Aye? What about burglars?
As a landlord blogger that’s shared his experiences – the highs, the lows, and everything mushy in-between – for the past decade, I’ve never once grappled with the topic of rentals being invaded by burglars or home security (i.e. our tenants security in our properties). To be perfectly honest, I’ve never even thought about it, and yet, unfortunately, I bet the occurrence is as common as a two-dollar gigolo contaminated with herpes. Regrettably, I’m slap-bang in the middle of this bullshit now, so here we are. Let’s talk about it!
Over the years I’ve dedicated so much of my blood, sweat and other salty fluids on preparing landlords to avoid, combat and deal with the lowest-of-the-low tenants, that I completely lost sight of all the other dangers. I feel like a parent that religiously taught my children to look left, right and listen before crossing the road, but completely forgot to teach them about the importance of contraception (or withdrawing just in time). What kind of parent does that make me? I dread to think!
How my Tenant’s home got broken into!
Statistically speaking, burglars are most likely to strike during the day when most people are at work. Instinctively, that may seem odd, because many of us imagine that it happens at night (by a man in a black & white stripped sweater, carrying a brown sack). But no, the reality is, most burglars are chicken-shit cowards, so they don’t want confrontation – it increases their chances of getting caught and/or being smashed in the face with a baseball bat.
On Tuesday, around 1:30pm, someone knocked on my tenant’s door. She was in the house but chose not to answer because she was upstairs; scrambling around, preparing for an appointment she was already running late for.
10mins later, two Caucasian men dressed in all black, wearing ski-masks (of course, what else?) climbed over the back garden fence and used a crowbar to effortlessly smash through the sliding patio door.
The speculation is that the knock on the door was one of the men checking to see if anyone was home. I say speculation because there is no real evidence to prove it, but that was almost certainly the case and I’d bet my left-bollock on it. Apparently it’s what 99% of all burglars do as part of their routine inspection. Makes sense, I ‘spose.
Unknowing to the dip-shit perpetrators, my tenant heard the racket and saw what was happening from an upstairs window overlooking the back garden. She quickly locked herself in the bathroom and dialled 999.
She could hear the scumbags shuffling around downstairs; opening doors, drawers, and cupboards. After a couple of minutes, one of the them walked upstairs and attempted to open the bathroom door (which is the first door you approach at the top of the landing).
I can’t even imagine how terrifying that must have been for my tenant. My heart would have fell out of my ass and I would have keeled over (but then I would have swallowed my heart in-one and punched their faces into an oblivion, obviously)!
After realising the door was locked, the burglar suspected someone was home, so he screamed, “Run, run run”, at which point both cockroaches rapidly dispersed from the scene.
They got away with one pillowcase filled with cash, a TAG Heuer watch, an iPhone, an iPad, and a couple of items of jewellery (one of which was extremely sentimental).
In the grand scheme of things, it could have been a lot worse. Thankfully no one was hurt and it was over relatively quickly. But I’m still fucking pissed. I don’t care about the possessions that were taken or the inconvenience caused, I care about the fact that there are people in this world that simply don’t give two-shits about anyone other than themselves.
While this sort of crime may seem like an every day occurrence that doesn’t warrant hefty punishment (because of an already clogged up legal and prison system), they can easily impact the lives of the victims in so many haunting ways. What if it was an elderly and frail lady in the property? That could have easily been a life-changing event for her in all the wrong ways.
I could spend forever and a day expressing my frustration, and I could even articulate the medieval torturing tactics I’d deploy on them if they, or any other asshole of similar ilk, were ever to get caught. Without getting too sucked into the fantasy, I will say that my wet-dreams of recent have involved the two perpetrators and the following devices:
First up, the Chair of Torture, also known as the “Judas Chair” – it’s layered with 500 to 1,500 spikes on every surface with tight straps to restrain its victim. Made of iron, it can also contain spaces for heating elements beneath the seat.
Second up, and perhaps my favourite (because of its name), “The Breast Ripper” I don’t know how or where I’d use this on a man, but I’d thoroughly enjoy figuring it out. I’m sure I’ll make it fit somewhere.
I’ll stop there, because I’m reluctant to dilute from what I hope to be a somewhat useful blog post that covers practical steps for victims and landlords that are interested in prevention.
