Security is one of the many issues that make being a landlord a demanding role. It’s already a full-time job when you have a full complement of tenants. But when you have a property standing empty, you can find yourself facing a host of new, complex challenges, none of them particularly pleasant.
While the suspension of Section 21 during the pandemic has prevented the steep rise in evictions that might otherwise have been expected, large numbers of residential properties remain empty – most in the public sector, although numbers in the private sector are still significant.
The commercial property rental market, on the other hand, has been hit badly. Persistently difficult economic conditions that can still be traced back to the crash of 2007 have combined with lockdown to force hundreds of thousands of businesses into closure or bankruptcy. 2020 saw some of the weakest investment in this sector since records began. That has left staggering numbers of properties empty on high streets, retail estates, in residential areas and elsewhere. And as soon as a property – residential or commercial – becomes empty, problems start to circle like vultures.
Many of the risks are from human agency and the anti-social behaviour of squatters, vandals, fly-tippers, thieves, arsonists and the kind of thrill-seekers who style themselves as urban explorers. Never mind that such buildings are someone’s property, these criminals and opportunists will always be waiting to take advantage of a landlord’s misfortune.
Legal redress is lengthy and expensive, such as the civil proceedings required to remove squatters from non-residential premises. Fly-tippers are almost impossible to deter and even harder to prosecute. What any landlord needs are measures that anticipate and prevent.
Although squatting in a residential property is now a criminal offence, there are many other ways in which determined transgressors can cause severe loss and damage to landlords. You need to exert as much control as you possibly can over vacant houses and flats, and that usually means electronic defences such as CCTV, security lighting and alarms to detect intruders as well as smoke and fire.
Video and imagery security devices enable you to monitor your property remotely and, of course, you can pay to have your systems linked to the local police station. Police response is available only on professionally monitored alarms installed by UKAS accredited companies and will require a maintenance contract that provides two inspections per year. The annual cost of police response is likely to be £350 or more, but bear in mind that under-resourced police constabularies may not be able to respond as quickly as you would like. If any false alarms should occur, you may find your service being downgraded, which in turn will have an effect on your insurance premium.
If a visible alarm itself is not deterrence enough then it may be that security lighting is a valuable alternative: intruders may think twice if they know their clandestine activities may be exposed at any moment by floodlights. Similarly, the presence of cameras can work wonders to scare off miscreants. With lighting and alarms, it may seem like a chance worth taking, but cameras are a different gamble – not only can they alert the authorities but they may also identify individuals, making prosecution a real threat. If you opt for cameras, make sure that you announce their presence loudly but site them out of the reach of trouble-makers so they can’t be smashed or otherwise tampered with.
In all circumstances, it is vital to keep your insurers fully apprised of the status of your property. Even if it is going to stand empty for only a short period, that vacancy will affect and possibly nullify your policy. Bear in mind too that the risks you face are not confined to the security and integrity of the property as a whole but to the fittings, furniture and contents as well. As a landlord, you’ll already be well aware of the significance of inventory property management and although it might not seem obvious, this remains important even when a property is unoccupied. After all, it’s not your aim to maintain an empty flat or house: your objective is to fill it as soon as possible.
It’s vital to ensure that your property is maintained in the best condition to attract tenants. At InventoryBase, we provide property inspection software that will help you keep track of your property’s interior condition. That covers furnishings and simple cosmetic issues but it also extends to the utilities such as gas and electricity. When a property has no tenants, there is no one to alert you to faulty wiring, electrical failures or water leaks. Instead, you have to keep on top of it all. That needn’t mean taking the time and trouble to carry out checks in person because our property inspection app enables you to arrange this to be undertaken remotely.
Maintaining security in vacant properties is one of the biggest headaches in the life of a landlord, whether you have one property or hundreds, residential or commercial. By and large, the risks are the same and so are the remedies. Don’t wait for misfortune to befall you. If you haven’t done so while the property is tenanted, be prepared to put in place some of these security measures as soon as it falls empty. You need to put at least as much energy into protecting your investment now as you did when all you had to worry about was the unpredictability of paying tenants. If you do your homework and think ahead, you can limit the dangers and make sure that if something does go wrong, you have the resources in place to minimise any negative consequences.