Security is the most important factor you have to take in consideration. Below we will present some of the research done regarding home security and especially security in rented properties and offer advice and tips how to ensure your and your family’s safety.
- Nearly 400,000 burglaries are reported in the UK annually, peaking during the winter.
- Rented properties are inherently less secure than owner-occupied properties. HMO and council properties are the least secure because multiple households occupy the same property.
- Your landlord is responsible to ensure the security of all tenants living in the property. However, tenants need to be proactive, as it is their safety on the line.
- You have a right to privacy and to ask people to leave, including your landlord.
- We recommend changing the locks whenever you move in a new property. Provided you save and install the original locks before you leave, your landlord cannot deduct your deposit.
- We recommend investing in security hardware – alarms, motion triggered lights, and, cameras, to protect your home against burglaries.
Overview of crime in the UK
If we examine the below charts, published by UK Crime Stats, we will see there is quite a lot of crime happening annually in the United Kingdom.
In total, 5,850,714 acts of crime and anti-social behaviour have been recorded for the past year. The real number is far bigger, because not all people report problems to the police.
In a country of 63.182 million people, it means that, statistically, 1 in 10 people commit a crime or exhibit anti-social behaviour every year.
In fact, the United Kingdom is 4th from the top in criminal acts per capita in the world. Crime levels in the UK are almost twice those of the G7 average and more than twice than the NATO and EU averages.
In total amount of criminal acts, UK stands second only to the US (but the US has a population of 323.1 million, so it stands much lower than the UK in the per capita graph).
Renters experience more crime
In 2015, the Police Foundation conducted a research to see how private rented properties and crime relate to each other. The research focused on two English towns – Luton and Slough, analysing two neighbourhoods from either town – each with its own challenging and persistent crime problems.
In Luton, the research found that the most persistent marker correlating to the local burglary rates was the concentration of private rented properties. This factor outweighed deprivation, overcrowding, employment rates, social renting and any other socio-demographic factor analysed.
Because rented properties cycle through a lot of tenants and sometimes, a lot of landlords, agents and tradesmen, they require higher attention to security matters. It’s important to know who has a key to the property and who accesses the property at all times. Lack of such attention may expose the property to higher risk of trespass and burglary.
In Slough, the research identified that a significant portion of violent crimes – up to 40% (which excludes domestic abuse – e.g. between spouses) – occur within residential properties. AND, although being only a small portion of the properties in the area, HMO properties consistently appear as the address of either the victim, the perpetrator, OR, as the crime scene itself.
The propagation of HMO properties was linked to financial dependence and deprivation as it forced people into smaller properties often sharing their property with strangers. This, combined with the generally low quality of the accommodation may give rise to antisocial behaviour and violent crimes.
We will continue to mention this research where relevant.
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Who has access to your home ?
The average length of an assured shorthold tenancy is 18 months. The figures vary per city. The longest tenancies are recorded in Birmingham where tenants stay on average 2 years and four months and London in second place at around one year and nine months per tenancy.
A lot more people have access to rented properties than to resident-owned properties.
Often keys to the property are held by more than one party, excluding the tenants. In other words, outside of you and your landlord, there is probably someone else that has a key to your home.
This is highlighted in a research of private landlords by Homelet in 2015. Homelet asked 1,882 landlords and discovered that 87% of respondents used a letting agent.
Unless the locks were replaced at the start or during the tenancy, it’s likely that the letting agent also has keys to your property.
Furthermore, if the locks have survived through several sets of tenants, anybody who previously lived in the property can still, potentially, keep a key.
Most tenants don’t know who has rented the property before them, or before THEM. Even though it’s unlikely for the past some tenants to come back and cause trouble, some tenants in our community feel uneasy with the eventuality. The uncertainty is enough to undermine the perception of security and cause anxiety about home safety.
The Tenants’ Voice highly recommends changing all locks to main entrances of the property upon starting your tenancy. If possible coordinate with your landlord. Consider who should have a copy of the keys. This may include or exclude your landlord, depending on the circumstances. More information below.
Landlord’s responsibility towards security
It is a basic responsibility of the landlord to provide you with a secure home, free of all hazards of any type. This means that the landlord is responsible for changing all locks and entry keys after each tenant and it is reasonable for you to request such actions to be taken.
Furthermore, the landlord is responsible to ensure that every door, window, garage, shed, etc. is functional – can be closed properly and has a sufficient lock.
It’s important to assess the property’s security while making the initial viewings and give the landlord a list of requirements BEFORE you sign a tenancy agreement and move in. See more security tips below.
