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Why a Long Vacancy Period Leaves Your Property Vulnerable | Columbus Landlord Tips

Mitch Deminski - Friday, September 30, 2022

Why a Long Vacancy Period Leaves Your Property Vulnerable | Columbus Landlord Tips - Article Banner

Vacancy is bad. 

That’s an oversimplified statement, sure, but it really comes down to just that. When your Columbus rental property is left unoccupied, there are a lot of dangers that can befall it. No one likes to think about worst case scenarios, but an empty property may attract: 

  • Squatters

  • Burglars

  • Thieves

  • Criminals

  • Vandals

The list goes on. And all of that is outside the very real financial risk of a vacant home - no rental income. When you don’t have tenants living in your property, you’re not earning any money. But you are spending money. You’re paying to keep the utilities on and the snow shoveled. You’re paying to keep the property clean and maintained. You’re paying to market that property in the hopes that you’ll find a new tenant as quickly as possible. 

A long vacancy period leaves your property vulnerable to undetected maintenance issues, too. No one is there to report the slow leak in the kitchen sink. There’s also the matter of your insurance. A lot of companies will cancel your policy if your property is vacant for a certain period of time. They’ll force you to buy a specific policy for unoccupied homes that’s likely to be far more expensive.

In today’s blog, we’re not trying to scare you. But we are trying to drive home the importance of avoiding long vacancy periods. They’re unpleasant. They’re stressful. They lead to lower ROI and higher dangers. 

Let’s take a look at what could happen, and how to avoid it.

Vacant Properties in Columbus and Crime

Break-ins, thefts, vandalism, and other unpleasant activities happen in every neighborhood. It doesn't matter where your rental property is located. If it’s empty, it’s at risk. 

The people who take advantage of a vacant property might surprise you as well. Contractors watch other contractors. Neighbors take notice when people move out and no one moves in right away. We’ve found trailers missing from a jobsite and we’ve learned that untrustworthy people have noticed lockbox combinations and let themselves in even if they were not authorized to be in the property. 

You must be careful of who you trust and you must make sure that someone has eyes on your property almost every day that it’s vacant. 

A vacant rental home will attract the wrong kind of attention. With an empty residence, you could face vandalism issues and even theft. You might walk into the home and find the windows broken. It is possible thieves could steal minor things like light bulbs and major things like appliances or copper piping. We’ve heard of people taking off with air conditioning units and water heaters. 

Remember that criminals look for opportunity, and a vacant property is always going to be an attractive opportunity. You don’t have to be a criminal mastermind to target locations where you’re less likely to get caught. 

Vandalism tends to be a crime of opportunity and also recreation. While cleaning up graffiti is a nuisance and an expense, it’s not the worst that could happen. What you’re really worried about is a missing refrigerator or a collection of unknown people living on mattresses in the home you’re trying to rent out. 

One thing you can do to reduce the chances of your property being victimized is to upgrade your security. This is an expense, and it’s a big one. But, if you install security cameras on the outside of the property and even the inside, you can keep an eye on things. If something does get stolen or a squatter tries to move in, you’ll have a record of who was there and what they were doing. Local law enforcement will hopefully locate those who are responsible. Sometimes, just having security protocols in place will deter a vandal or a thief. 

Vacant Properties and Rental Scams 

There’s another danger when someone has access to your vacant rental property. 

They could be planning to scam you and numerous potential tenants. 

Here’s how the scam works:

  • Dishonest people steal legitimate marketing photos from online sites and create a listing with those photos and a much lower rental price than what’s actually being asked. 

  • The scammer will tell interested tenants that they have to get the place rented immediately. They’ll ask tenants to meet them at the property with cash and they can move right in.

  • Scammers will drill out the locks, hand over some keys, and collect the tenant’s cash. 

The tenants have no idea what’s happening - they think they’re moving into a property and they got a great deal. Meanwhile, as the owner of the property, you’ll show up one day and find people living there.

This is dangerous for you and it’s dangerous for people who fall victim to the scam and hand over their money to scammers. They cannot stay in your property, obviously, as they likely cannot afford the actual rent you’re charging and they have not been properly screened nor have they signed a lease. 

We had a situation where it took us more than two months to get rid of a woman who believed she rightfully and legally lived in one of our properties. She claimed she knew her rights and we had to evict her. But we weren’t even leasing the home to her. It was a mess and it was frustrating and it’s not something we want any rental property owner in Columbus to go through. 

Property Damage and Deferred Maintenance 

Another danger associated with vacant rental homes in Columbus is property damage. There could be a flood or a fire at your property, and no one will know it right away because no one is living there. 

It doesn’t even have to be something as dramatic as a fire to cause a sudden and expensive loss. 

Responding to maintenance issues can be complicated and time consuming, but when a tenant is in place, you have someone who can notice and report those issues as soon as they occur. This cuts down on the risks that come with deferred maintenance. 

With no one living in your rental property, you won’t detect leaks right away. You won’t know that the heat or the air conditioning isn’t working, and there will be no one to complain that the appliances are broken.

Keeping your investment well-maintained is an important part of earning money on it. When small problems are overlooked or unnoticed, they become larger problems, and often more expensive problems. This is a major risk to vacant rental homes. 

You can’t fix problems that you aren’t aware of.

A serious concern in Columbus is freezing. What if the furnace goes out? What if the pipes freeze and then burst? You could find yourself paying thousands of dollars in repairs. There could be four inches of ice on the front door. 

Colder climates like ours are especially susceptible to maintenance problems in the winter and the risk is only increased when you’re dealing with an empty property. Make sure you or someone you trust is checking the home periodically. Keep the utilities on so you can run the heat and the water every few days. Don’t leave the home completely untouched for weeks and months on end.

How Can You Avoid These Vacancy Issues?

Minimizing your vacancy and avoiding these long periods is critical to protecting the value and condition of your property. There are a few things you can do. 

Try these tips:

  • Provide a clean, updated, and well-maintained home

Rent your home quickly by providing a great property. Don’t hesitate to make some minor and inexpensive updates. You don’t have to do a full rehab project, but a fresh coat of paint, improved flooring, and better lighting can make a huge difference in how quickly your property is rented. 

  • Pay attention to competitive pricing

No rental property owner wants to leave money on the table. But, you want to price your home competitively so good tenants notice it. Start high and then come down by $50 per week until you find a qualified tenant willing to rent it at the right price. Remember that three things affect rental value: location, condition, and pricing. You can control conditions and pricing. Don’t get hung up on a specific rental amount that you feel you absolutely must have. It will only leave you at risk for a longer vacancy period.

  • Invest in a tenant retention plan

Tenant RetentionAvoid vacancy by keeping the tenants who are currently renting your home. Provide a good tenant experience for your residents, especially when they’re consistent with rental payments and easy to work with. When you’re responsive to maintenance and willing to answer questions and solve problems quickly, your tenants will want to stay in place. Respond to repair requests right away, even if they’re not emergencies. Provide multiple ways for them to pay rent on time and communicate openly and transparently. Don’t lose your tenants every time a lease ends. 

We don’t want to see your property at risk because it’s vacant. If you’d like to talk about how to keep it occupied and profitable, please contact us at Solutions for Real Estate. We’re your expert property managers in Columbus, Ohio.