I've posted these tips before, but if you are gonna have a vacant house on your hands, here's how to Squatter-Proof it:
Ten Tips to Squatter-Proof Your Investment Property
1. Install a security system. Do this before you do anything.
Guardian sells wireless systems with door and window sensors, motion sensors and glass-break microphones. If your rowhome has a garage, make sure the garage door also has a sensor. In the Northeast, busting through weak garage doors is an all-time favorite of burglars and squatters. When you aren't around, they will test the doors and first floor windows. I've seen it happen.
If you rent the property out later, the security system is a selling point with renters.
Note: In the 15th District, the PPD takes a long time to respond to alarm calls. If you want to increase the odds the squatter is caught in the act, ask the alarm company to set the alarm to "silent mode" so no noise is made when the police are called. Put the alarm's base station upstairs or in an area that the squatter would not easily see when coming through the back or front door. By the time the PPD show up at your property, chances are probably still good that the perp is still inside the house.
2. Disable the heating system. If it's a boiler system, you can have a plumber disconnect the boiler unit. If it's gas, you can disconnect the DC connection to the thermostat so the unit cannot be turned on or controlled. Make sure the disconnection point is not in an obvious location where someone can splice it back together easily.
Squatters are usually stupid when it comes to stuff like this, but they usually have friends they call to attempt repairs (usually causing more damage in the process). Don't worry about A/C. Squatters bring their own window units with them so it's not worth disabling central air if you have it.
3. If the house will be vacant long-term, then physically disconnect the utilities, especially crucial utilities like water, gas and electric. If need be, call PGW or the Water Department to have the building's supply connections severed and capped. If you're cutting off the water, pour anti-freeze down the sinks and drains so the pipes don't freeze.
4. Change the locks and if you can, replace wooden doors with steel doors. Put chains on the rear and side doors to the house and leave them chained at all times.
5. Do some "reversible damage"... here's some suggestions:
- If you have a fuse box, remove the mains fuse cartridge (black box with a metal handle on it at the top of the fuse box). Take the mains fuse with you. [Be VERY careful not to touch anything in the fuse box after you remove the cartridge... it is still hot and you can give yourself a fatal zap if you touch anything inside the socket where the cartridge goes]
- Call a plumber and have the toilet removed from the bathroom and the connections sealed. A house without a toilet in it makes your place only slightly more comfortable than a highway overpass. (If you're selling the place, let buyers know that a new toilet and its installation will be a seller's assist.)
6. Put dowels above your sash windows to prevent them from being opened.
7. Visit the property regularly and make your presence known when you do. Visit it on the weekends during the day when most neighbors are paying attention to the street, instead of week nights. Look for broken windows or signs of tampering.
Park on the sidewalk, the side or in the front. When you're in the house, leave the front door open while you're inside so neighbors see you.
8. GET NEIGHBORS WHO ARE ALLIES You can start with the older folks who live on the block or businesses that face the property. Give them your cell phone number and ask them to contact you if they see any suspicious activity. Tell them it's OK to call/e-mail you with complaints if something is wrong with the property--you want to know about it. If you do this, neighbors are more than willing to call and let you know when something about your property is irritating them.
Clear the flyers off the porch and mail jammed into the door on a regular basis or ask a neighbor (or pay them) to do it. Also pay someone to come out to mow the yard during the spring/summer or come do it yourself.
9. Don't trust property management realtors. Always verify that they are doing what they say they are doing. You can't trust many of them to properly screen tenants much less take care of your asset. You own this thing, they don't, and they don't ever hold themselves liable for tenants they place on your property or what happens when it's not occupied.
10. Make sure your insurance does not lapse. You will be stuck if a junkie breaks in to get at your plumbing. Then it will take a lot of money in contractors and materials to get your property back up to code since it will be very hard to sell it to a buyer as-is, and there is no shortage of extremely cheap property in Philly that rehabbers can get their hands on in better condition or a more desirable location than your property.
With insurance it will be easier to fix the problems (plus it will motivate you to sell once the repairs are finished).
If your property is going to be vacant for more than 6 months, you should probably consider putting it up for sale or fix whatever the reasons are why you aren't renting it out and rent the property out. Neighbors spread the word about vacant homes after a few months and word travels and eventually reaches metal thieves looking to get at your plumbing.
People typically don't get vigilant unless something bad happens and in this town, it's not long after you let your guard down that you are taken advantage of. And when you get a squatter or your property is broken into and the plumbing destroyed by junkies looking for scrap, you're not likely to want to spend more money in this money trap.
This is where vacant properties tend to fall into a state of disrepair because the owner is despondent about correcting the damage because of the cost, but cannot sell the house at the price he wanted to recover the original investment.
These make up the thousands and thousands of properties across Philadelphia which are in this form of decay and the only way out is to take the properties to Sheriff's Sale over unpaid property taxes and put them in the hands of people who will rehabilitate them and occupy them, which costs a lot of money, time and effort.