Site Security -
Does It Take a Thief
to Catch a Thief?
As a Property Developer, you get lots of phone calls. But there's one that you are never happy to get - the one from your Builder saying someone broke into the site overnight and stole a bunch of stuff.

Whether it's raw materials like timber that's just been delivered, cabling ripped out after the rough-in or appliances stolen from a nearly completed build, it's never good news.

Building site theft has been a growing problem for many years now, particularly in large new subdivisions, and more recently, increasing prices and a shortage of supplies have made the problem a lot worse.

As a Property Developer, where do you fit in when it comes to site security?
Let's start at the beginning...

When you first acquire the site, it's your responsibility. At that point, there's generally nothing on site to steal, but you should have insurance coverage anyway.

There comes a point, though, where you hand the site over to your Builder. From then on, the site is their responsibility. Make sure you check they have the required insurances and licences in place as part of your due diligence.

When supplies arrive on site, the site is the Builder's responsibility, so any theft is covered by the Builder's insurance. So far, so good.

Where you start moving into a grey zone (at least in the minds of many Builders!) is once the supplies have been fitted or installed to the building. There are plenty of Builders who will try to say that once you've paid for the items and they're in place, they're now yours.
This may come down to the fine print in your contract with the Builder, but generally this isn't the case. As a rule of thumb, the site remains the Builder's responsibility until it is handed back to you upon completion. Even so, be aware that many Builders will think otherwise, and if a theft occurs, you potentially will be in a situation where the Builder tries to get you to pay.

It's a tough situation, and one that nobody wants to find themselves in. You may find yourself being blackmailed into paying the Builder under threat of work stopping on your development if you don't. That's getting into the worst case scenario, sure, but it does happen sometimes. So make sure site security is an issue that's been covered clearly in the contract.

Right now you're probably asking yourself - is there anything you can do to improve site security yourself, and hopefully avoid such difficult situations arising, rather than sit back and hope the Builder takes care of it.

The answer is yes! Onsite security cameras are becoming much more common, and while some Builders are still reluctant to have one on site, more and more are accepting it's a necessary addition.

There are companies that specialise in providing cameras which can be setup on site and even moved around as building progresses. You can also use your own camera or cameras, mounted on a pole, to overlook the site.

A couple of things to think about with regards to cameras. First up, power. A camera's not much use if the battery goes flat, or a thief cuts a power lead to disable it. Security services often use solar powered batteries, and if you're using your own cameras, then check and replace the batteries regularly.
Next up is what happens with the footage. Security services can have a back to base type of service, where either the footage is monitored or the cameras are motion sensitive and set off an alert if activated outside of regular work hours. They can dispatch someone to check the site if anything untoward is observed. They may also offer a service where a patrol car goes past the property regularly.

With your own cameras you can certainly use the internet to monitor them from home and potentially even receive alerts, but that does require you to invest your time and attention into keeping an eye on things. Still, if a theft occurs you at least have video footage which could help apprehend the thieves.
Finally, camera location and direction. There are plenty of videos in which you can see the footage get shaky, and moments later black paint is sprayed across the camera lens. Bye bye security camera. This might be an extreme example, but it happens. Ideally you would have more than one camera on site, providing complete coverage with no blind spots. You could also use a fisheye lens, which gives a much broader width of vision than a regular lens.

On a lighter note, one benefit of using your own camera on site for security is that the footage can be used as a great time lapse video for marketing purposes! You may even choose to set one up in addition to cameras monitored by a security service.

So does it take a thief to catch a thief? For Property Developers, the answer is no - but it may take some good security cameras and a bit of time making sure your building contract adequately addresses this very important issue. Trust me though, it’s time well spent!
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