The accidental landlord: lock up your tenants, there’s a burglar about

With her words of warning falling on deaf ears, the accidental landlord is at her wits’ end with renters who leave the door on the latch.
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My tenants seem to have absolutely no regard for personal safety. I do everything I can to keep them and their belongings secure, but they are not doing anything to  help themselves.
Every time I visit the house when they are not at home — don’t worry, I’m not sneaking in unannounced, I always let them know if I need to visit — I notice that they haven’t properly locked the front door. They always just pull it closed and leave it on the night latch, not bothering to turn the more secure five-lever lock at the bottom.
I don’t know whether it’s laziness or forgetfulness, or they are unsure if someone else is still in the house and they don’t want to lock them in, but it is a worry.
It’s so easy for burglars to pick night latches with special keys — now readily available online, along with videos on YouTube showing you how to use them — that they might as well hang a notice on the front door saying: “Come in and help yourself.”
These youngsters have a serious amount of expensive kit stashed in their bedrooms, including laptops, iPads and weird gaming thingies. It’s all easy stuff to nick, so I’m surprised my tenants are not more careful.
I’ve warned them that none of their personal belongings are covered by my landlord insurance, so if they value their stuff, they had better insure it themselves.
However, it’s not the risk of theft that most worries me. I am more concerned that someone will break in while one of the girls is home alone, unless they get into the habit of double-locking the front door even when they are in.
I live in the same area and a couple of my neighbours have been burgled during the day while they have been at home. In both cases, a guy managed to pick open the night latch and creep in. In one case, he was scared away by a yapping dog, in the other, he was chased off by the homeowner — a big, strapping lad no one would argue with.
I dread to think what would happen if someone broke into my rental house and found a young female tenant home alone. From a more selfish point of view, I don’t want to risk a burglar trashing my property. I’m not certain I would be insured for any damage if the tenants hadn’t used all the locks.
When I lecture my tenants about this lack of security, they say: “Yeah, sure, cool,” but I can see that what they are thinking is: “Hasn’t she gone yet?”

Of course, it has occurred to me that insisting they lock the front door while they are home would make it harder for them to get out if there was a fire. Would they manage to find the key on time?
To get around this problem, I’m planning to add a mortice thumb lock to the front door. This is operated from the outside with a key, but you just turn a knob to open it from the inside.
I haven’t managed to find a thumb-lock approved by insurance companies, so I’ll still have to nag my tenants to use the five-lever lock when they go out, but as thumb locks are less easy to pick than night latches, it should keep them safer when they are at home. If they bother to use it, that is.
  • Victoria Whitlock lets three properties in south London. To contact Victoria with your ideas and views, tweet @vicwhitlock

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