Foreclosures, Vacant Properties Increase with Continuing Financial Crisis

By | January 25, 2009

Properties Vulnerable to Vandalism, Theft

In communities across America, several factors have combined to create a “perfect storm” of property risk. Growing numbers of foreclosures are leaving scores of residential and commercial properties vacant, and fiscal pressures mean many communities do not have sufficient law enforcement personnel to patrol these properties.

Increasingly, vacant properties are being targeted by thieves who strip buildings of copper wiring and plumbing, appliances, woodwork and other materials — even windows and doors.

Foreclosed properties are particularly vulnerable. Because electric and telephone service is usually shut off, the security alarms, monitoring systems and lighting may not be operational. And foreclosed properties are easy to find, not only because of signs on the property, but because lists of foreclosed properties are readily available from government agencies. Thieves are known to have obtained foreclosure lists to identify properties that they can burglarize with little risk.

Risk Management Required

Regardless of size or location, vacant and unoccupied properties should be protected by appropriate, adequate insurance and sound risk management and maintenance programs.

Obtain Appropriate Insurance. Normal commercial property policies generally exclude vacant or unoccupied properties or impose specific coverage restrictions. Agents should help their customers to determine the best coverage for their property and educate them on what the policy covers. Because many policies will not cover theft from a vacant property, purchasing extra coverage and strengthening security to safeguard against theft should be a consideration. Customers should work with their insurer’s loss control professionals to identify and manage risk at their properties. Agents should advise customers to inform them immediately if a space becomes vacant or unoccupied, or if a tenant moves into a previously unused space. Failure to notify an insurer may void coverage.

Strengthen Security. Second to proper insurance, a sound security plan is essential to protect assets.

Customers should strengthen perimeter security. Ensure that all doors and windows have working locks. If the property is unoccupied for an extended period, cover the doors and windows to prevent broken windows and illegal entry. If possible, install sturdy fencing around the property. Keep fences, gates, locks, and other barriers in good condition. Prevent access to roofs and upper floors.

Invest in the best security technology that you can afford. Ensure that alarms are in working order and set to trigger lights, sirens, horns, or other deterrents and to alert police or a monitoring service. Invest in a video surveillance system, with cameras trained on doors, driveway and parking areas, and other vulnerable areas.

Good lighting is an essential deterrent. Provide security lighting around all buildings, especially around entrances and windows.

Prominent, strongly worded signs can discourage would-be thieves and vandals, both by alerting them to security measures and by conveying that the property owners are monitoring the area and actively engaged in security.

Would-be criminals look for properties where poorly-maintained landscaping, graffiti, trash, broken windows, poor lighting, and general disrepair indicate inattention to security. Maintain buildings and grounds properly by attending to lawn care, snow and leaf removal, repairs, lighting, signage, etc.

Work with Law Enforcement and Neighbors. Inform police that property will be empty; ask for property patrols and notification of irregularities. Report all incidents and thefts, no matter how insignificant. A small incident may be part of a larger pattern of crimes for which every bit of information is helpful to the police investigation.

Get to know the neighbors; ask them to alert police if they see suspicious activities, vehicles, or people on or near your property. Do the same for them.

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