Keep your empty rental property safe this Christmas with our action plan. From regular visits and utility watchpoints to upping security and checking your insurance, here’s what you need to look out for.
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Regardless of the time of year, empty rental properties can cause landlords headaches. Last Christmas, thisismoney.co.uk reported that three million UK households leave Christmas tree lights on while they’re away or asleep, with insurers seeing more fire claim numbers in December than any other month.
Before you start, take a look at our popular fire damage insurance guide and check your cover is in place and up-to-date. You may also want to check our specific unoccupied property insurance options, if your rental will be empty for longer than usual.
Holiday periods are prime time for an uplift in burglary and house fire risk, along with other accidents and disasters. Here are the things you can do to protect your property, tenants and your own well-deserved break. Why not send your tenants a ‘keep us safe’ checklist?
1. Plan in advance
Ask your tenants to tell you when they’re going away, with as much notice as possible. They’ll probably expect this at Christmas or during other holiday seasons. But encourage them to remind you during the year too, if they’re planning on being away.
Once you have your dates, you can plan for empty periods using our tips below. Remember to contact your tenants with a helpful reminder of your rules around candles, Christmas lights (and other decorations) and a note about the increased risk of burglary.
As part of your planning, arrange to visit the property nearer your tenant’s holiday and check:
- drains and gutters for debris/leaf build up (these can cause leaks and damage)
- the roof for weaknesses
- any lofts, attics, cellars (etc) for damage
- entry points and letter boxes for signs of tampering
Worried about a long-term emtpy property? If your property’s going to be empty for longer than just a few weeks of holiday, speak to your insurer. They may be able to help as it could affect your policy, and there are plenty of options for longer-term unoccupied property insurance.
2. Up your security
Thieves prefer quick wins, especially at Christmas. Professional security locks and bolts are easy to come by, even more so if you book a trusted company to install them for you and give you advice. Many households also use an alarm system that you can manage remotely from wherever you’re based.
You’ll need to trust your tenant with using these when locking up or coming in, so get professional advice and discuss it with them before committing any money.
Popular landlord security tactics:
- professional security locks and bolts
- alarm systems
- screens and security boards
- security lighting
- steel security doors
- camera systems (including CCTV)
Protecting your property often comes down to the simplest things though, especially considering doors are still what most burglars target.
Research this year by MoneySuperMarket revealed that 70 per cent of burglars managed to gain access through doors last year. Of these, 29 per cent forced the locks, 10 per cent broke a panel of the door and a shocking 15 per cent simply walked through an unlocked door.
3. Be sensible
Keeping your property safe often comes down to simply being sensible. Make sure your tenants have checked these off before leaving the property:
close the windows (even if they’re just popping out, it’s a tempting entry point for seasonal thieves)
keep keys, money and valuables out of sight
check for any weak points (if the window lock needs fixing or your tenant has lost the latch key, ask them to let you know as soon as possible)
old keys and locks (if a previous tenant still has a key to any of your entry points, or even if it’s just missing, consider replacing)
These may sound obvious, but many insurance policies insist on locks being in working order before making a payout. An open window could void your cover. Try to make a visit before it’s too late and triple-check all your locks, keys and entry points, replacing where necessary.
4. Do a quick visit
This can be you, or someone you trust. If you don’t live far away and fancy a breather over Christmas, checking your rental property can make the ideal excuse.
Things like burst pipes are best dealt with straightaway, so popping round may be worth your time. You can limit the damage and get on the front foot with putting things right, ahead of your tenants coming back.
If you’re trusting someone else to look in on things, get them to park their car in the driveway for a few hours, and notify you if anything looks odd.
Check your landlord insurance policy, as some insurers will state that you or a responsible adult need to make regular checks on an unoccupied property.
5. Make it look busy
We all know that scene from Home Alone, with burglars being scared off by a house full of activity. You don’t need to construct anything elaborate, but making the house or flat look ‘lived-in’ can really repel any would-be thieves.
Here are the top tips to keep your place looking busy:
- avoid post stacking up behind the front door (can a neighbour collect it? Or could you ask your tenants to redirect their mail?)
- pay someone local to go round and tidy up the garden, cut the grass, or water the plants (or take a break from the festivities and do it yourself)
- put a few lights on timer switches
- move things like curtains and blinds around (again, maybe a neighbour could help)
- put up and take down decorations (thieves tend to notice if a house isn’t decorated at all, or if decorations have been left up well past Christmas)
6. Take care with social media
In fact, it’s best to limit any advertisements of an empty property. From pet-sitting company vans parked outside (the classic) to casual chit-chat with local shops, don’t draw attention to trips and vacations.
Speak to your tenants and ask them to avoid posting about their trip if possible. This may not be realistic, but they could perhaps check their account privacy settings and ensure it’s just people they know and trust who will see their holiday snaps.
7. Book your cleaner
This is a great thing to do, for lots of reasons. It ensures a trusted face will be popping into your property, ideally a couple of times over the break. They can report back to you on how the place is doing, and keep things looking busy.
You’ll also get the place spruced up, ready for when your tenants come back, and provide your cleaner with work over the often-quiet Christmas period.
8. Check your insurance and utilities
Some people like to leave the heating on low whilst they’re away, to avoid problems with pipes. On the other hand, some insurers will state that everything needs to be switched off at source (from gas and water to electricity), if the property’s going to be unoccupied.
Check with your insurer and utility providers and plan in advance what you need your tenants to do.
Simply Business landlord insurance can include buildings and contents cover, along with property owners’ liability. Remember though, your tenants will usually need their own insurance to cover their belongings.
Calling savvy landlords – what are your top tips for managing your property safely over the Christmas break? Let us know in the comments.