Keeping Homes Safe, Inside and Out
By Brian Boucher
Landlords’ responsibilities go beyond providing a place to live. They also must also take precautions so that their tenants have a secure and safe home, protected from dangerous conditions inside, and from intruders outside. While codes and regulations vary from state to state, property owners are required to take measures to protect tenants from mishaps like fire, falls and carbon monoxide poisoning.
One of the few silver linings of pandemic-era lockdowns has been that, because so many more people have been hunkered down in their homes, residential burglaries dropped by as much as twenty-four percent, according to researchers with the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice.
With vaccinations available and Covid case numbers down, society is opening up. People are headed back to their offices and other workplaces, and even going on vacation. The return to a sense of normality is a great relief, but it means homes will be vacant more often, and more vulnerable.
Steps to Deter Thieves and Prevent Burglaries
Property owners can avoid damage to their rentals as well as the trauma a home burglary inflicts on them and their tenants by taking steps to deter thieves. Employing simple electronic devices, proper landscaping, sufficient lighting, and modern lock systems, real estate investors have many ways to protect their properties — and their tenants’ possessions — against prying eyes and sticky fingers.
Landlords can purchase deterrents that stop intruders at a property’s perimeter, or turn them back before they even get there.
Motion detector lights can cover parking areas, driveways, backyard, or other approaches to a home intruders can try, depriving them of hiding spots and discouraging them from sticking around. Properly maintained landscaping — cutting back overgrown trees and shrubs, keeping outside windows clear of plant cover — not only improves curb appeal, but also deprives would-be thieves of hiding places or concealed pathways to doors or windows.
If a thief makes it to a door or window, the locks that keep them closed have to be tough to foil a thief with the right tools. Windows can be made more secure with differing styles of lock, any of which can be picked up at a hardware store for just a few dollars each and installed in minutes with a power drill. If a thief does manage to open a window, a wireless alarm, triggered if the window opens or if the glass breaks, can create a noise loud enough to send them scurrying for the exit.
Securing Doors, and Exploring Keyless Locks
Patio doors, which often have easily picked locks, are highly vulnerable entry points. Several companies make foot-operated lock systems that provide an easy and more elegant solution than a chunk of two-by-four or a metal bar wedged into place to keep the door secured.
If a landlord is using key locks on their property, a tenant can secret a spare key under a welcome mat or garden gnome. But thieves know where to look for “hidden keys,” allowing them easy access to the valuables inside the house. (What’s more, insurance carriers may not honor a claim if there is no sign of forcible entry to a property.)
Combination lock boxes, where you can securely store a spare key, keep them safe. Or, for about fifty dollars, investors can find pushkey deadbolt locks in various styles.
Consider an Electronic Security System
Another route to a secure property and peace of mind is installing simple, low-cost electronic security systems.
Keyless combination door locks can be a better solution than combination lock boxes. These systems can integrate with smart home technology and can accommodate custom and permanent passcodes, voice control and other features.
Video doorbells from companies like Nest, Ring, and Arlo range in price anywhere from $60 to $250, and offer various features depending on price. They can record whoever approaches the door, so residents know who is there without getting off their chair, and can let residents communicate with them via smartphone. Security cameras can integrate with smartphones, so tenants can see who’s knocking even if they are not at home.
Investors may want to go as far as protecting their investment with multi-feature security systems ranging from do-it-yourself options to professionally installed systems. Property owners can opt for a security system that incorporates features like door and window sensors, motion detectors, sirens, and other protective technologies.
More sophisticated systems can cost up to $20,000 or more to install, according to Billy Wardlaw, Mynd’s construction manager.
Numerous companies, including Vivint, Simplisafe, Frontpoint, and ADT offer packages. Some packages include the equipment, while others require a separate up-front investment for it. For example, there’s an ADT system costing $27.99 a month with no cost for equipment; one downside is that customers have to sign a contract. A Simplisafe system can cost as little as $14.99 a month with no contract required, but the starter equipment costs $229.
"For privacy reasons, some tenants might not want cameras enabled in any way that the landlord has access to them,” says Wardlaw. “So landlords can offer these security features to tenants, but they should be prepared for a conversation about them."
“The most important time to use security cameras may be while the home is vacant, since there are no occupants there to be aware of any lurkers or intruders,” Wardlaw adds. “If the landlord sees anyone lurking outside the home, they can alert their property manager, so they don’t find themselves with squatters in the property.”
Making the Inside of a Home Safer
While security measures protect residents from outside threats, trouble can also come from inside the house. Legal codes throughout the U.S. require owners to install protective measures like fire alarms and carbon monoxide testers; depending on what state a property is in, owners must comply with reasonable requests from tenants, says Wardlaw.
And, a few simple consumer products can head off legal trouble by helping to avoid trip-and-fall accidents in high-risk places like stairs and bathrooms.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of just over 350,000 home structure fires a year between 2014 and 2018.
“Every bedroom in a property must be equipped with a smoke detector,” said Wardlaw, adding that “new homes built today are required to have them, and they must be hardwired to the house’s electrical system. The battery inside the unit is only a backup.”
Likewise, carbon monoxide testers must be installed near where gas cooking ranges are installed, like kitchen areas.
Prevent Falls or Other Accidents Inside the Home
Injuries due to falls are among the most common in American homes, and they can be serious: twenty percent of older adults who fall suffer a broken bone or head injury. Staircases are required to have solid handrails and stable flooring; owners should inspect homes annually to ensure rails and floors are secure.
Outdoor stairs can be hazardous under snowy or rainy conditions, but can be less so when treated with affordable products like safety tape from companies like SlipDoctors ($12.95 for a 4 by 15 feet roll). Slippery surfaces in bathrooms also present a danger. Adhesive safety treads in tubs go a long way to avoiding falls ($6.99 for SlipX’s product, which provides 12 pieces).
“One of the top features requested by tenants is grab bars” in places like bathtubs, explains Wardlaw. Legal codes in some states require owners to install them if tenants request them. There’s a limit to what is reasonable, of course.
“Just because a home has stairs,” Wardlaw says, “a tenant is not going to be able to put in a reasonable request to install a stair lift.” Codes do require handrails on interior stairs, however.
Hazards come in many forms, from the cat burglar to the slippery bathroom floor to the raging house fire. Legal codes require that landlords provide minimum protections for their tenants, and a measure of common sense suggests that going beyond the minimum can avoid traumatic injuries and legal hassles for tenants and landlords alike.
Whether it’s a grab bar in a bathroom or a security system integrated into a smart home system, there are plenty of products that allow both renter and owner to rest easy.