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Preventing Burglary - What Landlords & Property Owners Need to Know!

Updated: Feb 21, 2023

What is Burglary?

Burglary is defined in the International Crime Victim Survey (ICVS) as an incident where someone enters property without permission in order to steal. The Metropolitan Police define burglary as the theft, or attempted theft, from a premises where access is not authorised. Residential and commercial burglaries are distinguished by the function of the building rather than crime itself. In this article you will learn about:

What is the extent of Burglary in the UK?

The 2021 Commercial Victimisation Survey (CVS) estimated that 38% of business premises in the Wholesale and retail sector in England and Wales had been a victim of crime between April 2020 and March 2021, with 10% reporting incidents of burglary, which equates to approximately 40,000 businesses.

Commercial burglary is an insidious crime that impacts businesses across the country. A recent report by the Federation of Small businesses states that Burglary was one of the top 3 crime concerns impacting their members.

Losses from this type of crime can be significant, and businesses need to take precautions to protect themselves. In this article, we will discuss this type of property crime, from offender profile to target selection, concluding with tips on how property owners and landlords can protect their property.

Crime against businesses. Findings from the 2021 commercial victimisation survey
The 2021 Commercial Victimisation Survey. Source: GOV.UK

Burglars who are they?

There is no one specific profile for commercial burglars; however, there are some general characteristics that these criminals share. Most were male, aged between 20 and 30, with little or no formal education.

The bulk of the offenders interviewed following imprisonment, had been engaged in crime for many years. Over half had committed residential burglaries, a large minority vehicle-related crimes and one third robbery. Commercial burglary was, nevertheless, preferred, partly because the offenders could more easily justify crimes where no individual victim was involved (Mawby 2001).

How do they select targets?

Burglars typically select commercial targets for a variety of reasons. These may include the opportunity to commit a crime that is likely to result in less resistance, the availability of easy access to the target property, or the financial value of what is stolen.

Most researchers however suggest that burglaries tend to be planned, rather than opportunist in nature (Butler 1994).

Interviews with career Burglars identify the following as favourable characteristics when selecting viable targets:

  • Ease of access to roof areas and skylight windows

  • Isolation and lack of natural surveillance from neighbouring properties

  • Availability of areas of concealment

  • Lack of illumination

  • Lack of alarms / CCTV

  • Industrial estates and factories with no visible security controls

Commercial burglars typically target businesses that have high-value items, such as electronics or large amounts of cash. They also commonly attack businesses at night when occupants are not present, with the times between 20:00 - 02:00 being the preferred window of opportunity.

Surveillability was the key deterrent when it came to the selection of targets. The more isolated, vulnerable and insecure a property appeared, the more it was considered a viable target.

How do they get into the property?

Burglars will try to gain access through doors that are unlocked or windows that are left open. Burglars don't come equipped with incriminating tools such as jemmies or heavy duty screwdrivers, they tend to use forcing tools found at the site, or even sticks and stones.

Often they would have conducted reconnaissance beforehand and if necessary, depending on the possible rewards, come equipped with specific tools to penetrate the target building, although this is the exception rather than the norm.

If alarms are evident they would need to equip themselves with tools to neutralise the alarm, therefore the reluctance to carry tools, would mean that those premises with alarms are often considered less attractive targets.

In terms of forcing entry in to a building, the preferred point of entry is through a ground floor window closely followed by a ground floor door. Often entry is through the back of the property, or via roof top windows (skylights) where there is greater chance of concealment due to lack of illumination, car lights etc.

How can property owners and landlords protect their property?

  1. Complete a security review of your premises, identifying vulnerabilities and potential adversary paths. If you don't have the expertise in-house, commission a security professional to assess your property and provide tailored mitigation recommendations. The importance of tailored crime prevention advice cannot be over stated

  2. CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design) which builds upon the work by Wilson & Kellings (Broken Windows Theory), argues that a well-maintained exterior free of rubbish and graffiti will reduce the likelihood a business being targeted by criminals. Property upkeep is therefore the first line of defence against crimes such as burglary

  3. Ensure any external doors and windows are sufficiently hardened to prevent adversaries gaining access to the property. Check to ensure doors are locked and secure when not in use. Identify any areas where adversaries could gain access to upper floors, or roof top areas. Consider anti-climb controls on flat roofs, drain pipes etc.

  4. Invest in a monitored alarm, ideally one with video verification capability in order to reduce nuisance alarms and to enable intrusion confirmation. Alarms without any form of activation assessment are pretty useless, therefore ensure that your system is monitored remotely.

  5. Consider investing in CCTV with analytical capability to monitor external areas. Systems equipped with audio confrontation functionality monitored remotely, have proven highly effective in both deterring and detecting criminals targeting property.

  6. Ensure that items that could be used as improvised tools to break into the property are securely stored away. Burglars seldom come equipped, instead preferring to use available items found on site. This includes ensuring climbing aids such as bins are stored securely as these can be used to access roof top areas.

  7. Make sure there is sufficient lighting around the premises, ideally motion activated and of sufficient strength to dispel shadows and illuminate areas of concealment.

  8. Focus on landscaping and the removal of vegetation that may impact natural surveillance across the property from neighbours. This will also remove areas of concealment.

  9. Secure assets and remove the risk, either through the dispersal of high value assets across the site, or their storage in an easily defensible location

  10. Secure the property's perimeter through the use of security fencing equipped with detection technology - (early detection provides greater opportunity for response force interception, either in the form of the Police or Private security).


Systematic evaluations conducted since 2001, concerning the effectiveness of site hardening measures concluded that, with the exception of security lighting, all additional security measures proved effective, with window locks, other window security, and roller shutters particularly effective.

Interestingly where businesses took advantage of external crime prevention advice in order to create tailored defences (defence in depth) against specific threats, such as burglary, this proved far more effective than isolated installation of target hardening measures (Mawby 2014).

The introduction of site hardening measures will enable you to protect your property from burglars by encouraging them to seek softer targets elsewhere.


Property Security Specialist (UK Property Sector)

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