Summer Security Solutions: How to protect your properties from crime

The sun is out, the schools have broken up, and many of us are turning our thoughts to holidays – dreaming of escaping the rat race for a week or two relaxing, at home or abroad.

Research released this week by MoneySuperMarket revealed that Brits are prioritising travel over getting on the property ladder – with 43% of people using their savings for holidays or travel rather than saving for a deposit. There is no doubt that racking up the air miles is high on the to do list for many of us, however, as we squeeze another pair of flipflops in the case, and debate whether twelve bikinis is excessive for a week away, there is more sinister planning taking place.

Whilst burglaries peak in the dark winter months, summer holiday season also sees a spike, when quiet empty properties are easy prey for opportunistic thieves. But should the worst happen, what is your role as a landlord?

How can I as a landlord proactively protect a property?

Ultimately, as a landlord there is only so much you can do. Your tenant has to take much of the responsibility when they go away, but you can do all you can to make the property initially secure and assist in any way possible to help along the way. After all, the last thing anyone wants is a break in at the property, no matter whose responsibility it is.

  • Make sure your tenant notifies you if they plan to go away – some insurance policies have a set period of time which the property can be empty for, before insurance becomes invalid. If your tenant is planning a long holiday, you don’t want to be left uninsured!
  • Engage with neighbours – no matter the situation, a good relationship with neighbours is always a benefit! If anything is amiss with the property, be is a break in or a maintenance issue, they will be the first to know, and will be able to alert you and the tenant to any problems.
  • Suggest a key safe – the old ‘key under a plant pot’ trick isn’t fooling anyone and is a perfect invitation for unwanted guests to simply let themselves in! A key safe, positioned somewhere discreet can be a great way to allow a key to be accessed, and can also be a huge benefit if your tenant is notorious for losing their keys…
  • Plan your maintenance – a two-week break can be a great opportunity for you to get in to the property and carry out any niggling maintenance jobs without getting under the tenant’s feet. Ask them to compline a list of the issues that need addressing in the property, and schedule a few days working there. If a would-be burglar is scoping the property, they may be put of by visible activity, and will be less likely to take the risk in case they run into a paint-splattered landlord… One key issue to remember though. Don’t assume that because your tenant is away you can visit the property unannounced. You must still agre with them if you are going to attend the property and they have every right to refuse, unless it is an emergency.
  • Utilise the bins – it may sound like a load of rubbish, but burglars these days are taking a huge interest in the contents of people’s bins… not to see if they’re throwing away anything interesting (although it’s always a good idea to shred anything important containing vital personal data, just in case!) but as an easy way to see if the property is being lived in. After all, even the most efficient household is going to produce some waste over the course of a week, and if there’s nothing in the wheelie bin, a burglar may take a chance. Maybe suggest to your tenant that they offer their bins to the neighbours whilst they are away, so it seems that there is some movement in the property.

Who has to deal with the problem if the tenant is away?

If you are notified that a burglary has taken place, your first instinct would be to rush to the property and make sure it is secure. However, before you do, make sure you have contacted the police to notify them first – don’t forget, it is potentially a crime scene and you don’t want to let yourself in and disturb anything that the police may need.

You should also contact your tenant to notify them of what you have been told. If they are away on holiday, it is probably that they would be grateful tat someone is taking control of the situation and making sure their home is secured, but they may also want to ask a friend or family member to be present.

Legally, you do not have to give the required 24 hours’ notice to attend the property in this instance. There are a few situations in which you are permitted to enter the property without notice:

There is the suspicion of a violent or criminal incident
There is a fire in the property
There is a smell of gas
Flooding coming from the property

There has been structural damage which urgently needs attention

Who is ultimately responsible for associated costs?

Should the worst happen, it can be difficult to assess who is ultimately responsible for what, and at an emotionally charged time it can be tricky to broach this subject with you understandably upset tenant.
Hopefully, you will all have the relevant insurances in place, this will make things significantly easier.

The general rule is that if there is any damage caused to the property during a break in, you, the property owner, will take responsibility, and you should claim on your insurance.

The insurance should cover:

  • Damage to the building itself as well as its permanent fittings
  • Any contents belonging to you that has been stolen

Any items that have been stolen belonging to your tenant should be covered by their contents insurance. This should take into account:

  • The theft of their possessions
  • Personal injuries that they may have sustained upon discovering the break-in
  • Destruction of their property following a break in

Many tenancy agreements insist that a tenant has contents insurance in place upon moving into the property, it can be a good idea to ask to see a document proving that they have secured a policy upon check in – a policy document or email confirmation would be ideal.

Your insurance policy may include clauses that state that it will not be valid if certain criteria have not been met. These could include things such as:

  • Failing to use a burglar alarm if one is present (if you have notified your insurance company that one is in place, and will be being used)
  • Failing to report a burglary/theft to the police, and obtaining a crime reference number
  • Leaving the property unoccupied for longer that the agreed period
  • Failing to secure windows and doors properly when leaving the property

Check whether your insurance policy includes clauses like these – if so, you may want to insert a clause into your tenancy agreement to ensure that your tenant is aware that they must comply with these rules. After all, if the worst should happen, you do not want to find that your insurance policy is invalid!

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