Virginia has laws in place to protect property owners from vandalism. When someone damages, destroys, or defaces your personal property, it can cause psychological and emotional damage as well as financial loss.
There are several steps you should take if someone vandalizes your property, ranging from filing a police report to taking steps to prevent further vandalism.
Below, we’ll list the 5 most common steps you should take after someone vandalizes your property in Virginia
Step 1: Report the Vandalism
Destroying, defacing, removing, or damaging property that’s not your own is a criminal offense in Virginia. So, if someone vandalizes your property, you should immediately report the crime to the police.
This is an important step from a practical perspective as well, as many insurance companies will act faster if you provide them with a police report detailing how your property was damaged.
To report vandalism to your property, you need to:
- Call the non-emergency number for your local police station.
- Ask to make a report for vandalism.
- Be careful not to disturb any of the evidence until the police arrive.
If caught, the perpetrator could get a punishment that ranges from a Class 3 misdemeanor to a Class 6 felony.
The penalty for vandalism depends on three things:
- Whether the damage was intentional.
- The value of the items vandalized.
- The extent of damage to the property.
However, it’s important to note that the criminal case is out of your hands as soon as you report the vandalism to the police. From this point onward, the police will investigate the crime, while you’ll have to deal with the civil side of things.
Step 2: File an Insurance Claim
If someone vandalized your home or part of your property, you should file a claim with your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance. If the damage is to your car, you should instead call your auto insurance provider to make a claim.
However, as noted above, it’s vital to make a report before you call your insurance.
Insurance companies almost always ask for a police report as proof of the vandalism, so you’ll want one prepared for this inevitable question. You should also take photos of the damage to give to the insurance company for added proof.
Step 3: Cooperate with the Police
You may have a few guesses about who vandalized your property. However, you should never act on these suspicions yourself.
If you have a reasonable suspicion about who is responsible, you should instead make these thoughts known to the police. However, you need to give the police evidence that your suspicion is correct, not just rumors.
Some examples of evidence that might help the police are:
- Statements from other neighbors who witnessed suspicious activity around your home or car.
- A surveillance video that shows the alleged perpetrator.
- Threatening notes, emails, or text messages from the suspect.
- Any other evidence that may show a motive for damaging your property.
For example, suppose your neighbor sent you a text saying, “Your new fence is ugly. Tear it down, or else!” That text would be important evidence to give the police if your fence was damaged the next day.
Step 4: Sue in Small Claims Court
If someone is caught vandalizing your property, the police can charge the perpetrator with a crime. The perpetrator may be required to pay restitution upon a conviction for the charge.
However, if you don’t receive restitution from the criminal charge, you may have to bring a civil case against them in small claims court in order to make your property whole again.
Generally speaking, you have the right to ask for the amount of money it would take to return the damaged property to the way it was before the act of vandalism. If the item can’t be restored, then you would be entitled to the amount required to replace it. This is true even if the damage happened by accident.
For this reason, it’s helpful to get a few estimates to help prove the amount of money you should recover. For example, find similar items on sites such as Amazon or Facebook Marketplace and take note (and pictures) of their price.
You can even have an expert testify about what the fair market value of the property is.
If you have involved your insurance company in the case, they may file a civil suit on your behalf. However, even if your insurance covers most of the damage, you can still sue for the insurance deductible you had to pay.
Whether such a claim is worth it or not will depend on the specific factors of your case.
Step 5: Prevent Future Vandalism
Of course, it’s better not to be a victim of vandalism in the first place. There are several ways you can deter vandals from targeting your property.
Install Better Lighting
If your property is dark, your home or car will be an easier target. Install exterior lights around your property, taking care to shine them on doorways and driveways.
Many people also choose to install motion detectors on the outside lights so that they can save electricity.
Likewise, if you’re parking your car in a public place, look for a well-lit parking spot to keep your car from being a target.
Invest in Video Cameras
More and more people are using surveillance cameras to keep their homes safe. There are many affordable options for installing cameras inside and outside your home, and you can often find a highly-rated camera for less than $200.
Remember that if someone does damage your property, footage from security cameras can be valuable evidence to catch and prosecute them. For this reason, think of the cameras as an investment that may pay off down the line should vandalism occur.
Build a Fence
You’ve heard that good fences make good neighbors. Fences can also discourage unwelcome visitors from entering your property. Especially when equipped with a locked gate, a fence will make entering your property harder for someone who’s up to no good.
Remember that, usually, your property doesn’t have to be totally secure, only more secure than the surrounding properties.
Report Suspicious Activity
If you see something suspicious around your neighbor’s property, take note and tell them what you saw. Encourage them to do the same in return.
If your community has a neighborhood watch, support it with your time and money. These watch programs can be a major deterrent for criminal activity.
If you’re a victim of vandalism, there are several important steps you should take.
The first and most important step is reporting the incident to the police. Your police report will be crucial to press charges against the perpetrator. Also, the police report can act as proof of the damage when you report it to your insurance.
Make sure you don’t disturb the evidence. Also, cooperate with the police as much as possible and give them any evidence that you have.
Of course, it’s best to avoid being targeted by vandals in the first place. Installing lights and security cameras are two of the most effective ways to avoid being a victim of vandalism.
Finally, remember that if you are the victim of vandalism, you should take the time to speak with an attorney about how you can seek damages from the offender.
Often, it will be worth your time to speak with an attorney so that you can start your case off on the right foot.