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Top Tips for Keeping Untenanted Property Safe and Secure

Published on October 31, 2023 by Sarah Mac

Void periods are part and parcel of a landlord’s life. Whilst there are things you can do to minimise them as much as possible, it is inevitable that you’ll face one sooner or later. And void periods aren’t the only reason for an empty rental property.

Whether it’s an extended holiday or your student tenants have returned home for the summer, there could be times when your property is uninhabited, which can put your investment at a greater risk.

Here we’re taking a look at the potential risks associated with vacant rental property, and how to tackle them.

What are the risks of a vacant rental property?

A property that’s obviously empty will always prove a greater risk of being targeted by intruders. Opportunistic thieves will seek out empty properties, often observing them over time to ascertain whether they could be an easy target.

Properties that are untenanted may also suffer from a lack of ventilation and cleaning which could lead to damp, mould and pest infestations. Maintenance issues that go unnoticed, such as leaks or blocked drains, could easily exacerbate into major problems if left unattended over time.

What should I be aware of regarding insurance for my untenanted property?

If your rental property is left empty for some time, it will usually be necessary to inform your insurers. You may need a specialist policy to cover the typical eventualities.

Insurers will usually define a property as ‘unoccupied’ if the entire property or part of it is not lived in by you, a tenant or an authorised person, and that doesn’t have sufficient furniture for everyday living purposes. Periods of 30 days or less when a tenant is away on holiday, for example, are not usually included.

General landlord or buildings and contents insurance policies will usually cover a certain amount of unoccupied time, often a maximum of 30 days, after which cover may be restricted. They may also have a clause that stipulates additional terms for longer unoccupied periods.

These may include higher excesses, and certain requirements, such as regular property inspections; utilities being switched off and water systems drained (although the electricity can usually be left on to operate security systems); and the removal of waste materials from inside and outside the property.

For properties left empty during the winter months, it may be necessary to leave the heating on at a low temperature so that the pipes do not freeze.

How to keep vacant rental property safe and secure

With all of this in mind, here are some top tips you can implement to make sure your property remains safe and secure whilst it’s untenanted or empty.

Make it look like someone’s home

The best way to avert attention from your empty rental property is to make it appear as though it’s actually lived in.

If mail is still being delivered, you should make arrangements for it to be cleared regularly. Post piling up is a tell-tale sign that a property is empty, as is mail left hanging out of a letterbox.

When tenants are away for an extended period, it may be a good idea for them to redirect their post to another address, which can be arranged via the Post Office.

It’s important to be aware that regularly clearing mail could well be a condition of your property insurance.

Make use of smart technology

Smart technology allows you to remotely activate lighting, as well as switch on the likes of TVs and radios and open and close curtains or blinds from a smartphone app.

You can either manually control everything, or set a schedule so that things come on after dark. It’s advisable to vary the schedule so that any observing potential intruders don’t see a regular pattern.

Keep outdoor spaces in check

An overgrown outdoor space is a sure sign that a property is unoccupied. Be sure to keep up with regular garden maintenance, keeping trees and bushes well-trimmed, plants and shrubs pruned and deadheaded, lawns mowed, and leaves and other debris cleared.

If need be, hire a gardener to keep the outside spaces neat and tidy. As well as the security factor, it will also deter any pests taking up residence in your garden.

Ask neighbours to keep an eye on things

If you are on good terms with the neighbours of your rental property, or know anyone else who resides in the vicinity, consider asking them for their help in making the property appear as though it has residents.

For example, you could ask neighbours to push any post through the letterbox that’s hanging out, to mow the lawn or even park their car on your drive. Otherwise, they could just keep an eye for anything that appears suspicious and let you know.

Carry out regular inspections

Carrying out regular inspections of your rental property will alert you to any security issues. And if any unscrupulous would-be intruders are observing, a regular inspection visit could help keep them at bay. You may even find that it forms a condition of insurance for unoccupied properties.

Inspections should cover checking that all doors and windows remain shut and locked; that locks still work; and that there are no broken windows, or other signs of a possible break in.

If you have security measures such as CCTV and an intruder alarm in place, these should be checked to ensure they are working, as well as being professionally maintained by an accredited specialist periodically. You may also want to review CCTV footage to check whether there have been any unwanted visitors or observers.

Finally, ensure all lights and appliances are switched off, check for signs of leaks or water ingress, and also for evidence of mould or pests.

If you are unable to regularly inspect the property yourself, consider arranging a professional property inspection.

Your rental property is your livelihood, so be sure to protect it, especially when it’s empty.

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