My Tenant’s reaction
I wouldn’t have blamed my tenant if she wanted to pack-up her shit and terminate the tenancy immediately, and I would have
made her pay every last penny of the rent until the end of the fixed term provided her with nothing other than support.
I can only imagine how emotionally debilitating an incident like that can be on someone. When a home is invaded like that, it’s not surprising when it doesn’t feel like home anymore.
However, despite being on the front-line of danger, my tenant was an absolute mega-super-duper-trooper. Of course, she initially shat her pants and was shaken up by the incident, but after the adrenaline-dump, she just chalked it up as one of those things to live and learn from.
I agree, it is one of those things, but more importantly, the moment we allow garbage to fundamentally affect our lives we end up giving them a lot more than the replaceable material possessions they snatched; we give them something much more valuable, which is control. Fuck that shizzle in the ass.
In the famous words of William Wallace (Braveheart):
… tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take… OUR FREEDOM!
HELL YEAH!! They’ll have to pry my freedom out of my cold, bloody hands! And even then, I’ll be swinging with both arms and all three of my legs!
Building & Contents Insurance
I think this section might be the most useful for landlords, tenants and every occupant, especially for those unfamiliar with the whole process of making a claim after a burglary.
This was actually the first I’ve ever had to make a claim through my landlord insurance. I’m not going to complain, I’ve had an extremely fortunate and good run!
- Building Insurance – Do landlords actually fail to insure their property, or do they let their policies expiry (intentionally or otherwise)?
I don’t actually know if they’re real problems or if they just fit my current narrative to make the point, because stupidity of that level is incomprehensible to me. But then again, I’m still frequently reading about slumlords that cram 50 tenants into a 1 bedroom studio flat like sardines. So who knows?
Anyways, if we allow this incident to teach us just one thing, let it be a reminder of how critical landlord insurance is. It’s your responsibility as the landlord to have – at the very least – building insurance in place.
If you don’t have a valid policy in place, no judgement (only joking, you’re an absolute tool), sort it out RIGHT NOW! Redeem yourself. Here, get a competitive insurance quote.
On a serious note, please get your landlord insurance sorted if you don’t have any. It’s quick and easy.
- Contents Insurance – since it is an unfurnished tenancy, it was my tenant’s responsible to ensure she had suitable contents insurance. Fortunately, she didn’t fall off the turnip truck yesterday – she was covered.
She had to complete a spreadsheet with all the stolen items, along with supplying any available receipts and photographic evidence of those items to help legitimise the claims.
- Notifying insurer – with in 30mins of being on site of the crime scene (which was approx 30mins after the incident took place), I contacted my insurer to notify them of the incident, and I advised my tenant to do the same.
It’s pretty imperative to notify insurance companies as soon as possible, especially if there are any immediate repairs that need attending to (which there usually is after a forced entry).
- Emergency repairs – the only critical repair in our case was the smashed glass from the sliding patio doors.
My insurance company sent someone that night to board it up in order to secure the premises.
The door/glass was eventually replaced a couple of days later (the repair was first approved by an insurance assessor that visited the property the day after the incident took place). I was really impressed by the speed of progress.
Again, this is a reminder of why it is so important to not only have insurance, but to contact the provider ASAP after an incident.
- Cash – as said, the wank-stains got away with a handful of cash (approx £1000). Unfortunately, my tenant’s insurance policy only covers up to £500 cash. Annoying!
I did a little research, and apparently £500 cash coverage is pretty standard. Who knew? You can get policies that cover more, but most people end up with the bog-standard £500 because they don’t consciously look for one that covers more.
Rightly or wrongly so, I personally keep more than £500 cash at home (in a safe), so that prompted me to check my own policy. Yup, I was also only covered up to £500. So I contacted my insurer to increase the amount.
If you keep cash at home, it might be worth checking your policy to see how much you’re covered for.
Please! Please! Please! I strongly urge all of you to have a look through your insurance policies (both Landlord and Residential) to ensure they meet your requirements and actually cover the reality of your situation.
Police response time!
In the current climate where the police are comically underfunded and getting absolutely obliterated for being a scarce resource to the general public, I just want to give recognition to the incredibly snappy response time my tenant received.
