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How to keep squatters from destroying your investment

09 August 2016 Carolyn Parrella

Unwanted guests, or squatters, can cause considerable damage to rental properties and leave landlords with large clean-up bills.

Unoccupied rental properties can be targeted by squatters, causing major headaches for landlords.

If a squatter breaks into a vacant rental property and lives there illegally, it can potentially result in damage to the property and subsequent loss of rental income for landlords while the damage is being repaired.

We have seen situations where a squatter has broken doors and windows to force entry into a property, punched holes in walls, ripped up carpet and sprayed graffiti throughout.

Depending on the circumstances, there may be a delay between a squatter leaving the property and the property being fit to re-let, which can result in additional costs for the landlord.

There are a number of preventative measures that can be put in place to reduce the risk of squatters at your rental property:

Increase security

Regardless of whether your property is occupied or not, security should be front of mind.

Install deadlocks on external doors and fit security screens to accessible windows, as they can deter unwanted guests from breaking in.

Having an active local or back-to-base alarm system in place can also help keep your property secure while it is vacant.

Visit the property regularly

Landlords should formally conduct a final property inspection when a tenant leaves the property.

Outgoing condition reports with supporting photos and videos can be used as evidence if there are any further outstanding issues once the tenant has vacated the property.

If the property is vacant for an extended period of time, make it a priority to visit regularly to ensure it remains in good condition.

Consider hiring a gardener to maintain the exterior of the property. Uncut grass, leaves covering pathways and overgrown foliage can make it obvious that the property is unoccupied, and may make it an easy target for squatters.

Make the property look lived-in

Unwanted guests may scope out properties that appear empty.

If your property is vacant, it’s best to give the impression that it is being lived in to keep squatters at bay.

Installing automatic motion sensors or timed lighting systems is good idea as they will give the impression that someone is home when the lights turn on.

Clearing old newspapers from the front yard/driveway and removing uncollected mail are simple ways of making the home look occupied.

Landlords may also want to tell a trusted neighbour that the property is vacant. Neighbours can keep an eye on the property and alert you to any suspicious behaviour.

Appropriate landlord and building insurance

A good landlord insurance policy should protect landlords against malicious damage to the property, such as damage to carpets or blinds.

However, damage to the building itself may be at the landlord’s expense unless they have a suitable building insurance policy in place.

Building insurance may offer protection of a landlord’s rental income if the property is damaged and can’t be tenanted for a period of one to 52 weeks.

If you’re concerned there’s a squatter living in your rental property, contact the police immediately.

How to keep squatters from destroying your investment
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Carolyn Parrella is Executive Manager of Australia’s leading landlord insurance specialists, Terri Scheer Insurance. Terri Scheer provides insurance cover for landlords, helping to protect them against the risks associated with owning a rental property. These include malicious damage by tenants, accidental damage, landlord’s legal liability and loss of rental income. 

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