In this article, I discuss a few ways to increase the safety of your rental neighborhood – in hopes that you will be able to attract a high-quality, more stable tenant.
Most landlords know that they have a legal obligation to provide a safe and secure property to his/her tenants. Usually, this can be accomplished by ensuring each door and window has working locks, and the exterior has strong lighting.
However, the problem is that even if your property is secure, tenants will avoid your rental if it is not in a safe neighborhood.
Whenever I am looking to buy another rental, I first review the 5 considerations that I discussed in a previous article. Of these, I personally think that the most important consideration is location. I always try to buy a property in an area that is already thought of as “safe” by the locals. However, no neighborhood is totally immune to crime, and therefore I can, and should, take steps to protect my investment and its ability to attract quality tenants.
If you are trying to rent out an existing property that is in a rough or declining neighborhood, or looking to buy a new one, the process for improving community safety are the same.
1. Gather Information
Get updates on your community’s crime rates.
- I’ve used SpotCrime.com to pinpoint specific crimes in the area. It can sometimes be very revealing, and other times, useless. Give it a try. You might be surprised.
- I also check the National Sex Offender Public Registry because I know most of my tenant will too. I want to know about any offenders before my tenants do.
- Sometimes, I call the local police station and ask if there have been any crimes near my property. I try to look for patterns and see what types of crimes are most likely to occur (car theft, burglary, vandalism, muggings, etc.) and adjust accordingly. For example, if there have been a lot of car thefts, I will encourage my tenants to always lock their car doors, hide any valuables (cash, laptops, iPods) from plain view, and consider buying a steering wheel club.
- I’ve learned that my tenants will always know more than I, about the day-to-day safety in the neighborhood, simply because they live there. I try to have discussions with my tenants, usually once a quarter, and ask them for feedback to make the property a safer place to live.
If there has been a recent crime near my property, I typically share this information with my tenants if I think it will help them. Otherwise, I simply inform them of the ways to stay up to date on crimes in the area, and let them check as often (or as little) as they want.
2. Maintain Security Measures
I always encourage my tenants (and neighbors) to keep the doors and windows locked.
If my property is in a high-crime area, I will then consider getting a home security system – many of which have mobile apps so I can check on your property remotely.
The negative to a security system is that the tenants won’t always use it. Many criminals know that just because someone has an alarm system doesn’t mean he or she has turned it on.
A few years ago, I purchased a property that came with existing steel bars on the 1st floor windows. The bars are ugly, however, my tenants seemed to feel more comfortable with them, rather than without them. Even though the curb appeal is negatively affected, the safety factor seems to attract tenants. I suppose a tenant might think that they can always plant flowers to make house look better, but safety comes first. This particular house has never had a single day of vacancy, and is my most profitable unit.
3. Get to Know Your Neighbors
I’ve learned that knowing my neighbors has more perks than just making a good friend or two. Even if you just casually wave hello, make a point to learn the names and faces of everyone on your block. Some neighborhoods have a Yahoo group or Google group email distribution list – which you should join to stay informed.
Most importantly, make sure that all the neighbors have your contact information. The neighbors of your rental will gladly inform you of any suspicious activity happening in or around your property.
4. Establish a Neighborhood Watch
Going a step further, starting a neighborhood watch is a great way to deter crime. According to the National Crime Prevention Council, one of the most efficient and least expensive ways to prevent crime is to start a neighborhood watch.
If you are a natural meeting planner, then host an initial meeting to gauge neighbors’ interests, establish a purpose and develop security strategies. Invite a local law enforcement officer to attend and ask the officer to provide helpful information.
According to the NCPC.org, some of the most effect ways to start a neighborhood watch are:
- Ask people who rarely leave their homes to be “window watchers”
- Translate crime and drug prevention materials into other languages needed in your community
- Sponsor physical cleanups of abandoned, overgrown, or vacant lots
5. Protect the Kids
When my tenants have children living with them, I try to encourage them to help their children memorize urgent phone numbers and addresses. I always inform the parents of any neighboring hazard areas (i.e. creeks, ponds, electrical grids) and encourage them to set limits on where the kids can go in the neighborhood.
6. Keep it Clean and Maintained
It’s the landlord’s job to maintaining the property. For the sole purpose of curb-appeal, I suggesting taking partial ownership of the front yard – so it doesn’t deter future tenants. Believe it or not, overgrown bushes are a great place for criminals to hide while they peek into your tenant’s windows.
One of my former tenants was a news journalist with USA Today, and she was very much in the public eye. Unfortunately, she attracted an unwelcome stalker. This creepy man would follow her home, go through her mail, and hide behind trash cans while he watched her. I went to extra efforts to safeguard the house by removing anything he could hide behind, and by upgrading the motion-sensor light. Together, we notified the police, and she documented every occurrence to help build a case. As a landlord, I needed to fortify the property as best as I could to try and protect my tenant.
Old, rickety locks are another weakness that appeals to thieves. I try to promptly fix any broken windows, doors or other points of entry – usually within hours – or at least before dark. I suggest finding a 24 hour locksmith and saving the phone number in your phone. If there is ever an emergency with the locks, you need to be able to get it fixed quickly.
7. Upgrade the Lights
If the streets are poorly lit, it might take some begging, but you can try an persuade your town officials to install additional lamp posts. At the very least, motion sensor lights on your own property will help deter criminals.
8. Set Precautionary Standards
I’ve established rules and safety protocols with my tenants and property neighbors.
I have no problem asking a trusted neighbor to check on the property when my tenants go on an extended vacation.
I also tell my tenants to call 911 first, then call me, if there is ever an emergency. Further, I ask my neighbors to call me if any authorities at my property; police, fire trucks, ambulances, etc, ever show up at the property.
Applicable Lease Clause
This lease clause, which recommends but does not require insurance, is what I use in *most* of my leases.
If the neighborhood has had an increase in crime, or I think the tenant lacks general common sense, I will usually modify this clause to mandate that the tenant buy Renter’s insurance. Renter’s insurance is extremely affordable – usually only $100-$150 per year – and can be obtained with every major insurance company.
OPT-IN/OUT RENTAL INSURANCE. Landlord does not maintain insurance to cover the personal property of Tenant(s) or personal injury to Tenant(s), their guests or occupants. Tenant(s) should, but are not required by Landlord, obtain rental insurance in the amount of $300,000 public liability and $50,000 property damage from whatever cause to his person or property and to the person or property of those on the premises with his consent, and Tenant(s) shall indemnify and hold Landlord harmless from all claims arising from any such injury or damage throughout the term of the Application. Should the Tenant(s) opt for insurance, Tenant(s) are responsible to obtain insurance within thirty (30) days of residing on the Premises. Should any injury or damage occur within the first thirty (30) days or prior to obtaining rental insurance, Tenant(s) shall indemnify and hold Landlord harmless from all claims arising from any such injury or damage. Should Tenant(s) opt not to obtain rental insurance, Landlord is not responsible for any injury or damage to persons or personal property on the Premises during the term of this Agreement.