What Landlords (And Their Tenants) Can Do to Minimize Property Crime

by | BiggerPockets.com

Property crime is almost unavoidable. If you own multiple or even one property, eventually your property will be a victim. Property crime seems to be on the uptick lately. We have recently had more break-ins and other types of theft than I can remember happening in a while. The police seem only able to react, and even if they catch the thief, the courts will often let the jerk back out in no time at all. So while I do not know why there seems to be this uptick, I know I have to do something to protect my property and keep my good tenants. Otherwise, an ever-deepening circle of crime and vacancy can quickly eat into the bottom line.

Property crime is a crime of opportunity. That is the thief sees an easy opportunity and takes it. Understanding this and understanding what the thief is looking for can help you combat property crime and make your properties a safer and thus more desirable place to live. Rarely will the thief actually be caught by understanding these concepts, but capture is not the goal. The goal is for the thief to not see any opportunity at your property or feel the opportunity costs are too high and therefore move on down the road to someone else’s property.

So what can you do at your properties? A landlord can do a lot but only so much. Some of the responsibility is going to also fall on the tenant. You will need their help as well.

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Landlords Can Do a Lot Towards Preventing Property Crime

As a landlord, the first thing you should do is screen your tenants, and don’t allow known criminals to live in your properties. Seems simple, but there are many out there who will take any breathing body waving cash.

Gates, Alarms & Dogs

Second, you obviously have to make your properties appear less opportunistic. I studied crime a while back when I was in graduate school. What I found was that properties with dogs, fences and alarms, or even just the possibility of these items, such as a “Beware of Dog” or alarm system sign, were much less likely to be criminalized than those without those features.


Related: How To Keep Your Rental Investment Property Drug and Crime Free

Why? Because gates, alarms and dogs all make noise, and the last thing a thief wants is noise to attract attention. A barking dog, a creaking gate or an alarm siren will make people stop and look. Fences also help by defining private space and thus saying “stay out.” So perhaps allowing pets, installing gates and alarms is not such a bad idea if you want to deter crime. For a long time, we also resisted alarms due to the cost. But the cost is really not that expensive when compared to the cost of tenant turnover and the repairs needed due to property crime.

Fake Alarms & Cameras

We have also purchased fake alarm signs and posted those along with fake cameras. They have seemed to work, but many thieves know these tricks and will test them. Thus, bars on windows, lighting, security doors and cages over HVAC units are also great ideas. While cages, lighting, security doors and bars will not stop a determined criminal, most likely they will push them on towards an easier, more opportune target.

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design

There is actually an entire disciple dedicated to studying and making buildings and our communities less opportune targets. This discipline is called Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED). CPTED is really interesting because it demonstrates that it is not just about fencing or lighting, but about certain types of and placement of lighting and fencing along with numerous other design elements that you can perhaps incorporate into some of your properties. I encourage you to learn more.

You STILL Need Your Tenants’ Help: Here’s What to Tell Them

As I said previously, landlords cannot do it all. Tenants also need to help. But tenants often need to be educated on what their role should be.

Tell Them to Tell You Everything

First, they are going to be your eyes and ears. You as the landlord cannot be at your property every minute of every day. You cannot see that certain lights are burned out or perhaps that hedge has grown over the past spring. Emphasize that they have to tell you about these things so you can keep then repaired.

Related: It CAN Happen to You: How to Guard Against Dangerous Real Estate Scams & Squatters

Be Smart

Tenants also have to be smart about crime. Ask them not to leave valuables in their cars or outside. I know, it seems like they should know this, but many simply are naive. Ask your tenants to notify you if they are going to be out of town for a while. Ask them to leave lights on and perhaps a radio playing. Explain to them that they have to do their part to keep the place secure. That means they need to lock their windows and security doors ALL THE TIME. You would not believe how many tenants do not lock the security doors because it is “too much of a hassle.”


Leave Lights On

Tell them that they need to leave their outside lights on at night. I know many are worried about global warming and all, but if you do not leave any lights on, you are only inviting trouble. Have your papers, mail and packages picked up. Make the place look like someone lives there and cares. If a place looks unkempt, it can be an invitation.

No matter what you do, however, a determined criminal is going to get in. But if you follow most of the steps outlined above, you should be able to significantly reduce your exposure to property crime.

Landlords: What do YOU do — or what do you have your tenants do — to minimize crime at your properties?

Leave all your tips below!

About Author

Kevin Perk

Kevin Perk is co-founder of Kevron Properties, LLC with his wife Terron and has been involved in real estate investing for 10 years. Kevin invests in and manages rental properties in Memphis, TN and is a past president and vice-president of the local REIA group, the Memphis Investors Group.


  1. Mindy Jensen

    Don’t plant big hedges or bushes near the front of the house. This gives the criminals a place to duck down and hide while they jimmy open a window.

    Another great idea is to give a timer to your tenants for them to use when they are out of the house. Plug a lamp into the timer so it looks like someone is home. A time costs next to nothing – certainly less than a new window or door.

  2. I like the part about educating tenants (lights on, clean mail box on vacation, etc.). We do a lot to keep our primary house secured, and assumed tenant will do the same. But you[re right, some just are too naive or neglectful.

  3. Greg Nolan

    Properties are not “criminalized”, if they were, that means owning one would be illegal! Crime everywhere has been on the down tick for 2 decades now so your anecdotal thoughts on it increasing are dead wrong. I can’t believe they let you post this on bigger pockets…

  4. E. Barret

    Thanks for bringing up an often-overlooked topic.

    Crime hits every municipality out there, and can be hard to ward off. So far I’ve only duplexes, which don’t lend themselves well to security systems. I also disallow dogs from all units due to the host of guaranteed costs (all my units get full renos upon purchase.)

    I avoid privacy fences whenever possible, and bar all basement window interiors as they’re often obscured. I encourage tenants to look into renter’s insurance and make sure they realize the difference between doorknob locks and deadbolts. (When I still worked maintenance I was shocked at how many houses had full-time unlocked doors.) If you fear for a blind spot window or potential trouble area, never underestimate the value of a thorny shrub or rosebed. As stated above, providing a timer isn’t a bad idea. At worst it is a thoughtful gesture with an $8 downside.

    Last, I always introduce myself to the neighbors when I purchase another house. No need to get carried away forming a bond, just give them a face to put with the name, and a smile. If they hear something they’re more apt to look around on behalf of someone they’ve met opposed to “some absentee landlord.”

  5. I have lived in an upscale area of silicon valley, ca. (san jose area) for 30 years…..it used to be very affordable!!!
    Not only does it have NO crime, I often never lock my car or garage or house, and been like this for 30 years……
    Even though the entire neighborhood has completely changed with different immigrants now living here,
    NO crime…..If they make more money than you, they don’t kill or steal……nor any other type of crime.
    My advice is to live in as an upscale area as you can possibly afford!!!

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