Graffiti is a widespread problem in densely populated neighbourhoods. It alters the appearance and value of properties as well as contributing to the degradation of living environments. This form of vandalism has proliferated to the extent that most large municipalities have adopted prevention and cleaning assistance programs.
Examples of assistance provided by municipalities:
- Loan or low-cost rental of cleaning tools (e.g., high-pressure washer)
- Response by municipal employees assigned to graffiti clean-up
- Financial assistance for work entrusted to a specialized firm
High-traffic streets, alleyway intersections, school zones and areas around parks are particularly popular with graffiti vandals.
Large blank expanses like walls, fences, garage doors and storage sheds, as well as abandoned buildings, are favourite targets, especially in poorly lit areas.
If your home is located in an at-risk area, here are some effective measures to make it less vulnerable to “taggers”’ and other graffitists’ handiwork:
Install a lighting system with a motion detector in the problem area. Position the components sufficiently high off the ground, and install protective screens to keep them from being broken. Low-pressure sodium lamps provide better protection, because they make it hard for graffiti writers to see colours.
Put up protective mesh
Install an ornamental wire mesh or trellis very close to the surface of a wall you want to protect. Choose closely woven mesh so no one will be able to climb on it. The mesh should be installed to a height of about 2.5 m (8 ft), beginning at around 60 cm to 1 m (2 to 3 ft) from the ground.
Use plants as protection
You can also protect a wall using ivy or shrubs. The best variety is Engelmann Ivy: it’s safe to use on brick and cement, requires little light, is easy to maintain, and is inexpensive. This creeping plant has the added advantage of attenuating the urban heat island effect. Other proven plant deterrents to graffitists include wild rose bushes and other dense shrubs arranged in a row at the base of a wall.
Choose certain materials and colours
Use textured materials, which graffiti vandals are less fond of, and darker colours (e.g., forest green, chestnut brown) on surfaces to which access cannot be restricted.
Apply paint and coatings
You can apply paint or a coating to vulnerable surfaces that will make it easier to remove graffiti. Some coatings are referred to as “sacrificial,” i.e., temporary, because they can be removed fairly easily—and the graffiti comes off with them. That also means they must be re-applied after the cleaning operation. Be sure, however, that the coating is the right match for the surface to be protected; for example, if it’s a surface that needs to “breathe”—i.e., let water evaporate from it—such as wood.
Store or lock up ladders and restrict access to structural elements that would help vandals reach the higher parts of the building (roof, balconies, etc.).
If, despite your efforts at prevention, you are the victim of vandalism, here are some tips:
By getting rid of graffiti quickly, you considerably reduce the risk of a repeat offence. Ideally, you should clean or repaint the vandalized surface within 24 hours. And if the graffitists strike again in the same place, then your own persistence is the key to winning the war!
Take care not to damage anything
A whole range of fairly “aggressive” techniques and products are available, with claims to be able to restore surfaces dirtied by graffiti. You should take great care with these, to avoid causing irreversible damage. A good tip is to consult the manufacturer of the material concerned, or a specialist who knows it well, before starting cleaning operations or entrusting them to someone.
Call the authorities
File a complaint with the police. This helps them identify the trouble spots in the neighbourhood, and sometimes even apprehend the perpetrators. If you yourself happen to catch graffitists in the act, do not confront them directly; call 9-1-1 instead. Consult the authorities to find out what assistance programs are available.
Reporting graffiti is all the more important given that, in some places, the authorities actually require all properties to be graffiti-free. The onus is therefore on the victim, i.e., the owner of the vandalized property, to proceed with timely cleaning, and that person is strongly encouraged to report the wrongdoing to the police.
Should you call your insurer?
Graffiti is considered damage (vandalism) by insurance companies, so you could call your insurer if the cleaning operation is extensive and costly. If the cost estimate for the cleanup is less than $1,000, however, you’re better off not filing a claim. If, like most people, you have a deductible ranging between $300 and $500 on your home insurance, and your make a claim, it will be on your file for the next six years, which means your premium will increase.
Why not a mural?
If, despite your efforts, you are faced (and fed up) with a recurring graffiti problem, consider have a mural painted by local artists. This solution is more expensive than the others, but it is effective, and can also beautify your property.
Our thanks to Robert Lecours, Public Inspector, Graffiti Section, with the City of Montreal, for his contribution to this instalment of Tips & Tricks.