Copper wire thieves targeting vacant rental homes

SPANAWAY, Wash. -- Copper wire thieves have a new target, and it's one that's hard to defend.

They're zeroing in on empty rental homes, and one South Sound area has been hit four times in just the last month.

Michelle Saylor is seeing evidence of the wire theft all too often.

"Every single house that they hit, they enter through the garage door," she said. "And then they start up the electrical panel and cut all the wires there."

Saylor manages rental homes, and many of them have turned into targets for copper wire thieves.

"They go up there in the attic and start pulling the wires through," she said.

The copper gets sucked out of the home and turned in for cash. Michelle said they can make $40 to $50 on an apartment unit, but it costs as much as $6,000 to replace the wire.

Saylor had to give the bad news to landlord Benjamin Kim, who's out of state working as an Army Captain in the military police.

"I think that sign out front says 'open for business' for them, so I'm not sure how I get around that," Kim said in a recent phone conversation.

Kim said his rental company has since taken down the "for rent" sign.

Police and sheriff's departments all over Western Washington have seen this type of crime in the past, but they say to have four in a month is stepping up the game.

"It does not surprise me," said neighbor Kathy Cabuco. "If you leave a house unattended for more than three days in this neighborhood you're setting yourself up to get hit."

Saylor said the thieves who hit the apartment she manages left a lawnmower behind that was likely worth more than the stolen wire. She figures the thieves are feeding a drug problem.

"It's infuriating," she said. "And there's nothing we can do about it."

She believes awareness is the best protection, and that's why she came to KOMO to let people know they should be on the lookout before another vacant house gets stripped of copper wire.

There are laws prohibiting recycling companies from knowingly buying stolen copper wire, but the victims say it hasn't stopped the thieves from making a little cash and leaving a big problem in their wake.