As the end of the 2012/ 2013 academic year approaches, landlords all over the UK prepare for students to pack up their belongings, vacate the property and head home for the summer months. Whilst this can mean income is down for landlords it also provides the perfect opportunity for them to carry out some much needed, repair work and upgrades.
Experts at the UK’s leading trade association for the locksmithing profession the Master Locksmiths Association (MLA) are encouraging landlords to use this void time to review their security and make sure students and their possessions are as safe as possible, their building is protected and in turn, their tenants feel safe and are therefore are content in their new home.
Dr Steffan George, development director for the MLA said: “Security in rented property needs to be a top priority for landlords and it must be regularly reviewed to make sure it is up to scratch and just as importantly adheres to health and safety regulations or guidelines. Legally homes of multiple occupancy (HMO) regulation – which applies to households with three people not from the same family – needs to be taken into account. In homes exempt from HMO, although there are no legal requirements regarding security measures we always recommend landlords follow health and safety best practice to ensure they are protecting tenants and themselves.”
The first thing to consider as a landlord is when your locks were last replaced and how many potential keys to your property could be in circulation – if you can’t answer the question or you don’t feel you can keep track of the number of keys to your property, it’s worth asking a trusted professional locksmith to replace the locks on your property or properties.
Although a lot of tenancy agreements will stipulate that tenants are not permitted to copy a key without written consent from a landlord or agent, in reality there is often no system in place to actually stop them from doing so. There will be instances where tenants lose keys and replace them or make spare copies to give to friends or family, which makes tracking keys incredibly difficult.
Our members recommend installation of a patented system – one whereby keys can’t legally be copied without presentation of proof of ownership. This stops unauthorised copying of keys and if original keys are lost or stolen, systems can often be reconfigured rendering lost keys ineffective and eliminating the expense associated with replacing the whole lock.
Patented locking systems enable landlords to control exactly who has access to their property and allows them to protect tenants and their investments.
Master key systems can also work well for landlords or agents of multiple properties who have to deal with a large number of keys. However organised you try to be with colour-coding and distinctive key rings for different properties, it’s still possible to find yourself in the position of having compromised your own property’s security through losing or mixing-up the keys.
A failsafe solution to this is to have a master-key system installed across all of your properties (this can even include your home and office too). Such systems allow landlords to give tenants keys which will only grant access to the property they are renting, while your key will enable you to access all the properties you own, making those last-minute panics hunting for the keys a thing of the past. Although it’s important landlords adhere to their contractual agreements regarding giving notice to tenants to enter the property.
Check the external ground and exterior of a building is secure so there is no unauthorised access via doors, windows, garages and conservatories. It’s advisable to keep the garden tidy and where possible try to ensure bushes don’t obscure view of the property. It’s also important to remember not to make things easy for potential burglars so remove items from the garden such as bins or ladders or gardening tools that could be used to gain access and advise new tenants on the importance of tidying such items away.
It is also worth landlords considering installation of alarms, door chains, spy holes, top / bottom bolts and even CCTV which can boost security, whilst sensor or dusk to dawn lights deter intruders and help tenants gain quick access at night.
Check that all ground floor windows and any accessible windows above ground floor have window locks, change the code of any alarms as soon as new tenants move in and always reiterate the importance of only giving out keys and alarm details to people you trust.
It is also important to check the quality and integrity of the locks on doors and windows as well as the structural condition of the doors and windows themselves, and if you have any doubts ask a qualified locksmith to replace them with quality locks that are in-line with your insurance stipulations.
Another option is to install temporary CCTV systems during void time which can be fitted during the empty months. Such systems are battery operated and they work by sending texts and photos if their sensors are triggered. The benefit of temporary CCTV is it can be easily installed when students leave and removed when the new residents arrive.
Seek advice on HMO regulations
If you own and let an older property, the chances are that it may not meet current building regulations for new builds. However you will not be expected to rush out and change everything each time a new regulation comes into effect.
That said, it’s vitally important that you seek professional advice to ensure that you comply with health and safety stipulations and the regulations such as those which apply to HMO property. For example, you will need to ensure clear and suitable emergency exits are fitted and they are appropriate to the size and number of occupants within a building.
You should also be aware that HMO regulations include the requirement that bedroom and main exit doors must open from the inside without the use of a key (termed keyless egress), to allow for easy escape in the case of a fire. Fire doors with self-closers must also be fitted on all bedrooms.
Depending on the size of your property, you may be required to ensure there are multiple escape routes. On all these issues, it’s worth seeking professional advice. Your Local Authority and your Fire Authority will be able to send someone out to compile a report and schedule of works to be carried out on the property to bring it in line with HMO policies. In addition, professional security advisors such as MLA licensed locksmiths will be able to advise on suitable locks, escape routes and fittings such as door closes.
Work with the experts
Steffan George concludes: “Always use a local, reputable, third party accredited locksmith to install security in a tenanted property as an expert will be able to advise you how to spend wisely on your security to ensure longevity and appropriate measures are being implemented. MLA members for instance adhere to a code of conduct,are regularly inspected, qualified and undertake regular training programmes to develop their skills and offer reassurance to homeowners.
“We would advise to seek quotes over the phone from three MLA locksmiths where possible to make sure you are happy with the potential cost of carrying out security measures and many will also carry out free security reviews so it is worth also asking about their offers. Go to www.locksmiths.co.uk to find your local MLA licensed locksmith and to get lots of free security advice.”