them from bursting. Sorry Op but I told you when you posted the first time that evicitons in CT are nightmares. You have my sympathies you are damned if you do and damned if you don't here.

scrapquitler
03-03-2011, 05:04 PM
I second dfchelbay's advice. with no heat and no electric, there should be no water either. no water in the pipes to expand when frozen and you should be fine. I just don't understand how someone you don't even know can stay on your property... isn't that criminal tresspassing? If they are not on the lease, they are not the renters. at least that was my layman understanding, as a renter.

Lack of electricity and lack of heat won't result in a lack of water unless you have a well and the well pump runs off of electricity. Generally speaking, if you have city water, the water will still work, toilets flush, sinks and faucets still run even without electricity. Sure, there won't be hot water, but there will be cold :-)

LoveBWVVBR
03-03-2011, 05:15 PM
You all make me smile :goodvibes and thanks for the thoughts. The police won't get involved because it's a "civil" matter that needs to be taken up with the courts. This person, who we assume is her son, is referred to as a squatter and I have to go to court and legally take the house back. Now my father tells me on a daily basis to just go and change the locks (he's not even using a key, just leaves the front door unlocked - with his computer sitting in the living room to boot), but if I do that I risk being taken to court myself, so I'm trying to follow to rules, and the rules are breaking me down.


I've been thinking about this. Yes, you *could* get taken to court for just going in and throwing their stuff out/changing the locks, but if the people don't have a cent to their names, they won't be able to get a lawyer and take you to court. In the meantime they'll have to find a place to live while they try to take you to court. That will probably be all-consuming given their poor financial situation. If it were me, I'd reclaim my home and I'd probably also hire some sort of security for it for a while to make sure that they didn't try to come back and vandalize it. You are risking a huge expense if the pipes burst. Would a judge really force you to readmit a squattor to your home? Also, how would the squattor *prove* that they were living there and were tossed out? Wouldn't that be stupidly admitting to criminal trespass?

C.Ann
03-03-2011, 09:05 PM
I've been "down the road" with frozen pipes and believe me, it's a nightmare.. The pipes froze in my former home the week that my DH passed away (we were living with my DD and her family at the time and my Dson-in-law was in the process of gutting and remodeling it so I could put it up for sale).. Anyhow - with planning my late DH's services - a week delay before his memorial service and burial due to relatives arriving from out of town, etc. - work stopped on the house temporarily and we didn't realize that the oil tank was nearly empty.. Long story short, the oil ran out, all of the pipes (and radiators froze) and everything busted.. It wasn't brutally cold (not even single digits), but an unheated home in the winter is a disaster waiting to happen - whether it's a couple of days or a week..

It seems to me that you only have two choices.. Get in there to turn off the water and drain all of the pipes, hot water heater, etc. - or - deal with some very, very expensive repairs once the damage is done.. :(

Good luck with your decision..

ellone
03-03-2011, 09:33 PM
I second dfchelbay's advice. with no heat and no electric, there should be no water either. no water in the pipes to expand when frozen and you should be fine.

What about if he has baseboard heating? Isn't there water in those pipes and can't it freeze?

Mixie
03-03-2011, 10:11 PM
What about if he has baseboard heating? Isn't there water in those pipes and can't it freeze?

Also true. Our CT home had baseboard heating (a system I never understood - it was always cold in our house!) and that is run by water.

People seem to be under the impression that water only enters the house when it's being used and that the pipes are empty inbetween times. That's incorrect and very obviously wrong. If all your pipes drained out when not being used (say, overnight while you are sleeping) then every tap - be it, sink, shower, dishwasher - would emit air when turned on until the water got back up to that tap. That doesn't happen. Water is in there all the time.

Even if the water is not running due to no electricity, there would still be water in the pipes. If you turned a tap on with nothing pumping water, you would drain out only a small amount near that tap. Pressure is required to push water to a tap - that pressure comes from the pump - be it city water or well water. No pressure, the water doesn't move up - but that doesn't mean it drains out. The system is specifically designed to *not* drain water out without opening up a release valve - at the lowest point of the water system. Air in water lines is not good, so water lines are designed to not allow air into it.

Hope that makes sense.

Singledad
03-04-2011, 12:31 AM
and that is why it was suggested to drain the water once it was shut off. :rolleyes:

Not as stupid as I look thank you. :thumbsup2

and that sounds like a miserable state to have a home in. :grouphug: hope things end better than predicted!

msmayor
03-04-2011, 08:03 AM
I'm at my wits end and every day this just gets worse and worse and from a legal standpoint my hands are tied, but my house is in jeopordy.

Any opinions appreciated!




To Msmayor: Let me know when you have a law degree or when you are an insurance underwriter reveiwing my claim because you are great at pointing the figure at what is right vs. what is wrong, but I'm following the advice of the professionals. Thanks everyone else for the support and just listening.


