If you’re a rental agent, a landlord or a property investor you are no doubt motivated to keep your properties occupied. And earning an income. However, the global problem of keeping empty properties safe will raise its ugly head at some point.
Yes, it’s a huge and expensive irritation, but a sad fact of life. So, let’s unpack the problems and look at ways to mitigate the risks associated with empty properties.
The House Looks Empty
Vandals, thieves and squatters are always on the lookout for fresh properties.
If your property looks empty then you may as well place a flashing neon sign on your roof saying “Vandalise Me”. Especially so if you are on a main road and your property is easily visible from the street. Opportunistic thieves are everywhere, and you really don’t want to make your property a target.
What can you do to make your property look occupied?
Nothing says vacant quite like empty windows. One of the quickest, cheapest solutions for this priority problem are instant paper blinds. The beauty of paper blinds (besides the price tag) is that they can be cut to the correct size of the window and simply stuck up without drilling holes in your freshly painted window frames. They look great too. And once you’ve signed the new lease agreement and the tenants are about to move in, simply take them down and reuse them elsewhere.
It’s well worth the effort to cut the grass, clean up and rubble, and keep the verges neat and tidy. An overgrown garden is a sure-fire way to highlight an empty home to passersby. If the property is going to be empty for a few months, then it may be worthwhile getting a garden maintenance service in. For a few hundred Rand they will maintain the property, trimming overgrown areas and keeping things tidy. A few extra trusted eyes on your vacant home isn’t a bad thing either!
Your House Is Not Secure
When nobody is home to interrupt their nefarious deeds, vandals, thieves and squatters can take their sweet time scoping the property and getting access. What can you do?
It stands to reason that you need to make it as difficult as possible to access your property. Electric gates can often be lifted off their rails for quick access, so a heavy-duty chain and padlock would be a start. Fit all opening doors and windows with a security gate or burglar bars as a matter of course. A determined person with a crowbar and 5 minutes will see most residential locks and door frames in splinters on the floor.
Even if your property is empty, there are still plenty of items to steal. Electrical fittings such as lights and plugs are a firm favourite. Copper wire and piping can be pulled out of the walls with a bit of effort. Geysers, built-in electrical appliances, cupboards and sanitary ware are also regularly stripped from empty properties.
Tips From The Pros
Blue Security Operations Director, Brian Jackson, offered us some practical advice on the security of empty properties.
- When you have sold your property it’s important to ensure that it is adequately secured until the new owners take transfer because the financial risk usually remains with the seller when it comes to any physical damages incurred before registration of transfer in the deeds office.
- We have a high crime rate in South Africa which makes it crucial to ensure that optimal security is in place not only while you are still living in your home but also if the property is to stand vacant for any period of time before the buyers move in, even if this is just for a few days. Opportunistic criminals who happen to notice you have moved out will be sure to take a chance to target the property for valuables such as air-conditioning units, geysers and copper pipes.
- If you haven’t already painted your copper pipes black to give them the appearance of plastic piping it’s advisable to do so as vandals will not think twice about scaling a wall to remove these. Make sure your alarm system has a sensor in the roof for early detection of intruders as criminals sometimes enter properties the ceiling.
- Once you have moved out it is important to keep paying your security provider so that if an intruder does manage to get onto the property you will at least have an armed response officer in the vicinity who can check out the premises and minimise the loss.
- Keep your electric fence on if you have one and install automatic day/night sensor light bulbs outside to ensure that the property is adequately lit up at night. Cut back any bush near the entrance to your property and around the house where criminals can hide.
- Inform your neighbours of the date you plan to move and the estimated date of transfer and ask them to keep an eye on your property and to ring your security firm should they notice anything suspicious.
- If the buyers are moving in before the date of transfer, include a clause in the sale agreement to state that they must take care to ensure the alarm is turned on at night and if they go away.
Many security companies offer patrolling options, or even armed guards to man your property if you feel it is at risk.
Risk of Damage to Empty Properties
It’s not only society’s underbelly that poses a risk to empty properties. When there is nobody to question the sound of water or the smell of smoke, things can get pretty bad, pretty quickly.
Turn off your power at the mains. This eliminates the risk of a short, a fire, or a massive bill with lights being left on for a couple of months. It also acts as a deterrent for squatters who would love nothing more than a cosy home with hot water and lighting – for free. Many rental agents and landlords invest in electrical meters which acts as a secondary security measure; you only have power if you pay for it.
You simply have to turn off your water mains if your house is empty. A burst pipe, a tap left open, or a leaking geyser can cause extensive damage internally and externally in a matter of minutes. Empty your geyser and turn off the power to avoid water flooding through your ceiling. And secure your water mains – squatters need water too.
Bizarrely, here’s something else to think about. If someone is hurt on your property, then you may be liable for their medical costs. What they were doing on your property in the first place isn’t always the question that is asked. So keeping the property properly maintained, even if empty, is vital.
Key Points To Take Away
In summary, we need to look closely at the following issues and mitigate the risks associated with empty properties – that are within our control.
Ease of access. How easy is it for intruders to gain access to your property?
Maintenance. Keep the outside of your property in good condition. Remove rubble, cut the grass, and keep the garden and verges tidy and free of litter.
Keep it occupied. Ideally, you want your property to be occupied as far as possible, even employing house-sitters or security guards if necessary.
Keep it private. Your property may be unoccupied but try not to let it look that way. Cover windows and keep the mailbox empty.
Turn off the mains.Turn off and secure electricity and water, empty your geyser, and remove gas cylinders.