Although empty properties might seem hard to come by in today’s market where demand for rentals is high, leaving a property vacant can open it up to increased risks of theft, vandalism and deterioration. As a landlord, it is crucial to be aware of security challenges and know what measures to take to properly secure an empty property and look after your investment. This article will provide key guidance on safeguarding vacant properties.

Perimeter security

The first line of defence for a vacant property is securing the external perimeter. Intruders look for the path of least resistance, so creating physical barriers helps harden the property. Install sturdy fencing around the full boundary line, with a higher fence height (e.g. six foot plus) for maximum protection.

Complement the fencing with concrete or steel barricades in front of garage doors, large windows, or other access points a criminal could potentially breach. Prickly rose bushes or other formidable landscaping features can further deter trespassing.

If neighbours are not regularly nearby, you could consider enlisting a property management company to make regular visits to the property, checking the exterior and indicating a presence around the address. Any regular activity around the property will make potential thieves think twice.

Motion-activated security lighting can also act as a deterrent to unwanted visitors, illuminating the property at night or when movement is detected. Securing the perimeter provides a key layer of protection against unwanted entry for a residential property.

Access control

Controlling who can enter the vacant property is critical for security. Change the locks if previous tenants still have keys. Use high quality deadbolt locks on exterior doors. Install an alarm system with motion sensors and connect it to a monitoring service – this provides an extra layer of protection and rapid notification if triggered.

Carefully restrict the number of keys distributed, keeping one for yourself as the landlord, one on site with a property manager if you have one and an extra one with a trusted friend or family member. Garage remotes and codes should also only be held by approved persons. The more limited and controlled the access, the less risk of unwanted visitors.

Interior precautions

Even if an intruder circumvents perimeter and access controls, interior precautions can still limit losses. Lock interior doors between rooms so full access is not available if entry is gained.

Maintain active utilities like electricity and water so pipes don’t freeze in winter if the heat is off. Set the thermostat low enough to prevent burst pipes but high enough to avoid frost damage.

Stop mail delivery or arrange temporary forwarding so an overflowing mailbox isn’t an obvious sign the property is empty.

Disconnect appliances and electronics to protect against power surges, until tenants are residing in the property again.

Take time filming a video walkthrough documenting the condition of each room, in case insurance claims arise.

Ongoing monitoring

In addition to proactive security measures, landlords should implement procedures for ongoing monitoring of vacant properties. Conduct external drive-by inspections at least weekly, looking for signs of break-ins or vandalism. If possible, walk through the interior once a month as well to check for water leaks, damage, or other issues.

Enlist a property management company to include the property in periodic patrols where they visually inspect the premises and grounds. Ask nearby neighbours to be alert and report any suspicious activity.

Ensure you keep up to date records for the property and set out how often you will actually visit the address while vacant. Document each inspection for your records. Regular monitoring allows you to catch problems early before extensive costs are incurred.

Insurance considerations

Review your property insurance coverage before leaving a rental vacant. Standard landlord policies may not provide sufficient protection for unoccupied buildings. You may need to purchase a separate vacant property. Ensure you meet the insurer’s requirements for security measures and regular inspections.

Consider adding coverage like vandalism or theft of building materials if renovation work is underway. Increase coverage limits for fire damage or broken water pipes since vacant properties are at higher risk. If the vacancy period will be lengthy, look into builder’s risk insurance. Do a final walk through and take photos at vacancy, to support any future claims. Keeping proper insurance will protect your finances, should a problem arise despite security efforts.

Working with tenants

When transitioning between occupants, careful coordination ensures the property is never left unattended. Do a walkthrough inspection with incoming tenants before handing over keys, noting any existing damage.

Agree on a moving-out date with departing tenants and begin marketing the property in advance. Overlap moving-out and moving-in dates if possible so new tenants take possession immediately. Have departing tenants return keys directly to you or your property manager, rather than leaving inside. Change locks and alarm codes each time tenants change.

Create a documented turnover process for cleaning, repairs and security walkthroughs between occupants. Leaving your property empty for a brief amount of time is often unavoidable, but advanced planning minimises this gap.

Vacant properties are prime targets for costly vandalism, theft and damage. As a landlord, protecting your investment requires proactive measures to secure empty properties. Strengthen the perimeter security of the property, and further control access with locks and alarms.

Adjust insurance to cover unoccupied periods. Finally, coordinate closely with departing and arriving tenants to minimise vacancy gaps during turnovers. Following these best practices will help look after your empty property and finances. With proper vigilance, vacant premises can remain productive assets.