How to protect vacant properties
Whether you’re awaiting a new tenant or vacating prior to redevelopment, it’s almost inevitable that at some point your property will be empty for some period of time. Vacant properties are on the rise, with 617,527 empty and unused buildings in the UK as of 2019. The most recent government figures put the number of vacant residential properties in England alone at 268,385, a 19% increase since 2019.
Building ownership comes with risks as it is, with the threat of fire damage, flooding, or other weather damage always looming. These risks can increase exponentially when a property is empty, especially if it’s not managed and protected appropriately.
Fire and flood damage can be quickly dealt with and acted upon in an occupied property, but if no one is around to hear the alarm, the damage could be all the more severe. This can mean repair costs multiplying in a matter of minutes.
It’s not just the elements you need to worry about though. Unfortunately, human damage is a significant concern if a building is standing empty. The threat of vandalism and fly tipping are ever-present and, as the property owner, you’re responsible for all cleaning and waste disposal costs.
Perhaps most worryingly, there’s also the risk of having your vacant property occupied by unauthorised individuals. Squatters and burglars are well known for targeting vacant buildings, which includes commercial premises, where they can cause considerable damage. Squatters can be incredibly difficult to evict and can leave building owners with huge repair bills once they’re finally gone.
All of these potential pitfalls may leave your head spinning, but there are some things you can do to help protect your vacant property. Here we review some of our top tips for ensuring yours is adequately protected.
- Insure your property
- Ensure Insurance requirements are met
- Consider the use of Property Guardians
- Install security measures
- Ask your neighbours for support
- Prevent fly tipping
- Consider your legal liability
- Refine your management procedure
Insure your property
Even if you can’t be completely sure that your property is 100% protected at all times, you can be sure that you’re protected financially. By investing in the right insurance policy, you can be certain that whatever happens, you’re covered.
Most standard insurance policies will only allow your property to be left vacant for a set period of time, usually around 30 days. They will also expect regular checks to be carried out and may even specify particular security measures that must be in place. This then leaves you uncovered if every stipulation isn’t adhered to. However, by looking into more specialist unoccupied property insurance policies, you may find a more comprehensive option which will keep you protected, whether it’s from fire damage, vandalism, theft, or whatever else may occur.
Of course, with so many options out there, it’s important to find the right policy for you. Make sure to carefully investigate which policy suits your needs, and look into getting a quote for unoccupied property insurance from a specialist provider.
make sure insurance requirements are met
Of course, to ensure you have the best chance of being covered by the right insurance policy for you, there are some requirements you’ll need to make sure are met.
First up, you’ll need to make sure that all services are turned off at the mains, except for electricity if you need it for any fire or intruder alarms. This drastically reduces the chance of a sudden electrical fault causing a fire, which can become a more salient issue in lesser maintained vacant properties.
You’ll also need to make sure that the water and heating systems have been drained. This minimises the risk of leaks, therefore reducing the chance of any water damage. Insurance aside, this is a good idea anyway as water damage can devastate a property and cause serious long term harm, leaving you liable for costly repairs.
Make sure that the property is secured against illegal entry. If no one can get in, no one can cause any damage.
Finally, you’ll need to make sure that regular (usually weekly) inspections are carried out by you or a responsible third party to identify any problems and deal with them quickly. Maintaining the property includes ensuring that all the rooms are kept clean and tidy, such as removing junk mail which can act as kindling in any attempted attacks to the building. Completing these basic tasks and looking out for simple repairs ensures that the chance of any harm coming to your property is minimal. This is just what insurance providers like to hear and will make sure that you’re eligible for the ideal insurance policy.
Consider property guardians
Property guardians are professional house sitters. If your building is vacant for any period of time, it can be used as a temporary accommodation for the guardian. This agreement brings the added bonus of having someone physically at the property to ensure that it’s maintained and any problems, such as leaks, fires, and break-ins, are dealt with quickly and effectively.
Bear in mind, to make sure you have the right person, you’ll need to put any potential property guardian through a strict vetting process and have them sign an occupation agreement. Usually, these agreements provide a 28 day window at the end of the occupation for the property guardian to vacate the premises. The agreement will also give them use of a bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom, in return for a small amount of rent. Sometimes property owners will opt to reduce this rent even further or even fully waive it in exchange for the property guardian keeping the garden and other outside areas of the property maintained and tidy, creating the illusion of the property being fully occupied.
