Protecting Your Property Against Vandalism

Graffiti Artist

Virtually all business properties are subject to vandalism. This article will explain why and where vandalism occurs, and what you can do to prevent the perpetrators from striking your business. It will also explain how you can protect your business by purchasing commercial property insurance.

Why and Where It Occurs

The term vandalism generally means the intentional damage, destruction or defacement of someone's property without the owner's permission. Vandals may target buildings, personal property or both. According to the Urban Institute, vandals typically strike during the late evening hours when business property is unattended. Juvenile offenders may commit acts in the afternoon, after school has let out.

Vandals often target public or semi-public property like buses, train stations and street signs. They'll also hit private property that is easy to access from public areas. Some vandals have an agenda. For instance, a person who is angry with a bank may take revenge by spray-painting bank-owned property. Others act out of boredom or a desire to express political beliefs or gang affiliations. Many acts of vandalism are crimes of opportunity. Buildings are hit because they are unprotected and easily accessible.

Effects of Vandalism

Vandalism can impact your business in a number of ways. First, it can damage your property. Damaged or defaced property requires time, effort and money to repair. Secondly, vandalism may cause your business to lose income if the vandalized property is essential to your operations and cannot be used.

Thirdly, graffiti, dumped trash, and other types of defacement can have a negative effect on your company's image. Such damage can deter potential customers from entering your premises. Fourthly, vandalism can lower the value of your property. Property that has been damaged or defaced may be unattractive to potential buyers or tenants. Finally, some types of vandalism, such as broken windows, can cause bodily injury to employees or visitors. 

Preventing Vandalism

You cannot prevent all acts of vandalism against your business. However, you can discourage vandals from striking your property by taking the steps outlined below. Additional suggestions for thwarting vandals are available from the Urban Institute's website.

  • Don't ignore it! Vandalism tends to beget more vandalism. It may also encourage other types of property crimes. Thus, it is important to clean up graffiti and make repairs promptly. Your quick response sends a message that you care about your property and won't tolerate its defacement.
  • Contact authorities: Report all vandalism to your local police department. This is important since the police department must be aware of crimes in order to respond to them. The department may increase patrols in your area or create a hotline for reporting incidents. 
  • Share information: Ask other business owners in your area if they have experienced vandalism. If so, find out the nature of the vandalism. By comparing notes with other business owners, you may be able to detect patterns. For example, vandals may be striking at certain times of the day or on certain days of the week. If the acts have been occurring in the late afternoon, the perpetrators may be juveniles.
  • Join a business watch group: Business watch groups are the business version of neighborhood watch groups. Group members work to reduce crime by keeping an eye on each other's property. You can start your own watch group if none exists in your area. Tips on how to do this are available from the National Neighborhood Watch website. 
  • Keep your property tidy: Keep your property clean, orderly and free of trash. Premises that appear unkept are an invitation to vandals.
  • Maintain good lighting: Make sure your property is well-lit at night. Check light bulbs regularly to ensure the lighting is maintained.
  • Install cameras: Install video cameras to monitor activity on your premises. When crimes have occurred, police can use your recorded video to catch the perpetrators.
  • Consider shrubbery or fencing: You can use fencing or shrubbery to discourage vandals from entering your property. Shrubs that have prickly or scratchy leaves can help keep intruders away. Examples are roses, holly and pyracantha (fire thorn). 
  • Consider break-resistant glass: Consider using break-resistant glass or security film on glass doors and windows. These products are stronger than regular glass and are difficult for vandals to penetrate.

Property Insurance

Most small business owners that purchase commercial property insurance choose policies written on all-risk forms. These forms rarely exclude vandalism, so this peril is usually covered. Many named perils forms, including the ISO Basic and Broad Causes of Loss forms, also include vandalism as covered peril. However, named perils forms typically exclude loss or damage caused by theft. Theft losses are excluded except for building damage caused by burglars breaking into or out of a building.

Most all-risk forms don't define the term vandalism. This word is defined in many named perils forms. Under the ISO Basic and Broad forms cited above, vandalism means willful and malicious damage to, or destruction of, the described property.

Two perils that may occur in conjunction with vandalism are riot and civil commotion. These perils are normally covered under both named perils and all-risk property forms. When people commit violent acts during a civil disturbance, they often target business-owned property. Property that has been vandalized by rioters may be subject to looting. Looting is normally covered in conjunction with riot and civil commotion.

Vacant Buildings

Vacant buildings are highly prone to vandalism. Consequently, many property policies contain a vacancy provision like the one found in the ISO property policy. This clause eliminates coverage for losses caused by vandalism (and several other perils) if the building has been vacant for more than 60 consecutive days.

The meaning of vacant varies depending on whether the insured is a tenant or a landlord. If the insured is a tenant, the unit or suite rented by the policyholder is vacant if it does not contain enough business personal property for the insured to conduct its ordinary operations. If the insured is the building owner, the building is vacant if less than 31 percent of it is being used by the owner or a tenant to conduct its customary operations. The vacancy provision appears in the policy conditions.

If a building you own or rent will be vacant for more than 60 days, contact your insurer. Your insurance company may offer an endorsement called a vacancy permit that suspends the vacancy clause for a period of time. The endorsement may be available only if you verify that the building is adequately protected from vandals, freezing, and other perils.