In the burglar's wake: Tenants should check damage cover for break-ins, warns Mary Wilson

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The Independent Online
IF YOU rent a property and are burgled, you are unlikely to wait for your landlord to replace smashed windows, mend locks or put in new doors.

If there is no immediate response, you will have to do the work yourself, put in a bill, and hope to be repaid sooner rather than later.

Peter Beckett, a session musician, lives with his wife in a three-bedroom, mid-terrace 1920s house in west London. When the house was broken into on 29 March, a few thousand pounds worth of equipment was stolen. Five weeks on, he is still waiting to hear whether his landlord will pay up or not.

'They kicked in the door,' said Mr Beckett. 'There were two locks, a Yale and a dead lock, and the frame which the lock went into just gave. I have cobbled together the frame, but had to get an emergency locksmith in because we discovered the burglary in the evening and I was flying to Germany the next morning. There was a pounds 60 call-out charge, and he was there about half an hour fitting new locks. In all, it cost pounds 152 - which I had to pay.

'The crime prevention people gave me a list of things we should do to make the house more secure, and I have passed these on to the managing agents, along with the bill. They would like to see the landlord put in a new front door with better locks and a London strip - which is a metal strip to strengthen the frame where the locks go in - and hinge bolts. A neighbour of mine told me how she found her door just flat on the floor after someone had leant some weight on it.

'They also wanted window locks on the casement windows, which had no security, and door locks, top and bottom, on the back door.'

The Becketts rent the unfurnished house on a yearly lease at pounds 900 a month. They pay for their contents insurance, the landlord for the buildings insurance. It obviously depends on what is agreed in the lease as to what security is provided. If you think you need extra protection, it is up to the landlord whether he pays for it or not.

His buildings insurance should pay for the replacement of a lock and door if damaged. Only if your keys are taken, will your contents' policy cover the replacement of a lock. Who pays for broken windows or panes of glass is a grey area.

Rachel Askew, manager of Winkworth, a central London lettings agency, said: 'We have just had a case where the landlord's insurers would not cover him for glass. So the lease specifies that if any glass is broken it is up to the tenant to replace it. Burglary is not an exception. If, after a burglary took place, the crime prevention officers recommended extra security, we would strongly recommend this to the landlord, and I think most landlords could be persuaded.'

Linda Forbes, of Willmotts, the firm that looks after the Becketts' property, said: 'It all depends on the insurance policy. Insurance companies are always looking for ways to wiggle their way out of their commitment. They might pay to re-fit a door, rather than replace it with a new one.

'If a tenant of ours is broken into, they should let us know immediately and send in any bills altogether, rather than claiming for things in bits and pieces. We have two builders on call 24 hours a day. If someone rings in after we are closed, they will get an answer machine with their numbers. But we do forget occasionally to put the machine on'.

Mr Beckett said he was never told of this service, and therefore it never occurred to him to ring Willmotts' office. 'Of course, I would have done if I had known about it. It would have saved me and, in turn, my landlord quite a few pounds.'

Most people do not think properly about burglary prevention and cover until they have been burgled, while insurance companies differ in what they will cover under their contents policies.

Norwich Union, for example, would not cover anything to do with the building or glass. Commercial Union, on the other hand, says it has a clause covering liability as a tenant, which covers up to 10 per cent of the sum insured for damage to your home following a theft. You have to pay the first pounds 25.

In addition, CU will cover accidental damage to an assortment of fixtures, such as baths and water tanks, including fixed glass, if you are liable for it under your tenancy agreement.

So check your lease well, before you take out insurance, and make sure you are covered for all the things for which your landlord does not take responsibility.

(Photograph omitted)