People engaging in illegal and criminal activities like production and distribution of drugs and contraband; escort services and fraud often rent properties to use for these activities. If your property was previously used for such activities and the landlord hasn’t taken the necessary measurements to ensure the security of the property, it’s a serious breach of their responsibilities.
The Tenants’ Voice highly recommends making reasonable efforts to research previous tenants of their desired property before renting. Otherwise, you might be exposed to unwanted experiences. A tenant in our community shared their experience moving into a property previously used for dealing cannabis.
Right to privacy, landlord access and trespass
The law (Section 11 from the Landlord And Tenant Act 1985) allows for landlords to make scheduled visits to their property to conduct relevant inspections, repairs and maintenance.
The landlord may appoint letting agents or tradesmen instead to provide such services.
To gain entry, the landlord or any other person must give you notice no less than 24 hours before the suggested date and time. Often the landlord may refer your contact details to somebody who needs access to the property.
You can reasonably deny access if it is requested at times when you can’t be present, or if, at your own discretion, you can’t accommodate the visit.
Tenants are granted a “right for quiet enjoyment of their rented property”. This means that they control, grant or deny, access to the property by anyone else. You have a right to deny a visit, even though proper notice has been served, if you choose to.
If you landlord, letting agent or any tradesman makes a surprise visit to the property and demands entry, you’re not obliged to let them in. If this occurs too often, or the person in question is refusing to leave, you may threaten them with harassment charges.
No landlord, letting agent or tradesman should enter the property without first receiving your consent and especially not when you have explicitly denied access. This can be treated as trespass, which is a criminal activity, and subjected to prosecution.
However, tenants shouldn’t use the right to quiet enjoyment unreasonably. If you prevent your landlord from fulfilling their statutory obligations and addressing key issues with the property, they will turn to the council, or subsequently the courts to assist them in entering the property.
If you unreasonably deny access and this causes damage to the property due to delays in repairs and maintenance, you will have to cover the remedial costs.
If your landlord can’t access the property at all and believes your actions are anti-social, they may consider evicting you through the use of Section 8 – notice seeking possession.
The Tenants’ Voice recommends to establish and confirm the ground rules about access to your property. Agree with your landlord to receive a minimum 24 hour notice prior to any requested access. Also, express your denial for the landlord or anybody else to enter the property without your knowledge and prior approval.
To learn more about privacy rights and landlord rights, please read our dedicated guide – Landlord and Letting Agent Access to Your Property
Changing the locks at the property
Changing the locks of the property when moving in is the most significant security improvement to any property. This will ensure that past tenants, agents, and, anyone else who historically have had access to your property, no longer do.
Most burglaries that occur without a forced access, like if somebody uses a key, or goes through an open window. If this happens, it will invalidate any insurance you have on your possessions.
Typically to change the locks you need to obtain the permission of the landlord. Every tenancy agreement has a clause regarding altering the property’s condition, which also includes the locks.
The Tenants’ Voice recommends to find a common tongue with your landlord and cooperate in changing the locks or implementing other security improvements since both the landlord and tenant have vested interest in the said property.
The landlord is actually responsible to provide you with a safe home free of hazards. However, if the landlord is not interested in changing the locks, you are free to protect your privacy and ensure your security by doing it on your own accord.
Furthermore, provided you comply with requests for access, you’re not obligated to provide your landlord or letting agent with a key for the property. This will allow you to effectively take charge of who enters and leaves the property.
The Tenants’ Voice recommends to keep the original lock in storage in cases where you change the locks against the landlord’s will. When the tenancy ends, you need to return the original locks and submit the original keys to the landlord in order to avoid any deduction from your deposit.
Security solutions for renters
The research by Police Foundation concludes that less security measures are considered and implemented in the lower-end properties of the private rented sector. Tenants often underestimate the importance of security equipment and lack the motivation to spend money for a property they might not live in for long.
Those tenants that are interested in improving their security have the hard task of pitching it to their landlord and obtaining permission to install equipment, which usually requires drilling holes.
Tenants who don’t property obtain permission frequently face charges and deduction from their deposit when leaving the property.
Due to the relatively high turnover of tenants, landlords are less interested in investing in security equipment like alarms, cameras and other home security systems.
This creates a situation where a property is exposed to more risk (statistically) but neither party involved wants to take responsibility or initiative to implement security measures.
