This week our advice team took a call from a student landlord who wanted some advice on keeping their property secure while there tenants are away over Christmas.
As universities across the country finish term soon, many students will be planning to spend a few weeks at home-leaving their rental property empty for several weeks.
This was the situation our member was in. Five students who lived at her HMO property were all planning on heading home for Christmas, and because term didn’t start again until late January, the property is likely to be empty for a number of weeks.
The students had informed the landlord of this, and with this in mind she gave our advice team a call for some tips on how to keep the property secure over the break.
This is quite a common situation that student landlords may face, and it is helpful to give clear instructions to your tenant(s) when they intend to leave the property unattended for a time.
When properties are left unattended in winter, there is potential for damage to be caused by the cold weather, or for it to become a target for burglars. To avoid these risks, it can be helpful to make recommendations to your tenants about what they should be doing to protect themselves and the property.
We checked if our member used the RLA tenancy agreement, which they did. In our agreement, there are clauses specifically relating to these circumstances.
In our latest AST, at clause B5, the tenant must take reasonable precautions to prevent frost or similar damage, and what to do if the property is going to be empty overnight when the weather is cold. These are precautions such as leaving the heating on, or turning off the supply at the stopcock and opening other taps and valves to drain any water tanks.
The following clause in the agreement then advises tenants, generally, that if they are leaving the property unattended, that they must fully secure the property and put on any burglar alarm if there is one. If the property is going to be empty for 7 days in a row or more, then the landlord must be informed under this clause.
How to keep property secure
Advice you can give to your tenants
It can also be good advice for tenants, especially students, that they take any valuables home with them and lock internal doors for their room if there are any. This could be communicated to the tenant in a letter advising them of what you recommend they should do if they are leaving the property for a length of time, to cover both themselves and yourself.
What landlords can do
Most burglaries take place when no one is home.
Ask your tenants to:
- Set timers on internal lights and radios
- Ask a friend or neighbour to pick up the post and free newspapers, particularly if there is a glass panel in your door. Also ask them to make sure letters and newspapers are fully pushed through the letter box properly.
- Cancel newspaper deliveries
- Ask a neighbour to put out the bin on bin day – and bring it in again
- Check if a neighbour would like to leave a car on the drive
- Mow the lawn before they go away – as well as asking a neighbour to water any pot plants to prevent them from looking wilted and abandoned.
General crime prevention advice also applies.
7. Tenants are advised not to keep valuables on display and to keep blinds angled to prevent would be burglars looking into the property.
8. As a landlord it is a good idea to ensure all locks are working and that tenants have keys to window locks and know they should use them. It sounds obvious-but make sure tenants lock up the whole property before heading on their holidays.
8. You should also consider installing security lights and, if you have a burglar alarm, make sure your tenants know how to use it (and make sure you know the code)
9. It is also wise to advise your tenants to be careful about the information they post about their holidays on social media, as they don’t want to risk being burgled as a result of giving too much away about their holiday plans on Twitter, Facebook or other platforms.
Send a ‘Winter letter’ to your tenants
- The RLA has a sample Winter Letter landlords can download and send to all their tenants in winter. The letter makes it clear what maintenance jobs are a tenants’ responsibility, and advice like where the stopcock is in the property. and what can be done to avoid the pipes freezing if the property is left empty for a while.
Maria Sheldon, Advice Team Leader said, “Tenants don’t want to go home at Christmas time and be worrying about their rented property elsewhere. Reminding them of what they should do before they return home and preparing ahead of time will save landlords and tenants the headache of having to resolve issues when the tenant has already gone.”