Three separate units (including a sniffer dog) arrived at the property with in 5mins of calling 999. Apparently a response time like that is unheard of in 2019, and you’d be lucky to receive an automated text message, pointing you in the direction of an online guide explaining how to tighten up home security.
The property is located in a small’ish suburban town of Hertfordshire (not far from Stansted airport), so maybe resources aren’t as stretched compared to the national average. Or maybe they were just having a sinfully quiet Tuesday. I’m also guessing because this wasn’t just a standard burglary, but an “aggravated burglary” (because my tenant was inside the house while it was all going down), it made the situation significantly more serious.
Either way, I’m grateful and extremely relieved to see that our defences haven’t gone to complete shit.
My response to the incident (home security improvements)
I personally haven’t been a victim of burglary *touches wood*, so up until now I never really put much thought into the scenario.
I’ve actually arrived at an extremely disheartening realisation, and that is that if someone really wants to break into the average Joe’s house, there’s very little that can be done to prevent it from happening, and the probability of the assholes getting caught is even slimmer. Obviously that’s not a groundbreaking realisation, but I’ve never consciously acknowledged it until now.
Yes, we can make life more difficult by installing security alarms and CCTV, but they’re not bullet-proof solutions, they’re merely obstacles, and the effectiveness of them are pretty questionable. We can all assume that even with those security measures in place, the fuckers’ can mask-up and have ample amount of time to ransack a property and disperse before anyone is even aware of what just took place.
But there is also a hopeful reality, which is that anything that can be done to make life more difficult for intruders, even if only marginally, reduces the odds of making our home into a compelling target. With that in mind, and with the desire of not wanting to be an unresponsive landlord (which I think is probably the worst reaction from a landlord in these circumstances), I made the following security enhancements to my tenant’s home:
Security improvements to my tenant’s property
- Upgraded front door chain – The police inspector that arrived at the scene of the crime said that answering the door to suspicious characters, or at least making it known someone is home (i.e. talking from behind a completely closed door), is one of the best deterrents.
In no shape or form am I blaming my tenant for anything – she’s 100% the victim (err… unless it’s an inside job. Never really thought of that. But let’s assume it wasn’t!) – but the outcome may have been different if she answered the initial knock on the door.
So, I replaced the flimsy front door chain with a heavy-duty one, so my tenant feels more comfortable opening the door to strangers. Most of the standard door chains are so flimsy that they’ll probably disintegrate after a slight barge.
- Fence spikes – I’ve had these fence spikes (Amazon link) installed on the back fence that was used to gain access to the garden. The property is a mid-terrace, so there are neighbouring gardens to the right and left fences, which I think is a defence in itself, so I didn’t install them all the way around.
- Outdoor motion sensor light – even though burglaries mostly occur during the day, the weakest point of most properties is the back garden, so that’s why I had the Philips MyGarden Creek Outdoor Wall Light with Motion Sensor (Amazon link) installed.
- Dummy CCTV camera – I can’t justify installing CCTV for my tenants, but someone suggested installing a dummy camera (with a blinking LED). I haven’t done this yet, but it’s something I may do, just as an extra deterrent. They’re pretty cost-effective, £7’ish on Amazon. My only concern is that “professional” burglars will know they’re fake because of how well they seem to be selling!
Besides from trying to make my tenant feel safer at home, I’ve also taken steps to improve my own personal security. Not just by installing and upgrading hardware, but also changing my habits.
This situation has shown me how incredibly complacent I’ve been with my own home security, because it took a breach for me to take it seriously. I think that probably holds true with many people, and obviously that isn’t the best approach. Famous last words: “It will never happen to me.”
Improvements I made to my own home’s security
- Video doorbell – a few of my friends installed video doorbells quite some time ago, and I know they’re becoming increasingly popular. I opted for the Ring Video Doorbell Pro (Amazon link), which transmits a video feed to Ring’s proprietary phone app when someone presses the bell, and it also automatically starts recording on motion detection.
- ALWAYS answer the door – Yup, I’m going to answer the door whenever it rings from now on, even if the person on the other side has two front teeth missing and looks dodgy-as-fuck. If no one is home, I can always use the intercom on the new video doorbell, which can also give the impression I’m present (i.e. “Who is it? I’m having a crap, what do you want, boy/girl?”).
