Eventually, it’ll happen.
Your home or the home of someone you know will get broken into. This post will cover my tale of a recent break in and offer advice on how to prevent a burglary at your home or rental property.
There’s never an ideal time for a break-in. Just last week one of my tenants was burgled, on Christmas Eve no less. The nerve of these jerks!
Good thing we (the landlords) were in town for the holidays. When I heard from my tenant on Christmas morning, I made sure she had contacted the police. No one was home when the break-in occurred, but of course, things were stolen (including Christmas presents).
I’ve personally been a victim of break-ins. It happened to my family a couple of times growing up: once in our house, and at a later time, our garage. Within a few months of moving into my first house as an adult, a serial burglar kicked in my side door and made off with my laptop and stereo system.
So I had a pretty good idea of what my tenant was going through. But I’ll have a different perspective on the Wet Bandits the next time I watch Home Alone. It’s one thing to have a burglary occur in a cutesy fictional story, and another altogether to have your home violated by thieves on Christmas Eve for REAL.
Lessons From a Break-in Victim
Of all the things to worry about as a landlord, security can often get lost in the mix. The biggest piece of advice I can give is to coach your tenants to use the same best practices you use with your own home. And if you don’t have any best practices for your own home, you better keep reading…
Lesson #1: Make the house appear as if someone is living there when you’re away. This includes not letting newspapers and mail pile up. Also, be sure to have someone mow the lawn or shovel out the snow. But the most important tip is to have interior lights pop on and off throughout the house at hours you normally would be using a given room. There are several “Smart” outlet makes you can try at a low cost that allows you to schedule lamps and randomize on/off while you’re away. Simple (and cheaper) outlet timers do the job.
If you want to up your game, invite a friend to house sit.
Lesson #2: Illuminate the exterior with motion-activated lights. Install floods at garage entry points and light up your pathways. Install at your side and back door entrances too. Motion lights can cause a thief to second guess whether the light or someone inside activated the flood. The main thing is not to allow a thief to operate in the dark where passersby or neighbors or unable to spot them.
Lesson #3: Secure your doors. Ensure your entry doors are solid – preferably steel-clad. All entry doors should have a deadbolt. Door windows should be obscure and not allow potential intruders to peep in to discern if anyone’s home. With the deadbolt, ensure the strike plate is installed with 3″ stainless steel screws. These longer screws can help to prevent door kick-ins by allowing the deadbolt to “bond” with the studs that surround the door jamb.
You can take it a step further and reinforce the most vulnerable points with a kit like the Door Armor MAX (sold on Amazon). I’ve got one on the way and hopefully, the install is as easy as the company claims.
Lesson #4: Keep unopened windows locked. Remove any overgrown bushes or vegetation from the perimeter, so burglars aren’t able to sit hidden and case your house. We’ve installed stoppers on our windows to prevent would-be invaders from climbing through. Your local ACE hardware sells these and they’re super easy to DIY install.
Lesson #5: Consider deterrents. A Ring video doorbell serves notice that anyone up to no good could get caught on camera. Idiots will still try anyway (see the thousands of package thieves stupid enough to steal on camera), but the idea is to make thieves consider easier options. The same is true with security system signs and stickers.
You may not have an active system, but the door stickers and signs could deter someone from breaking in. Finally, dogs or the belief dogs are present can deter crooks. I’ve read that simply leaving a large drinking bowl out by the door can deter thieves.
How to Prevent a Burglary With Security Systems
An active security system is always a good bet. Though they can be pricey. Some newer options have come onto the scene to compete with the traditional outfits. SimpliSafe seems to have an edge in this category and could be worth considering if your rentals (or residence) are in areas prone to break-ins.
Having had security systems growing up and later, in our own house, I can tell you they are annoying and expensive. When that alarm gets tripped, it’s incredibly loud. And then the police show up about 5 minutes later if you’re not quick about calling in a false alarm. Still, they provide the peace of mind you might be looking for, depending on your situation.
You could also invest in a Ring or Nest standalone camera/floodlight. When mounted high above vulnerable entry points, the presence of a camera is a potent deterrent. Some use dummy cameras that aren’t actively monitored.
Ring cameras can be set up to record whenever someone walks into view of the sensor. There is a fee though, of $30 per Ring device per year. For $3 a month, again, the peace of mind is worth the trade-off.
Short of installing a moat and drawbridge, there isn’t anything you can do that’s 100% guaranteed to keep out thieves. Sometimes the babysitter will make off with valuables. Or, your kids will have friends over who have sticky fingers.
But you can use common sense. Build relationships with your neighbors. Let them know when you’ll be away and offer to watch after their place when they’re away. Creating a network within your neighborhood is crucial. We’ve had prowlers caught in the act on our block (garage break-ins are more common in alley network urban areas) thanks to neighbors spotting something next door.
Encourage your tenants to branch out in their neighborhood and participate in block events, like National Night Out.
Maximizing Tenant Security and Minimizing Landlord Expense
The investments a landlord should make don’t amount to much here. We can make money with rental properties and ensure tenant safety at the same time.
Cutting back bushes and shrubs requires nothing more than time and elbow grease. Installing a better deadbolt and reinforcing the strikes can be done for less than $100 per door, again, DIY. (3″ stainless steel screws are CHEAP.) Replacing existing fixtures with motion LED floodlights is about $50 per entry point.
If the tenant chooses to install a Ring doorbell, help them to ensure a proper install. If they want to put in an active security system, they can pay for it. But be sure to update the lease agreement so both parties have access codes and are fully aligned on expectations.
Lastly, I suggest you have each of your tenants provide proof of renter’s insurance. My tenant, in this case, let her policy lapse, so she could not claim the $1,000 of personal property that was stolen. These policies are dirt cheap (about $10 – $20 a month depending on what you own and where you live) and they protect the tenant’s belongings in these kinds of scenarios.
Imagine if the thieves ransacked the joint. I’m covered for the home structure and major appliances, but all of the clothes, jewelry, furniture, and electronics would not be my responsibility. If a tenant has to spend all of his or her money to replace their personal belongings, they might have a hard time paying next month’s rent… Don’t let your tenants be misled into thinking they don’t need a renter’s policy!
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