Renters’ Home Security checklist
1. Are all locks functional ?
Malfunctioning locks offer undeterred access to your home. Make sure all locks work properly and that no exposed entrances are available to burglars. Not all locks are made equal – consider how easy / hard is it to get through your locks are.
The Police recommends to use a five-lever lock to British Standard BS3621 / EN12209. Don’t forget to actually use your locks when you’re leaving home.
2. Who has a key ?
Make sure the minimum amount of people have a key to your home. Typically, it is not a concern if the landlord has a spare key, provided they don’t abuse their rights of access. Depending on the situation, you might want to be the only one having a key to the property.
3. Don’t leave a spare key, where someone can find it
The last thing you want is for a burglar to find your key neatly tucked under the flower pot and let themselves in. If you have to leave a spare key, give it to a neighbour you trust, a nearby family member or your landlord.
4. Are your doors and windows solid ?
There is no point in a good lock, if somebody can remove the door outright. Make sure the frames of all doors and windows are securely fixed to the wall. Make due repairs if needed.
Make sure the front door is solid core wood or metal, so it can’t be shattered. For window panes, it’s recommended to use laminated glass which is flexible and very difficult to break.
5. Who has rented the property before ?
You should make a reasonable attempt to find out a bit of information about who last lived in this property and what their reason for leaving was. If there are any hazards, safety issues or security threats, you want to know about them BEFORE you sign a binding contract.
If the past tenants were evicted for anti-social behaviour or drug dealing, wouldn’t you like to know ?
6. Who else will live in the property – for HMOs, flatshare and lodgers ?
The people you share your home with are of extreme importance. Your relationship with them can turn a dull co-existence into a fun experience or a nightmarish one. Pick your flatmates wisely.
For lodgers, consider how well you can get with your landlord. You will be living in their house, so there may be house rules you can’t get around.
7. Who has access to parts of your home (like a garden, garage, etc) ?
- Do you have a shared garden or other amenities with the neighbours, or the entire building ?
- Is the door leading to such amenities secure enough ?
- Is the fence and gate adequate to deter potential trespassers ?
Try to keep these things in mind when property hunting and don’t forget to ask questions. You don’t want to come out paranoid, but your security is priority number one.
The first line of defence for your property are your fences, garden walls and hedges. Make sure that those are in adequate condition and there are no gaping holes that would allow a trespasser undeterred.
Keep hedges trimmed to ensure there is good visibility both from the inside out – and from the outside in, where passers-by and neighbours can see who goes in.
Back wall should be high enough to make it hard to climb over. Furthermore, prickly strips, or even prickly plants appropriately positioned will ensure nobody ever hops over.
Talk to your landlord about improvements you want to implement BEFORE you proceed.
8. Secure your garage, shed or other outbuildings
Often, people pay a lot of attention to the main building, but forget to secure their garage and shed, where valuable tools and equipment is stored – and the car.
So, you have to make sure that those are properly locked and the doors and windows are secure enough to deter a forced entry. Or at least make it difficult and risky to attempt.
9. What is the area crime rate ?
10. Talk to neighbours and locals
If you’re looking for a new home, the community around you is going to be a vital part of your life. If you have your eyes on a property, have a walk around the neighbourhood. Visit some of the stores and talk to people.
According to research by Churchill Home Insurance, 36% of people have never seen their neighbour in person, while 51% of people don’t know their neighbour’s first name.
Crime rate tools will give you some quantitative reference, but the people will give you practical information about the area.. Knowing your immediate neighbours will put another perspective on the property.
11. Consider home security products
Home security products have evolved a lot over the years. Even though the basic components are the same – light, noise and recording – modern security products are less intrusive, more reliable and better equipped at preventing crime.
Motion-activated night lights on all entrances to the property are the simplest and most effective improvement you can do for your home security. They are very good at deterring robbers at night.
Additional lighting (could be LED, or even solar lamps that don’t use electricity) around your patio, walkway, garage door and gate will make it almost impossible for somebody to enter without being visible. If they can’t make a concealed entry, most trespassers will not risk being identified.
The last thing a burglar wants is for the entire neighbourhood to know what they’re doing in somebody’s backyard. Modern alarm systems come packed with features like different sensors, backup power and Internet connection and live link to your smartphone. This makes it virtually impossible to enter a home and not wake up the entire street.
In combination with a good lighting system security cameras make sure that nobody goes in and out without being recorded. Most of the time, seeing the camera will be enough for a burglar to abandon their break-in. If they don’t, at least you’ll have a record to show the police and seek help.
Are rented properties less secure ?
