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What Landlords (And Their Tenants) Can Do to Minimize Property CrimeBy Kevin Perk
Property crime is almost unavoidable. If you own multiple or even one property, eventually your property will be a victim. Property crime seems to be on the uptick lately. We have recently had more break-ins and other types of theft than I can remember happening in a while. The police seem only able to react, and even if they catch the thief, the courts will often let the jerk back out in no time at all. So while I do not know why there seems to be this uptick, I know I have to do something to protect my property and keep my good tenants. Otherwise, an ever-deepening circle of crime and vacancy can quickly eat into the bottom line.
Property crime is a crime of opportunity. That is the thief sees an easy opportunity and takes it. Understanding this and understanding what the thief is looking for can help you combat property crime and make your properties a safer and thus more desirable place to live. Rarely will the thief actually be caught by understanding these concepts, but capture is not the goal. The goal is for the thief to not see any opportunity at your property or feel the opportunity costs are too high and therefore move on down the road to someone else's property.
So what can you do at your properties? A landlord can do a lot but only so much. Some of the responsibility is going to also fall on the tenant. You will need their help as well.
Landlords Can Do a Lot Towards Preventing Property CrimeAs a landlord, the first thing you should do is screen your tenants, and don't allow known criminals to live in your properties. Seems simple, but there are many out there who will take any breathing body waving cash.
Second, you obviously have to make your properties appear less opportunistic. I studied crime a while back when I was in graduate school. What I found was that properties with dogs, fences and alarms, or even just the possibility of these items, such as a "Beware of Dog" or alarm system sign, were much less likely to be criminalized than those without those features.
Why? Because gates, alarms and dogs all make noise, and the last thing a thief wants is noise to attract attention. A barking dog, a creaking gate or an alarm siren will make people stop and look. Fences also help by defining private space and thus saying "stay out." So perhaps allowing pets, installing gates and alarms is not such a bad idea if you want to deter crime. For a long time, we also resisted alarms due to the cost. But the cost is really not that expensive when compared to the cost of tenant turnover and the repairs needed due to property crime.
Fake Alarms & CamerasWe have also purchased fake alarm signs and posted those along with fake cameras. They have seemed to work, but many thieves know these tricks and will test them. Thus, bars on windows, lighting, security doors and cages over HVAC units are also great ideas. While cages, lighting, security doors and bars will not stop a determined criminal, most likely they will push them on towards an easier, more opportune target.
Crime Prevention Through Environmental DesignThere is actually an entire disciple dedicated to studying and making buildings and our communities less opportune targets. This discipline is called Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED). CPTED is really interesting because it demonstrates that it is not just about fencing or lighting, but about certain types of and placement of lighting and fencing along with numerous other design elements that you can perhaps incorporate into some of your properties. I encourage you to learn more.
You STILL Need Your Tenants' Help: Here's What to Tell ThemAs I said previously, landlords cannot do it all. Tenants also need to help. But tenants often need to be educated on what their role should be.
Tell Them to Tell You EverythingFirst, they are going to be your eyes and ears. You as the landlord cannot be at your property every minute of every day. You cannot see that certain lights are burned out or perhaps that hedge has grown over the past spring. Emphasize that they have to tell you about these things so you can keep then repaired.
Related: It CAN Happen to You: How to Guard Against Dangerous Real Estate Scams & Squatters
Be SmartTenants also have to be smart about crime. Ask them not to leave valuables in their cars or outside. I know, it seems like they should know this, but many simply are naive. Ask your tenants to notify you if they are going to be out of town for a while. Ask them to leave lights on and perhaps a radio playing. Explain to them that they have to do their part to keep the place secure. That means they need to lock their windows and security doors ALL THE TIME. You would not believe how many tenants do not lock the security doors because it is "too much of a hassle."