- Fence spikes – I also installed fence spikes around my entire garden.
- Upgraded front door chain – I also upgraded my door chain to the same heavy duty one I purchased for my tenant.
- CCTV – I already had 3 CCTV cameras installed, but I’m adding another one to cover a noticeable blind spot in the back garden.
- “Half set” security alarm at night – when everyone in the household is upstairs at night, I now “half set” the security alarm, which activates all the motion sensors downstairs. From what I’m aware, the “half set” feature is pretty standard on most alarm systems.
My alarm can be controlled through a phone app, so it’s easy to active/deactivate. I think when anything becomes too laborious, it generally gets tossed out the window. Like my gym membership and putting on a condom before doing the bizz.
- Park vehicle on driveway – I now always try to ensure there is a vehicle on the driveway (as opposed to my garage) during the day, even when no one is home. Again, to make it seem like someone is home.
I’m also going to store my car keys in a more secure location, so they’re not easily accessible by someone that’s keen on committing a quick “smash n grab” job.
- Motion sensors – At the back of my dining room I have sliding patio doors that lead into the back garden. NO ONE ever goes into that room, let alone use the doors to access the garden, so I have installed a motion sensor to the doors that activates an alarm. It was probably the Achilles’ heel of the house.
Future security improvements
- Internal security/panic room doors – I’ve been looking into internal security doors by a company called Henleys (specifically the ‘Viking door’), which are constructed with a concealed solid steel core, so they’re extremely difficult to break through.
The idea is that they create a “panic room” type setup, so God forbid that someone forces entry, I can safely lock myself in a room while contacting the police. The problem is they cost an arm, a leg, and fourteen kidneys (starting from £3995 a pop. Lord have mercy, and fuck me sideways)!
I wouldn’t replace every internal door, but perhaps two of the primary bedrooms and one room downstairs. I’ll let you know after this week’s lottery if it’s a viable option for me. But for now, they’re stacked firmly on the wish-list.
Update: Other recommended home security improvements
As expected, there has been great security improvement suggestions and tips shared in the comments section (besides from the usual suspects e.g. dogs, CCTV, fixing broken gates and fences, using quality locks, garlic necklaces and wooden stakes etc), so I thought I’d list them below:
- Alfred App (comment #1) – this app allows you to convert your old camera phones as security cameras with low light, motion detection, cloud recording and remote voice transmit. It works off your WiFi and is free (link to app).
- Yale wireless alarm (comment #2 & #16) – for home security alarms, a couple of people recommended the Yale wireless systems (Amazon link).
- TV simulator (comment #2) – this cheap and cheerful device makes it look like the TV is on when no one is home (eBay link). I’ve personally ordered one!
- Anti climb paint (comment #24 & #40) – apply to fences; horrible sticky black tar-like stuff and very difficult to remove from hands or clothes.
- Signs (comment #40) – “cheap advice”: put a sign on your gate saying ‘Beware of the Dog’ (eBay link), and another sign on the front door, ‘CCTV in Operation’ (eBay link).
- Local neighbourhood watch groups – someone left a comment on my Facebook page suggesting that joining your local neighbourhood group is useful for sharing information and keeping on top of local crimes! Good tip.
// End of update
So, there we have it. What a terrible situation for anyone to go through, but a productive learning experience and a valuable wake-up call nonetheless. I hope you also managed to extract at least one tiny nugget of useful information from this horrific ordeal, or even better, inspiration to tighten up your personal security, along with your tenants.
For those landlords that have no interest in investing in their tenant’s security, my only advice is to bear in mind the cost of a burglary (including the potential cost of replacing a tenant as a consequence), compared to trying to prevent one from happening. I’m not saying spend a fortune (I didn’t), but I am saying that if you can do anything to make your tenant’s life more secure, it would be a wise investment.
Needless to say, my deepest sympathies goes out to anyone that has been through a similar ordeal.
As said, I’m assuming this isn’t an unusual case, so if anyone wants to share their experience and/or provide further insight/advice, the mic is all yours…
Love & Peace (minus the Judas Chair & Breast Ripper, which I hope eventually get reinstated and put to good use on the deserving people) xoxo