Ask LH: How Can I Secure A Holiday Rental Property?

Ask LH: How Can I Secure A Holiday Rental Property?

Our family has recently purchased an investment property that will be used for holiday rentals. Given that the property will be unoccupied for extended periods it would be good to have some form of visual/internet-based security. Can Ask Lifehacker suggest how we might do this without invading the privacy of our guests? Thanks, Nervous Landlord

Security camera picture from Shutterstock

Dear NL,

Under most circumstances, the obvious solution for remotely securing a property that isn’t going to be constantly occupied would be a back-to-base alarm system. However, that’s not especially practical for a holiday rental, as you’d need to be confident that each and every person who rented the property would re-enable the alarm whenever they left.

Under the circumstances, an internet security camera you can monitor remotely is a sensible choice. You’ll need a permanent internet connection to make that happen, but that’s a useful bonus for your guests (and yourself if you ever stay there). On that front, make sure you choose a plan with a relatively low download limit, and which uses shaping once the monthly download total is exhausted. Otherwise, a torrent-happy user might leave you with an unexpectedly large bill.

Some thoughts on doing this in a way that protects your guests’ privacy:

  • Display a sign at the front door or in the hallway noting that ‘This property is monitored by security cameras’. That makes it clear what you’re doing, and has the added bonus of potentially acting as a deterrent.
  • Take a lesson from hotels and have cameras in the obviously public areas (the entrance hall, the verandah) but not in areas where privacy would reasonably be expected (the bedroom, the bathroom). That ensures you can monitor the basic state of the property but you aren’t watching everything.
  • Check the cameras before a visit and after, but not while you actually have guests in residence. (I’m assuming you’ll know when the property is being rented.)
  • Either use a live camera which doesn’t permanently record footage, or automatically delete footage every week. That way there’s no permanent record for visitors to become upset over.

Good luck with the property!


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  • Get friendly with the neighbors (especially if they’re permanent residents).
    And keep it occupied with Friends/Family at mates rates when it’s not booked commercially. Send out an email a week before an empty weekend (unlikely to get bookings that close) promoting its availability.

  • Most holiday rentals follow the path of ‘not having much worth stealing’. As long as you provide a second-hand TV and a DVD player most guests will be happy, and few people will break in to grab linen or kitchen supplies. If you do have anything that would be a serious financial hit, you should probably have it insured regardless.

    Even with a cheap setup, you have to realise that:
    1) The security system may end up the most expensive thing in the house
    2) You may provide footage to the police, but your stuff will still be stolen. You might help get someone arrested but the chance of getting your stuff back isn’t great.

    However, if you’re set on cameras:

    -Get wireless IP cameras, so all you need is a power supply and a wireless router somewhere in the house. They start online at around $50 and go up from there. For example:

    -For privacy reasons, just cover the key exits (front door, back door, garage). While somebody might come in through the window, they’ll take a 42″ TV out the easy way.

    -Most IP cameras will support uploading footage to an FTP server. wedge a small ARM/atom box in the back of a cupboard, a raspberry pi or old laptop would work just fine. Hook it up to a big hard drive, and have a couple of scripts that clear out footage when it fills up or gets synced onto the internet.
    actually, you could probably just use your wifi router – plenty support external drives/ftp servers, but you might need something like openWRT installed for extra tasks

    -If you want to catch them in the act, Most IP cams will also support emailing you on a schedule if something happens (say, between 9pm and 5am). You’d definitely want to disable this when there’s guests.

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