Partners and Suppliers Steve Barnes 11/11/2022

The Complete Guide to Protecting your Property from Theft

Theft can be described as ‘the taking of another person’s property or services without that person’s permission or consent, with the intent to permanently deprive the

rightful owner of it.’ Unlike burglary, which involves illegally entering a property to steal property from it, theft does not necessarily involve the use of force. By its very nature, it is therefore quite likely to be the result of slapdash security, or the tenant that is the guilty party. So, what can landlords do to protect themselves from theft?

In this guide, NRLA insurance partner, Total Landlord Insurance, draw on their expertise with tips to help you protect yourself and your property and reduce the risk of theft.

Is theft covered by landlord insurance?

At Total Landlord Insurance, theft is included as standard as part of your landlord contents insurance, so household items you own and have furnished the property with, such as any furniture and appliances, will be covered. However, your tenants will have to take out their own contents insurance to cover their personal property, so it’s a good idea to make sure they are aware of this.

Steve Barnes, Associate Director at Total Landlord Insurance, says: “To avoid any misunderstanding, we recommend that you make it clear to your tenant from the outset, that they will need to take out their own insurance to cover their personal belongings or furnishings. We also suggest that, as well as an inventory, landlords keep all invoices or original purchase receipts for any items they have put in the property for the purpose of the tenancy, as these will be asked for in the event of theft as proof of purchase. It's also a good idea to mark your property with a security pen, make a note of serial numbers if the items have them, and take photos of more valuable objects, to make them easier to trace if stolen.”

Insurance claims for theft are often quite high - average claims for theft at Total Landlord Insurance over the past five years have been £3,567. But our highest claim was for almost five times that amount, at £17,739. In this case, the policyholder called to report a theft at a property. But although the police were notified promptly, the tenants had disappeared without a trace. It turned out that they had vacated the property, taking all the electric cables, piping and bathroom fixtures with them, causing water damage throughout the bathroom and first floor. Fortunately, our customer was insured with our Premier policy, which provides cover for theft by tenants or their guests.

Not all policies will offer cover for theft, so it’s worth checking with your provider whether you are covered and if your policy protects you against theft by tenants or their guests. It’s also important to be aware that insurance won’t cover you for pre-existing damage, wear and tear or damage due to lack of maintenance.

How to avoid theft in your rental property

The emotional impact of theft, whether by someone you know such as a tenant, or a third party, can be significant. On top of this, as the above case illustrates, it can be very disruptive and expensive to rectify. Fortunately, there are steps that you and your tenants can take to make your property more secure and reduce the risk of theft.

  • Make sure locks are installed on all windows and explain to tenants the importance of locking windows and not leaving downstairs windows open if unattended
  • Ask tenants to keep valuables out of sight so that they can’t be easily seen from outside the property where they might tempt an opportunist thief
  • Fit any exterior doors with deadbolt locks and note that locks with rotating discs rather than traditional springs and pins are far more secure, being virtually snap proof
  • Make sure any electronic passwords are changed frequently, especially between tenants
  • Advise tenants not to hide door keys, for example under a mat or plant pot, and never to leave the property unlocked
  • Install a burglar alarm system and advise tenants to let you and the neighbours know if they are going to be away
  • Provide tenants with light timers to use when they are away, to give the appearance that the property is occupied
  • Discourage tenants from posting holiday images on social media as this will draw attention to the fact that their property is empty

Taking steps to secure your property is vital when it comes to preventing theft, because rental properties are often less secure than owner-occupied properties due to the higher turnover of occupants. For example, tenants may duplicate keys, which would enable them to access the property without breaking and entering. And the more tenants you have, the higher the potential risk.  

We explore in more detail the steps both landlords and tenants can take to prevent break-ins, which may lead to theft, in our NRLA guide to protecting your property from break-ins.

How can landlords reduce the risk of theft by tenants?

Although the vast majority of tenants wouldn’t dream of taking anything from your rental property, theft by tenants is more common than many landlords might think. In fact, when theft occurs in a rental property, it’s more likely that a tenant, or their guest, is responsible, than a third party. It has been documented that as many as 30% of all tenants steal from their landlords, particularly at the end of the tenancy once their tenancy agreement has come to an end, or if the tenant in question owes rent and the property is being repossessed.