Let me apologize for offering an opinion...I got the impression from your post that any were appreciated.

Do I have a law degree or am an underwriter? No. But I do know that if a home I owned was in jeopardy I would not sit by and allow things to get worse. I owned a rental property (though I did not have tenants like yours) and had situations where a bill wasn't paid or there was risk of damage because of a maintenance situation. I did not sit and wait for the tenants to handle it - I handled it myself. We paid the water bill to keep it from getting shut off (because the tenants forgot to pay it). Our lease had a clause that permitted us to enter the property at any time to inspect and make repairs, and that the tenants did NOT have to be present for us to enter.

I do find it surprising that professionals would advise a homeowner to just sit tight and allow a situation to exist where pipes can freeze and cause significant damage to a home go on. Especially when all it takes is a payment by phone to keep that from happening. I'd much rather pay a few hundred now to keep the heat on than a few thousand down the road to make repairs.

But to each his own.

Its clear you no longer want my input, so I'll make this my last post here. I wish you luck.

LoveBWVVBR
03-06-2011, 07:16 AM
Any updates OP? Hopefully the pipes are still OK and you got the tenant out.

herdtoDisney
03-06-2011, 07:30 AM
I'm in CT too-OP, seems like it's warm enough here now where you shouldn't get frozen pipes. Unless we get a really hard cold spell. At this point, if they havent' frozen yet, they probably won't. The only other thing I can think of is to put a couple hundred dollars of oil in the tank-enough to get through till April. Assuming the squatter will actually leave the heat on... anyhow, a couple hundred would cover it till warmer weather and getting the eviction. Sorry, this sounds like a terrible situation.

LoveBWVVBR
03-06-2011, 09:20 AM
I'm in CT too-OP, seems like it's warm enough here now where you shouldn't get frozen pipes. Unless we get a really hard cold spell. At this point, if they havent' frozen yet, they probably won't. The only other thing I can think of is to put a couple hundred dollars of oil in the tank-enough to get through till April. Assuming the squatter will actually leave the heat on... anyhow, a couple hundred would cover it till warmer weather and getting the eviction. Sorry, this sounds like a terrible situation.

Wouldn't there need to be electricity to fire the burner, though?

HelenePA
03-06-2011, 08:36 PM
Wouldn't there need to be electricity to fire the burner, though?

Yes you need electricity for the oil burner. I have one along with baseboard heat. Good Luck OP hopefully he's found some way to keep the house above freezing. Heck if he hasn't he'd be better off in a homeless shelter.

tlh0726
03-06-2011, 09:08 PM
Deleted my question due to you already answering it on a previous post.

starry_solo
03-06-2011, 09:25 PM
Let me apologize for offering an opinion...I got the impression from your post that any were appreciated.

Do I have a law degree or am an underwriter? No. But I do know that if a home I owned was in jeopardy I would not sit by and allow things to get worse. I owned a rental property (though I did not have tenants like yours) and had situations where a bill wasn't paid or there was risk of damage because of a maintenance situation. I did not sit and wait for the tenants to handle it - I handled it myself. We paid the water bill to keep it from getting shut off (because the tenants forgot to pay it). Our lease had a clause that permitted us to enter the property at any time to inspect and make repairs, and that the tenants did NOT have to be present for us to enter.

I do find it surprising that professionals would advise a homeowner to just sit tight and allow a situation to exist where pipes can freeze and cause significant damage to a home go on. Especially when all it takes is a payment by phone to keep that from happening. I'd much rather pay a few hundred now to keep the heat on than a few thousand down the road to make repairs.

But to each his own.

Its clear you no longer want my input, so I'll make this my last post here. I wish you luck.

Just started reading the posts and I'm not sure where you live, but in California, such a clause in a lease (allowing the landlord to enter at any time without giving notice to the tenant) would be unenforceable.

Unfortunately, in almost every state, a "squatter" still has rights. That's why the unlawful detainer action had to be filed and that's why the police cannot be involved.

If the OP put the heat back on, would the squatter use it? Maybe, maybe not.

*love*2*shop
03-06-2011, 10:03 PM
i just wanted to say that i hope you get this resolved quickly or there could be some serious $ done to the house.....Working for a propane and oil company i will say that in the future if you ever rent this property out again, i would suggest paying all the bills so this doesnt happen....( make sure there is oil, make sure the lights dont get turned off, make sure the water bill is paid)

THEN include that in your RENTAL pricing and adjust accordingly...i have gotten MANY a calls about tenants who havent paid and the OWNER of the home trying to call and get heat...its very sad.

