Many students headed home after the coronavirus outbreak caused campus to close this past semester and left their houses and apartments full of their unattended belongings. This has provided an opportunity for squatters and thieves to break in.
IU Police Department chief of police Jill Lees said if students are going to leave their property unattended, they must take the proper precautions to protect themselves. She said it’s likely that many students left without realizing how long they would be gone.
“I think the best thing that you can do to prevent that is making sure that your property is as inaccessible as possible while it's empty,” Lees said.
Lees said she advises people to talk with their landlord or property manager to let them know they are leaving and what their plan is to return. She said landlords may be able to routinely check properties if they know no one is currently occupying the space.
IU Student Legal Services director Stacee Williams said it may become more common to have students come to them for help regarding housing issues and break-ins.
Williams said it is crucial that people send their landlord a written notice that they will not be living on their property for however long they won’t be there. She said students need to be careful how they word the letter to accurately portray their situation. She said it is important to not tell your landlord you have vacated your apartment when personal property is still within the apartment or house.
“We advise students to let their landlord know that they have left temporarily,” Williams said. “So that the landlord is aware that the tenant is still renting it and they still have their property in the rental unit.”
Regarding property damage issues, Williams said who is responsible is typically on a case-by-case basis. However, she said the written notice puts the student in a more certain legal position and generally just lets your landlord know your current situation.
Lees also said she suggested people have others check on their property about once a week and bring in mail to make it look like someone is living there. She also said people can look into automatic light timers that make your home appear that someone is there.
She said in this case it is important to know your neighbors and let them know you’re leaving. She said this is especially true in apartment complexes if people began to notice there is a person or people there that shouldn’t be.
“If something looks out of place, see something, say something," Lees said.
If there is property damage or evidence of a break-in, Lees said to not enter the house or apartment and call the police.