The common belief is that flat sharing and HMO properties are mostly occupied by students and young professionals. However, due to the steady increase in rents over the years, more and broader demographics are opting to share their property to save on costs.
Most people would rather not share their property with others if they had a chance. However, when pressed by economic factors, sometimes, sharing a flat and living with other people is the only way to access to a specific location, quality of life, or level of security.
Data from the biggest flatshare website in the UK – Spareroom, suggest a sharp increase in flatsharers aged 35 – 44 and 45 – 54. The Guardian reported that:
Between 2009 and 2014, the number of flatsharers aged between 35 and 44 rose by 186%, according to Spareroom, the UK’s biggest flatshare website, while the number of sharers aged 45 to 54 went up by 300%
Moving in with strangers is a mostly stressful experience. There usually isn’t enough time to get to know each other and make an informed decision moving together. Furthermore, people usually give it their best at first and try to settle around these new people.
Some flatsharing relationships go really well and people manage to find tranquillity around people they recently met. However, fundamental differences in characters, values and lifestyle will inevitably produce friction, frustration and anxiety about the other people in your home.
HMO tenants experience more emotional stress and anxiety
Online furniture store Wayfair surveyed 1000 flat-sharers about their experience living with strangers and specifically what makes them move out and find a new home:
- The number one reason with 65% for why people decide to move out is they feel “emotionally stressed”.
- Coming a close second with 60% of the vote was feeling there was “zero trust” with their fellow renters.
- Getting to the stage you actively try to “avoid your flatmate” followed into third space with 56%.
Renters said that arguments between housemates over finances and who owns what is also a major recurring flashpoint for confrontation and over time builds feelings of resentment.
A Wayfair spokesperson commented for The Tenants’ Voice:
“House sharing relationships should be treated like a marriage. Solid ground rules & expectations should be set from the outset and respected. Most people, unfortunately, aren’t afforded the time to really get to know the people they live with properly before moving in.
Many people are driven financially to secure a new flatmate or find a place to live as fast as possible and the facade of being super friendly and easy to get on with is one that can often slip weeks or months into a new living arrangement.
Living with people can be really hard work and the effect if things go wrong on people’s emotions and health should not be underestimated”
While stress and hardship are not necessarily followed by crime, tenants who are going through a rough relationship with their flatmates can feel very insecure in their home as a result.
For example, when one tenant prefers quiet and calm environment and the other likes to have loud music, parties and guests it’s easy to assume that
The Tenants’ Voice recommends to spend more time with potential flatmates before moving in and figure out whether you will fit well living together. Establish ground rules and agree how to share the shared facilities to mitigate as much friction as possible from the start. Use the flatmate prenup, provided by Wayfair, and secure your rights and responsibilities within the house.
HMO and Social Housing properties are linked to more violent crime
At the lower end of the market, renters are making even more compromises with the quality of their home in return for affordability. Barely hanging tenants are opting for even smaller rooms; overcrowded properties; deterioration with limited or no maintenance; unfavourable conditions.
This is backed by the research performed by Police Foundation on Slough neighbourhoods – Puckford and Broadham.
In Broadham, the analysis concludes that a disproportionate amount of violent acts (52% non-domestic, 48% domestic) occur in local council properties. In the same time, only 31% of the ward’s population lives in local council properties.
In Puckford, 18% of non-domestic violent crimes happened in HMO properties, where 13% of victims and 19% of offenders are related to the same HMO properties.
While HMO properties comprise only 4% of the total dwellings in the area, their residents represent 8% of the population. Cramming twice as many people in the same area is a serious factor for security.
While seemingly unrelated, the study shows that both Social housing and HMO properties experience increased deprivation, decreased quality of life, overcrowding, stress and increased likelihood of violence occurring.
While it’s a very loose fit, the research by Police Foundation suggests a correlation between HMO and council properties on one side and increased agitation, anti-social behaviour and even violent acts on the other.
The Tenants’ Voice recommends considering the security and health aspects of your future rented property well. Make sure the people with whom you’ll share your home are referenced by your landlord.
If you see any bad signs like reduced hygiene, unattended damage, arguments or substance abuse, consider how this affects your life and make an informed decision about living in this property.
This article is provided as a guide. Any information should be used for research purposes and not as the base for taking legal action. The Tenants' Voice does not provide legal advice and our content does not constitute a client-solicitor relationship.
We advise all tenants to act respectfully with their landlords and letting agents and seek a peaceful resolution to problems with their rented property. For more information, explore the articles in our All advice category.
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