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How to keep Squatters at bay

Unwanted guests or squatters can cause considerable damage to rental properties and leave landlords with a large clean-up bill, according to leading landlord insurance specialist, Terri Scheer Insurance.

Terri Scheer Insurance Executive Manager, Ms Carolyn Parrella said unoccupied rental properties can be targeted by squatters and cause 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 before the property can be re-let again, which can result in additional costs for the landlord.

“This can be extremely costly for the landlord both in terms of repairs and the loss of rental income,” she said.

Ms Parella said 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,” Ms Parrella said.

“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,” Ms Parrella said.

“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 regularly maintain the exterior of the property.

“Long grass, excess leaves covering pathways and overgrown foliage can make it obvious that the property is unoccupied, and may make the property an easy target for squatters.”

Make the property look lived in

“Unwanted guests may scope out properties that look empty to occupy,” Ms Parrella said.

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

“Installing automatic motion-sensors or timed lighting systems are a good idea for landlords, as they will give the impression that someone is home when the lights turn on.”

“Clearing old newspapers in the front yard and uncollected mail are a simple way of preventing the home looking unoccupied.

“Landlords may also want to tell a trusted neighbour that the property is vacant while a suitable tenant is found.

“They 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,” Ms Parrella said.

“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 1 week up to 52 weeks.

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

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