As an owner of rental real estate, there are probably a few things you dread the most. Evictions, maintenance, and...break-ins.
Break-ins can be minor or extensive. They have the potential to leave your property heavily damaged and, if occupied, your Tenants feeling uneasy.
Because of this, you should do everything within your power to prevent one from ever happening.
In Indianapolis, you have a 1 in 20 chance of being a victim of a property crime. With odds like those, you need to be prepared to handle this situation should it ever arise.
Two of the most common break-ins include Burglary and Unlawful Inhabitants/Squatters. Let's examine each.
Rental Property Burglary
A burglary is defined as "entry into a building with the intent to commit a crime, especially theft."
The most common access points in your rental home are the front door, back door, or first floor window, so pay extra attention to the security of those areas.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation reports more than 2 million burglaries (one every 18 seconds) a year in the U.S. resulting in $4.6 billion of damages and stolen property.
According to Neighborhood Scout , there is an estimated 10,00 burglaries annually in Indianapolis alone.
Crazily enough, most burglaries are committed in the warmer, summer months and in the daytime, between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. when the perpetrator thinks everyone will be out of the home.
A typical burglary only takes 10 minutes and is more often than not committed by someone who lives nearby.
More than half the time, the motive of a burglary is drugs so the thief will be looking for cash, jewelry, prescription drugs, etc.
Landlord Note: A rental home is almost twice as likely to be hit as a non-rental home.
Because of this, it's extremely important for your Tenants to have Renters Insurance and another reason why you should always require it. Their policy should cover the replacement of most, if not all of the belongings that were stolen.
After such a traumatic experience, the Tenant will want answers from you about what happens next, who pays for what, etc. Having a clause in the lease that details a plan for this situation will help clear up any confusion.
Also, having the proper Landlord Insurance should help cover the cost of the damages to your investment.
Landlord Tip: If your Tenant reports a break-in, always require a police report. In some cases, the "break-in" may have actually been damage caused by the Tenant or the Tenant's guests. In most cases, the Landlord is responsible for any physical damage caused by the break-in (broken door or broken window). However, there are Landlords out there who require any damage caused by a break-in to be covered by the Tenant.
An unlawful inhabitant or squatter is defined as "a person who unlawfully occupies an uninhabited building or unused land."
If your property is vacant, this is an issue you need to pay particular attention to. You may think that this is something that only happens in movies or is highly unlikely, but that is not the case.
We have had multiple encounters with squatters and unlawful occupants in our managed homes.
Sometimes, they are harmless and are simply trying to escape the cold and, once discovered, they go on their way.
Sometimes they cause damage to the property by breaking in through a window, the back door, etc.
And, quite possibly the worst case scenario, they signed a fraudulent lease with a scam artist and actually have legal rights to the property.
Yes, LEGAL rights.
This type of scam became a big problem in Indianapolis a few years ago, and caused numerous Landlords, including us, all kinds of problems.
Imagine this scenario: You sign a Lease for a home and the move-in is scheduled for February 10th. You drop by on the 5th to do a final check of the home, only to find someone living there. You approach the occupant, who provides you a copy of the Lease (fraudulent, obviously) and indicates they paid the scammer a deposit and the first month's rent.
You could can and should call the police. However, in almost every case, the police will consider the circumstance a civil, not criminal matter, which means you’ll have to endure a court case similar to the eviction process.
If you find yourself in this situation here’s what you SHOULDN'T do:
- Change the locks or install padlocks to keep the illegal occupants out
- Shut off utilities
- Use intimidation
- Try to force them out yourself
If you find yourself in this situation here’s what you SHOULD do:
- Call the police - While they may not be able to directly help you, it works in your favor to report the issue as quickly as possible so it’s on record that you have not authorized the squatters to be in your property.
- Offer cash for keys - If you want to try and get the squatters out quickly, this is an option, especially since you might have legal obligations to turn over the property to your Tenant in the scenario noted above.
- Give notice and then file an Unlawful Detainer action - Hopefully, once you serve the squatter with the notice they will high tail it out of there, but if that doesn’t seem to work then the Unlawful Detainer gives you a formal way to evict them.
- Call the constable - If after you win the lawsuit the squatter still won’t vacate, then you’ll need to get the constable involved to remove them from the premises.
Tips to prevent break-ins to your Indianapolis rental property:
- Install a security system - This is probably one of the best things you can do to protect your rental property. It will give you peace of mind when your property is vacant and will make Tenants feel safe while they are occupying it. In some cases, the Tenant will gladly pay a higher rent for a home with a security deposit, making it a win-win.
- “Fake it ‘til you make it” - Security systems can be pricey, especially if you have multiple properties. Instead, simply use decals as a decoy.
That’s right. Just put a few signs and stickers of a well-known security company around your home and a potential burglar won’t know the difference.
The Criminal Justice Department at the University of North Carolina released some research that showed 60% of burglars are deterred if it appears the home is protected by a security system.
- Don’t use For Rent signs - Having a for rent sign in the yard basically screams, “break into me!” It tells passersby that the home is most likely vacant therefore an easy target.
Besides, there are much more effective ways to market your rental property.
- Automate Lights - Make sure any exterior lights come on automatically when it senses someone come near the house. If they’re not already, install lights by the front door, garage door, and back door.
- Ensure all windows and doors lock properly - Before a tenant ever moves in, you should make sure all windows and doors are in good condition and are secure. You should include this in your turnover work and routine maintenance.
If a Tenant tells you that something is wrong with a door or window, get it fixed as quickly as possible. If you don’t, you may be held liable for a break in.
- Create a security checklist for Tenants - In many cases, your property's security will be in the hands of the renter. In this case, you should remind your Tenants to take certain precautions when they are leaving the house such as:
- First and foremost, obtain Renters Insurance
- Stash all valuables in a safe or other hidden spot
- Lock all windows and doors. Almost 30% of all burglars enter a home through an unlocked access point.
- Close blinds and curtains as much as possible so intruders can’t see what you have in your home
- If the Tenant is leaving for a vacation or extended period, have them employ a neighbor to watch after the house.
Break-ins are a scary thing to think about, but if you own rental real estate, especially multiple properties, you are at risk of going through this experience at least once in your investment career.
With the correct preventative measures and Landlord education, you'll be ready for any poor soul that decides to mess with one of your properties.