And as our earlier case highlights, it’s not just small items that go missing. Appliances such as fridges, freezers and washing machines, as well as light fittings, televisions and piping are amongst the most common thefts from landlords by tenants – all things that are expensive to replace and have a knock-on effect on future tenancies.

While it’s not possible to eliminate the risk entirely, there are measures that you can take to protect yourself from theft by your tenants or their guests.

Top tips to reduce theft by tenants:

  • Always carry out a robust tenant referencing check – while there’s no guarantee that your tenants will be reliable and responsible, carrying out a tenant reference check will improve the odds. We recommend a four-point check, which includes photographic identification (ideally a passport), a utility bill or bank statement, a credit check and confirmation of employment from their employer. Vet your tenants thoroughly and take the time to follow up
  • Make sure you have an agreed, signed, dated and documented inventory supported by photographic evidence – list every item present in the property at the start of the tenancy and make sure it is supported by photographic evidence. It’s vital that tenants read and sign the inventory so that you have proof that they agreed to it if anything goes missing during or at the end of the tenancy
  • Build a good relationship and ensure clear lines of communication with your tenants and neighbours – tenants are far less likely to steal from you if you have created a trusting relationship with them. Likewise, the neighbours are more likely to let you know if they see anything suspicious if they know how to contact you
  • Avoid leaving any items or possessions in the property that are irreplaceable or sentimental – even if you have great tenants, accidents can happen so it’s just not worth the risk
  • Carry out regular mid-term inspections – these are an opportunity for your tenant to raise any issues with you and for you to build a rapport with them, as well as for you to keep an eye on the property and attend to any repairs or legal obligations
  • Check that your insurance policy includes tenant theft - it’s included as standard in Total Landlord’s Premier policy, but not all policies will offer it, so do check

Steve Barnes sums up: “The importance of having a thorough inventory before your property is vacated cannot be overemphasised. The relationship between the landlord and tenant also makes a significant difference to the outcome of a tenancy, as it can open up communication, which is vital for minimising issues further down the line. Above all, whether your property is furnished or not, make sure you have the right insurance in place so you are covered should anything go missing.”

What to do if you experience theft in your rental property

Despite our best efforts, things don’t always go according to plan. What should you do if you experience theft in your rental property?

  • Report the theft to the police as soon as possible and obtain a crime reference number. The police may be able to recoup your stolen items and if your tenant is the guilty party, the report may also show up during future reference checks, alerting other landlords
  • Take time-stamped photos of any damage and make a list of all the items belonging to you that were taken. Whether you claim against the tenancy deposit (if you secured one), or on your insurance policy or a mixture of both, you will need evidence to support your claim. This is why an inventory, including photographic evidence, and receipts for larger items like fridges and washing machines are so important
  • Don’t forget to change the locks once the tenant has moved out and the tenancy agreement is no longer in place, particularly if you suspect that any keys have been stolen or may have been copied, compromising the security of the property. Ask your insurance provider about lock cover – Total Landlord Insurance covers both theft of keys and replacement locks as standard
  • Make sure that the property is made secure by carrying out any emergency repairs to broken windows or doors
  • Contact your insurers to notify them of the situation and begin the claim process, they will advise you on the next steps to take

Check your insurance

As a landlord, it’s important to take preventative measures to reduce the risks of anything going wrong in your property. Making sure your property is secure, taking the time to vet your tenants thoroughly and carrying out a robust inventory will all reduce the risks of theft occurring in your property. But it’s not possible to eliminate risk entirely, which is why it is vital to make sure you have comprehensive landlord insurance cover in place.

NRLA landlord insurance partner, Total Landlord Insurance, has a dedicated in-house team of expert advisers who are on hand to help advise you on the best cover for you.

Check the A-Z landlord property claims e-book below

Steve Barnes

Steve Barnes Head of Broking, Total Landlord

Steve Barnes has worked with landlords and leading landlord associations for over 25 years and oversees the HFIS group as Head of Broking for Total Landlord. Our award winning landlord insurance offering has been providing comprehensive cover for landlords since 1996. Whether you have a single property or a portfolio, Total Landlord has a property insurance policy that will give you value for money and the required protection to support your business requirements. Our dedicated claims team of expert advisers deal with more than 82% of claims in-house and provide customers with a sole point of contact should the worst happen. Named 'Best Landlord Insurance Provider' five times at the Insurance Choice Awards and with a rating of 4.8 out of five on Smart Money People, you can rest assured that you are in safe hands.

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