Vandalism and copper theft have become huge problems for owners of vacant properties. Copper thieves and vandals prey on vacant houses because they are easy targets, and cause huge amounts of damage to the average property for a relatively small payoff.
Why Do People Steal Copper?
Thieves love it because the value of copper has risen so much. It is estimated to bring an average of about $3.30 per pound and is a $1 billion dollar problem according to the US Department of Energy.
The other reason copper theft is such a problem is that it is a component in so many building materials. Copper tubing can be found in the pipes in many homes. It is also used in heating and air conditioning units, wiring and electrical components, and a whole host of other things.
More often than not, the damage done by these thieves obtaining the copper far exceeds the value of the copper itself. Vandals may do thousands of dollars in damage to a property for no more than $25 or $30.00 worth of copper. They will tear up walls, ceilings, cabinets and anything else that gets in the way of ripping out the copper.
The biggest targets for these thefts are construction sites, vacant buildings, and commercial heating and air conditioning units. That said, there are some steps that real estate investors can take to prevent your property from becoming the latest victim of these unscrupulous people.
Make Residential Property Look Lived In
If possible, take some steps to make the property look like it is occupied. Here are a few steps you can take:
- Put up inexpensive mini blinds and keep them closed.
- Have several lights on a timer that will come on at different times in the evening.
- Pick up any junk mail left at the house several times a week.
- Be sure that no trash accumulates on the property.
- Don’t leave trash cans sitting at the street for extended periods of time.
- Make sure the lawn is mowed on a regular basis.
- Ask a neighbor to park in the driveway several times a week.
If your property is in the process of being rehabbed here are a few tips:
- Get rid of the dumpster as quickly as possible.
- Make sure building materials and trash aren’t left where people can see them.
- Don’t leave tools and other valuables where they can be seen through doors and windows.
- Enlist the help of the neighbors. Give them your business card and ask them to keep an eye out for anything suspicious. Don’t forget to reward these folks for their help when the job is finished with a gift certificate for dinner, a free car wash or something similar.
In both of the situations above, you can also install one of those portable alarm systems in the property. These are great because they can be moved from property to property.
Commercial Property Owners
These types of properties are especially popular because thieves can generally count on the business being closed at specific times. There are some steps that you can take but all in all, these thieves are hard to deter when it comes to commercial property.
- Some property owners have been known to paint visible copper components black to appear like regular plastic tubing.
- When a tenant moves out, immediately check to be sure the property is secure.
- You can fence areas that contain commercial air conditioning units by using tall chain link fencing with razor wire at the top. In certain instances you may have to use privacy fencing. Putting these units on the roof top won’t necessarily stop a thief from taking on this challenge but may help in some instances.
- There are portable alarm systems that can be used on air conditioning units that seem to work pretty well.
Out Smarting the Copper Thieves
It’s pretty hard to outsmart these people, but if you take precautions you at least have a fighting chance of staying one step ahead of them.
One last thing to consider, is whether you want to put a “for rent sign” out in risky areas. With the internet, you can still get the word out that the property is available without alerting the vandals and copper thieves.
Photo: Ryan McFarlandCopper Theft: How to Protect Your Property from Vandalism by Sharon Vornholt