GOOD LUCK~

LoveBWVVBR
03-07-2011, 07:59 AM
i just wanted to say that i hope you get this resolved quickly or there could be some serious $ done to the house.....Working for a propane and oil company i will say that in the future if you ever rent this property out again, i would suggest paying all the bills so this doesnt happen....( make sure there is oil, make sure the lights dont get turned off, make sure the water bill is paid)

THEN include that in your RENTAL pricing and adjust accordingly...i have gotten MANY a calls about tenants who havent paid and the OWNER of the home trying to call and get heat...its very sad.

GOOD LUCK~

This sounds like good advice. I never thought of why a landlord might want to pay utilities. It may also make the rental more attractive to tenants, even with higher pricing.

herdtoDisney
03-07-2011, 07:03 PM
Wouldn't there need to be electricity to fire the burner, though?

Yes, you're right. She'd need to fill the tank and also have CL&P put the account in her name so the burner can fire. But then the squatter can run her up a huge bill :sad2: She's really in a stuck situation. Thankfully, we seem to be past the hardest cold so if the pipes haven't frozen, they probably won't (barring a very cold snap).

Here in CT, water bills go with the property, so she has to pay that anyways, but maybe she could get contracted regular oil delivery so it always has oil. I've never seen a single family home here with electricity included in the rent, and usually heating oil is not either-but she could try. I think getting a property mgt co to handle this rental home might be a good idea too.

DebMcDonald
03-17-2011, 01:35 PM
I want to thank everyone for their support and listening to me ask lots of rental questions over the past couple of months. We took back our house this weekend without the help of our attorney. My huband showed up and the son of the tenant was in the house so my husband went over and spoke to him and he said "I don't live here and neither does my mom" so my husband asked what all the stuff was in the house and he said I don't know it must be yours, so we called the police, he left and the police said because he admitted to not living there we had the right to change the locks. There is no physical damage to the house, but lots and lots and lots of garbage to take out. I've seen the pictures, have yet to see it in person and it's gross, but again - thank you to everyone!!! :grouphug:

scrapquitler
03-17-2011, 01:43 PM
I want to thank everyone for their support and listening to me ask lots of rental questions over the past couple of months. We took back our house this weekend without the help of our attorney. My huband showed up and the son of the tenant was in the house so my husband went over and spoke to him and he said "I don't live here and neither does my mom" so my husband asked what all the stuff was in the house and he said I don't know it must be yours, so we called the police, he left and the police said because he admitted to not living there we had the right to change the locks. There is no physical damage to the house, but lots and lots and lots of garbage to take out. I've seen the pictures, have yet to see it in person and it's gross, but again - thank you to everyone!!! :grouphug:

Well I am happy that it turned out to be less dramatic than you had anticipated. Sounds like a mess to deal with, but the fact that there is no physical damage to the house is good.

mtblujeans
03-17-2011, 01:47 PM
What a relief for you to not have to deal with attorneys, courts, etc. I hope you find there has been no damage to the house as you begin the cleaning process. :goodvibes

BellePrincessBelle
03-17-2011, 02:33 PM
Glad to hear. I've been waiting for an update.

SandrA9810
03-17-2011, 04:06 PM
That's pretty funny, well in the grand scheme of things that you've had to go through this battle with him, and he willingly walks right on out. He probably didn't want to be in the cold.

I guess the next in order is renting a dumpster. Good luck. And at least with the cold, it should help minimize the smell.

angwill
03-17-2011, 06:14 PM
Glad to hear all the frustration is over for you besides the cleaning. Maybe it would be worth paying someone to go in and clear it out and clean for you?

Good luck with future renters with the way the economy is in most areas I think it will be more common to end up with renters who lose their jobs and have no money to pay for rent and nowhere to go.

tlh0726
03-17-2011, 08:27 PM
congratulations op!!

All my friends think DH and I have it made because we have 3 rental units.
When we have to evict 3 tenants last year within a 5 month period and they heard stories behind each, thier opinions changed very quickly.

Good luck with the cleanup

seashoreCM
03-17-2011, 08:37 PM
We had our pipes burst while on vacation one year when our oil company forgot to fill our oil tank. It ended up being a pipe on an inside wall from our upper floor that burst and did a lot of damage. From what the plumber told us there should be no problem if it warms up slowly. Ours burst when we got the heat going and it warmed the pipe up too quickly. .
I disagree that warming up the pipe slowly will keep it from bursting. In your case the pipe had already burst, when you warmed it up quickly the water started gushing more quickly.

Befor I go on vacation in winter, I drain the regular plumbing (fresh water) pipes as best as I can and put antifreeze in drains and toilets.

Do you have a relative or friend who can check on the house? You can buy a device with a temperature sensor that you call (requires a telephone land line in your house) and it reports the current temperature. Then if you conclude there is a problem, then you call your relative or friend to go over.

To the OP: Visit the house frequently, at least twice a week. You don't want the former tenant or one of his relatives to try to move back in, or at least if he tries it would look more like a home invasion as opposed to a new squatting let alone new tenancy.