CCTV CameraFocus on: Security

A recent ruling by NTCAT highlights the need for landlords to provide adequate security.

When a tenant in Darwin had her home burgled for the third time in seven months the dire lack of adequate security at the property was evident – and the Northern Territory Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NTCAT) held the landlord accountable. NTCAT ordered the landlord to compensate the tenant for more than $5,000 worth of stolen possessions. It was the second case in six months that saw a negligent landlord forced to compensate a tenant for their losses. The first case resulted in $3,234 being paid out by the landlord.

The two cases may set a legal precedent and highlight the need for landlords to provide “reasonable security” at their rentals. What constitutes “reasonable security” is not defined in all state/territory residential tenancy laws but when determining what level of security would be reasonable, factors such as the crime rate in the area, the minimum security requirements specified by various state/territory legislation (for example in relation to door locks, window locks and exterior lights) and the property’s history in terms of attempted/successful break-ins, should be taken into consideration.

Insurers will also determine the appropriateness of the security measures (e.g. locks and devices) when they asses the property’s risk profile at the time the landlord applies for building/contents cover or the tenant applies for contents cover. Maintenance of basic security is likely to be mandatory for cover to be provided for the property, whilst increased security may result in lower premiums.

Landlords and PMs have a duty of care to their tenants and many will want to provide a sense of safety by installing better-than-basic security measures. They also have a vested interest in providing good security – it can impact positively on insurance premiums, reflect positively on the management and care of the property and its desirability amongst potential tenants. It can also help mitigate the risk of damage from
break-ins and the subsequent costs in terms of repairs, workload and impact on the financial performance of the premises, such as having to lower the rent while repairs are carried out, or having the property unlettable because of damage. The Australian Bureau of Statistics notes that almost half of all break-ins result in property damage in addition to theft of items.

So what security measures work best? The answer lies in the insights gleaned from those whom you are trying to keep out – the burglars themselves. Noting that most thefts are opportunistic (57.8 per cent) and that burglars tend to avoid difficult break-ins, a university[1] survey of offenders revealed the top deterrents to break-ins.

The number one deterrent to thieves?  A dog (61.4 per cent cited this as the top deterrent). And it doesn’t need to be a big dog; it’s the barking that attracts attention, which is the last thing a would-be housebreaker wants.

Other top deterrents include:

  • working alarm system (49.1 per cent deterred)
  • functioning sensor lights (22.8 per cent)
  • lights on within the property (19.3 per cent)
  • security grilles on windows and/or doors (19 per cent)
  • visibility of the property from the road (14 per cent)
  • unknown area (14 per cent)
  • presence of gates (12.3 per cent).

These security measures (where applicable) are not necessarily expensive or onerous to implement and could ultimately save landlords, PMs and tenants from the fall-out of a break-in.

Tenants and contents cover

Despite the two potentially precedent-setting NTCAT rulings, tenants should not assume that landlord liability for their possessions will apply in all cases of theft from a property. These cases relate specifically to the landlords failing to provide “reasonable security”, that is, having been found to have breached their obligations under the relevant state/territory legislation.

From an insurance perspective, the landlord/policyholder would need to be found negligent under the conditions of their cover to be held liable for a tenant’s losses. Depending on the circumstances, the insurer might determine that the policyholder failed in their duty of care and decline to pay for any loss, damage, liability or injury to which the failure to take reasonable care contributes.

The vast majority of landlords provide reasonable security at their rentals and would not be accountable for tenant losses in the event of a break-in.

To adequately protect their belongings, tenants should take out their own contents insurance. TenantCover covers contents up to $25,000 in value against theft or damage by fire, explosion, storm and rainwater.

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[1] Survey of 168 Western Australian offenders in police custody, conducted by the School of Law and Justice at Edith Cowan University in 2012 as part of the Drug Use Monitoring in Australia (DUMA) project. Findings published by the Australian Institute of Criminology in October 2014.