Damage can result from water leaks or pipe bursts, break-ins, or pests

When rental properties do not have renters living in them for periods of time, landlords face additional risks they may not be thinking about. Damage can result from water leaks or pipe bursts, break-ins, or pests. And they might not be covered by traditional landlord insurance policies. When left unattended for weeks or even months, such issues can create much larger expenses, not to mention headaches.

Here are a few steps you can take to protect your property and your financial interests:

Properly insure the rental

Most property owners do not inform their insurance company when a rental is projected to be vacant for more than 30 days. Some insurance firms require the insurance policy to be updated to a “builder’s risk” or similar policy for that time period rather than retaining the landlord or homeowners policy, which assumes someone is living in the property. Any mishaps or damage could be exacerbated if no one goes to the property on a daily basis to catch it. Be sure to ask your agent what may be required under the terms of your insurance policy.

Secure the property

Obviously, it’s important to make sure all doors and windows are secured and locked upon leaving the property. There are other steps you can take that can help prevent people from gaining access to the inside, consider installing the following:

Security bars on windows, or

Security gates on the doors.

Does the neighborhood suffer from break-ins or squatting? Be sure to check your local crime tracking websites for the latest on what’s going on in your part of town. If you are expecting the home to be vacant for an extended period of time and are concerned about a break-in, consider boarding up windows and doors as an extra precaution.

Install a security system

An alarm system, especially one that is remotely monitored by a security company, can provide added reassurance when the property is empty. Another smart option would be to install exterior perimeter cameras to alert the user to tripped alarms and to video record issues at the property or to identify intruders. That evidence can be provided to the police should anything arise.

Keep the property well maintained

An unkempt property can signal to burglars that no one is around and make the property an easier target. Don’t broadcast that the house is vacant. Keep the yard and weeds trimmed, trash picked up, the mail and newspapers from accumulating. Rethink placing a real estate sign on the property while the rental is vacant if you are concerned it might attract people trying to get inside.

Use timers for lights

Placing a few lamps on timers can give the illusion that someone is at home and deter burglars. The same can be useful outside. If you can, consider setting exterior lights on timers for the appearance that someone is on site.

Stop mail and newspaper deliveries

Piling up mail and newspapers signals to burglars that the property is unoccupied. Arrange to have mail and newspapers and restaurant flyers collected by a trusted friend or neighbor.

Check the property regularly

As best you can, periodically visit the property and check for any signs of damage, tampering, or theft. Another tip to consider is to install an iron cage over the outside AC or heat pump compressor. During the years after the housing crisis in 2008-2009 and with the ascent of the price of copper, stealing these from vacant homes became more common.

A variety of companies in the area can help. There are air conditioner alarms made specifically to prevent AC compressor thefts. The alarm will go off when an air conditioner is disconnected, and the sound alone may be enough to send a thief running.

Consider temporary tenants

If the property is empty for an extended period, you might consider renting it out on a short-term basis, or to a trusted individual such as a friend. This can provide extra income and added security for the property.

Working with an experienced and licensed property management company can help you avoid the problems that can affect your property when no one is occupying it. Property managers can conduct regular property inspections to identify and address any potential security or maintenance issues. They also serve as a point of contact for neighbors who can provide additional oversight and keep local eyes on the property for you.

By working with a qualified property manager, you can protect your rental properties even when you are not present to take immediate action. And doing so, helps you ensure the unit remains in good condition and ready for new tenants.

Scott Bloom issenior property manager and owner of Columbia Property Management. He serves on the property management committee of Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors.