Preventing cottage break-ins

28 October 2013 In The Cottage

Note to Thieves - Cottage Break-in

Break-ins are on the rise in a number of cottage communities across Canada and in the United States.

Modern Cottages Attract Thieves

As lakefront living has evolved from being simple and rustic to grand and extravagant, cottages and their contents have become more upscale. Unfortunately, criminals are taking notice.

Today’s lakeside sheds harbour ATVs, personal water craft and top-of-the-line fishing gear.

Inside the cabin, state-of-the-art entertainment systems have replaced the old AM/FM radio and many cottage owners keep their humble weekend homes fully stocked with fine wines, litres of liquor and succulent steaks.

All-in, the potential plunder for opportunistic thieves has increased greatly in recent years. Add to this the fact that most properties sit vacant for the majority of the season and you have the ideal recipe for a break-and-enter bonanza.

To reduce the likelihood of being robbed, owners of recreational properties need to start thinking about the different ways they can make their cottages less attractive to thieves.

Which cottages are most at risk?
Constable Ronni Grosenick of the Kenora OPP has some good tips on how to protect cabins in the fall and winter seasons.

Many cottagers believe that thieves prefer to rob road-access properties but Constable Grosenick suggests this is not always true. “Thieves have boats, and boats don’t leave tracks.” She makes a great point.

In the fall months, water-access properties can be particularly susceptible. Cottager activity on the lake is very low at this time of the year and most break-ins aren’t discovered until the spring when owners arrive to start the new season. Unfortunately, the damage can be extensive and any evidence that might have been available for police is often no longer present.

During the winter, Grosenick says truck or snowmobile tracks going into a road-access property can indicate to patrolling officers that there is some mischievous activity. Thieves have a higher risk of getting caught when they leave tracks.

Burglars might find it more convenient to target water-access cabins over the winter months. The ice roads that cross the lake see regular and heavy use from the ice fishing crowd and other sports enthusiasts. Anglers, in search of constantly moving fish, will often try their luck near islands and this activity would probably draw less attention. And given the size of many lakes, most winter visits to island properties are less likely to be noticed than those occurring on the mainland.

What should cottage owners do to protect the summer property?

Constable Grosenick says cottage break-ins are “crimes of opportunity” and thieves will look for easy targets. As such, most of the things cottagers can do to reduce the risk of a break-and-enter are essentially common sense.

It is worthwhile for cottage owners to sit down with the family and put together a list of things they can do to better protect their belongings at the cottage. The following tips would likely be the first to come to mind, and should get you off to a good start.

Valuable Equipment And Personal Belongings
One way to minimize the risk of a break-in is to refrain from advertising that your cottage is ripe to be ransacked. Avoid leaving valuable sporting equipment outside in plain sight while you are away from the cottage.

Even if you are doing a quick run into town, take the time to put the gear away and lock the storage sheds.

Inside the cabin, make sure expensive electronic items such as computers, tablets, flat screens and stereo systems are not easily noticed through a window. And always lock your cottage door when you leave the property.

When you plan to be away for long periods of time, consider taking the expensive equipment home or store it in a protected facility in the local town near the cottage. Always remove all firearms and alcohol when the cottage is closed for the winter.

Boats and Water Craft
Small boats, canoes and personal water craft should not be left near the shore. Instead, bring them higher up on the property and beyond the line-of-sight of passing boats. Some cottagers leave their aluminum boat right on top of the dock during the off season. You might as well put a sign on it that says, “Steal Me!”.

Ladders, Tables and Chairs
Take ladders home or put them in storage. Outdoor furniture, picnic tables and benches should also be stored away so they can’t be used to enter the building through a window.

Using automatic timers on indoor cottage lights may be enough of a deterrent to keep potential thieves away if they are doing a drive-by in search of possible targets. Having the place lit-up at night also makes it easier for neighbours to see if there is any suspicious activity. Outdoor motion sensor lights can be effective and may help keep away less brazen break-and-enter criminals.

As with the house in the city, it is important to make sure the cottage looks like it is being maintained on a regular basis. Consider paying one of the neighbour’s kids or the local handyman to cut the grass, clean up any debris that has washed ashore, and remove fallen tree branches. Shoreline garbage, long grass and fallen trees indicate the property has not been used for an extended period of time.

If your property is a road-access cottage, one option to discourage thieves is to install a gate at the beginning of the driveway. Intruders want to get in and out as quickly and quietly as possible. Having a gate at the entrance to the property might be enough to dissuade a potential break-in.

Alarm Systems
An alarm system is another way to help protect your cottage from thieves. While a system installed at a remote location property may be less effective than one hooked up in a cottage closer to town, it is still one more factor that could make the thieves think twice about targeting your place.

Doors and Windows
Many older cabins and cottages have flimsy doors and simple windows that are easily forced open. Exterior doors should be fitted with solid dead bolts. Windows can be boarded up for the off season. Sliding doors should have a piece of wood placed in the track so they can’t be opened.

Lists, Photos and Videos Of Cottage Items
It is important to properly document all of the items at the cottage. This includes taking photos or a video of the inside of the cottage, keeping purchase receipts and recording all serial numbers. In the event that you are a victim of a cottage robbery, having your papers in order will make it much easier for the insurance company when you go to file a claim.

Personal Property Identification
It is advisable to engrave your name or a specific personal identification number onto tools and equipment. Painting your name on boats, paddles, life jackets, etc. serves to warn off thieves and makes it easier for someone to return the items to you if you happen to misplace or lose them. This may also help the police if a stolen item is recovered.

Informing Neighbours
Assuming you trust your cottage neighbours, keep them informed as to the times your cottage will be unoccupied. Be sure to give the neighbours your up-to-date contact information so they can quickly contact you in the event they see some dubious activity on your property. It is also a wise idea to have someone stop by and check the property on a regular basis. The sooner signs of damage or foul play can be reported the better it is for both the police and the property owner. Inspections can be done by a local company if you are not comfortable relying on friends or family.

Cottage Watch Associations
Organizing a Cottage Watch group in your lakeside community is a good idea. This is often put in place in cooperation with the local police force and is a great way to help protect all properties in your part of the lake. Most programs include the installation of signs to let everyone know the program has been established and to remind cottage owners to be report suspicious activity in the area.

Notes For Thieves
Type out a note that says all items have been marked and that all alcohol and firearms have been removed from the property. Place the note in plain sight so potential thieves will see it. You may think this is a silly idea but it shows criminals you have thought about their activities. After seeing the sign, they may decide it will not be worth the trouble to break into the cottage.

What To Do If You Are A Victim Of A Break-and-Enter

In the unfortunate event that your cottage has been broken into and robbed, Constable Grosenick suggests you should call the police as soon as possible and avoid touching anything at the crime scene. She says there could be other break-ins in the area and the police may be able to find evidence at your property that links to possible suspects in other break and enter cases. Once the police have been notified, you should contact your insurance company.

After the police have had a chance to investigate, the next step is to take a careful inventory of any items that are missing as well as the damage that may have been done during the intrusion. Take pictures of the broken doors or windows where the thieves have entered the building. Inspect the surrounding property for stolen items that may have been dropped, abandoned, or hidden by the thieves.

While it is impossible to be 100% sure we won’t be victims of a break and enter crime, we can certainly do our part to discourage thieves and minimize the loss in the event that a break-in occurs. In the end, we all want our lakefront property to remain a safe and secure place where we can comfortably relax with our family, friends, and guests.

To help cottagers stay safe on the lake and secure at the cabin, the Kenora OPP puts out an annual Marine Safety Guide which is published each year by the Kenora Daily Miner and News. The booklet includes a very useful section on Cottage Security which highlights a number of specific things cottage owners can do with their doors and windows which will aid in the effort to crime-proof their properties.

Editor’s Note:
Special thanks to Constable Ronni Grosenick of the Kenora OPP.

A version of this article also appeared in the October 2013 issue of the LOWDPOA Area News magazine.

Written by: Andrew Walker