You might not have your properties rented 100% of the time, but you should shoot for them to be occupied as much as possible—and for more reasons than just losing out on rent.
First off, lets clear the air—there’s a huge difference between a vacant property and an abandoned one. An abandoned property quickly becomes an eyesore from neglect and is terrible for a neighborhood, while a vacant property can be well maintained by the owner.
But even if you do maintain your vacant property, it’s not ideal to keep your property vacant. Your homeowner’s or landlord insurance will go sky-high, for one—if you can get insurance at all.
Because vacant properties are subject to theft, vandalism, water damage, fire, and squatters! Simply locking up or asking a neighbor to keep an eye out is probably not enough to prevent these types of damages.
Vacant properties are subject to theft, vandalism, water damage, fire, and squatters.
You may have good reason for keeping your property vacant. New York City and San Francisco landlords are known for leaving perfectly good apartments empty, so they can convert or sell them to get out from under rent control. But the more common reason for a vacant property is that landlords are between tenants.
No matter the reason, if you have vacant property, you should know the risks and how to minimize any trouble.
1. Theft and vandalism
You might not be worried about theft with a vacant property. You have nothing in it to steal, right? Not exactly. Burglars steal copper from wiring and air conditioning units, and in doing so, cause lots of damage. They also steal appliances. Sometimes break-ins are purely to cause mischief. Drawing graffiti and causing random damage make for a fun night for some people.
What to do
Install a home security system that allows you to remotely monitor your property. And while you’re at it, use motion and timed lights for the exterior and timed lights for the interior. This makes it appear that someone lives there.
A vacant home is as inviting to squatters as the smell of freshly baked cookies might be to you—in other words, vacant homes tend to attract squatters. These people figure that since no one is living at the property, they may as well.
The problem is that it can be difficult to remove squatters. Once you discover they’re there, you can ask them to leave. And maybe they will…or maybe they won’t. And if they won’t leave, you’ve got a problem. Why? Because, depending on the circumstances, these squatters may have landlord-tenant rights as holdover tenants. Then, you’d probably need to get the courts involved.
Related: How to get rid of squatters
What to do
That home security system will also catch squatters. And the sooner you catch squatters, the better chance you’ll have of getting them out quickly.
3. Water damage
Water damage tends to happen in vacant properties during winter if the pipes freeze and burst. Another problem is that the hot water heater could leak or burst, flooding the house. And if the house is vacant, your water problem could be going on for a while before you discover the damage.
What to do
Turn off your heating system, and drain your plumbing. This helps prevent damage from freezing. If you don’t want to do that, keep your thermostat on and set no lower than 55 degrees to help keep things from freezing. In the summer months, keep your air conditioning set to no higher than 85 degrees to help prevent mold from growing in a hot and humid environment.
Arson is a common problem with vacant properties. Or if not arson, accidents can happen from unwanted “guests” who light candles in a vacant home with no electricity. Fires can also break out from a heating system that is not maintained.
What to do
Monitor your security system.
Consider hiring a property management company
If you have a vacant property that you won’t be checking on regularly, consider hiring a property management company. Make sure this company will check the inside and outside of your property, and be sure to ask for a report from the company each time someone checks on your property.
The bottom line
It’s best to not have vacant property. But if you will have a vacant property, make sure you take care of it: maintain the yard, check the mailbox often to get rid of junk mail, and turn off outside faucets. Also stop by regularly and install a security system or hire a property management company that will check for any type of damage.