INSTALL ROBUST SECURITY MEASURES
The most effective way to ensure that your vacant property is protected is to invest in strong and robust security measures. There are a number of options on the market which come at varying prices and levels of effectiveness, but investing in at least a few of them could go a long way towards keeping your property safe.
If your main goal is to keep people out of the property, then your first port of call should be investing in strong and sturdy locks. Locks are a relatively cheap, yet practical, way of ensuring that all entry points to your property are secure. There are a variety of locks available, ranging from simple keyed padlocks to mechanical and electrical code locks.
You may also consider securing the doors and windows of your property further by boarding them up. This not only makes it look like the building is firmly sealed, but adds an extra obstacle for anyone trying to break in. The most cost-effective option here is wooden boards, which usually suffice in the short term. However, if the plan is for the property to sit vacant over a longer period of time, you may look into steel security screens which can be fitted to the outside of all entry points.
Your next line of defence should be alarms. It’s statistically proven that buildings with security alarms fitted are less likely to be targeted for break-ins and, when they do happen, alarms are a sure-fire way of disrupting any nefarious activity and alerting those in the area to the crime. By installing a monitored alarm system with infra-red movement detectors, you can set the alarm to automatically notify you and the local authorities of any illicit activity, meaning that potential problems can be dealt with immediately. These types of alarms can also run without direct access to electricity or phone lines, so you won’t need to worry about leaving the power on.
Alongside alarms, consider installing CCTV cameras to allow you to visually monitor the property. With modern security cameras, you can monitor a live video feed remotely and control the movement of the camera in real time to focus on whichever area of the property you desire. This allows you to act quickly in the event of burglaries, fires, or any other disruption. But remember that if you’re planning to use cameras to monitor your property, good lighting is essential. Without lighting, the picture quality reduces drastically, especially at night. Consider infrared security lights which will automatically activate upon movement, giving you a perfect view of what’s going on.
Finally, as well as securing the property itself, it’s also worth thinking about the perimeter. By putting fencing and gates in place, it makes it harder for intruders to even reach the building, let alone gain access to it. You may also consider adding warning signs to let any passers by know that the building is being monitored.
ASK FOR SUPPORT FROM NEIGHBOURS
If your property is in a residential area or industrial estate, one of the most effective ways of keeping it safe is by enlisting neighbourhood support. Building a good relationship with your neighbours means that you can ask them to keep an eye out for any suspicious activity or problems with your property and report them to you. Essentially, you’re gaining free security guards.
As is the case with property guardians, having someone physically at or around the property means that any problems can be caught and dealt with quickly and effectively before they get out of control.
Fly-tipping is a huge problem when it comes to vacant properties and, unfortunately, it’s one that’s on the rise with a 300% increase between 2019 and 2020. Vacant properties have become an easy target for dumping rubbish, so it’s important that, as a property owner, you stay on top of it.
Unfortunately, on private land, it’s the owner’s responsibility to pay for the legal disposal of any waste, including that which has been left by others. So, if you let the waste build up, you’re potentially just increasing the eventual cost of disposing of it.
Piles of rubbish are a huge sign that a property is empty and this puts a huge target on your building. Basically, it’s a calling to potential vandals, squatters and thieves that your property is vacant and unmonitored. Make sure that you stay on top of waste removal and general upkeep of the property (weeding, etc.) to stop yourself from falling into this trap.
Consider your legal liability
As well as maintenance and security to consider, there are also legal responsibilities that you must be aware of.
Property owners have a legal duty of care to any third parties on your property – including trespassers. This could be squatters, burglars, or even children using the property as a playground. If any of them suffer an injury on your property, you’re legally responsible. Ensure that you’ve carried out a thorough health and safety risk assessment and have acted to make the property as safe as possible, should anyone make their way inside.
REFINE YOUR MANAGEMENT PROCEDURE
A property being vacant could also be an opportunity to step back and make sure that everything is in order with your management procedure.
Use this time when you don’t have to be actively dealing with tenants or business clients to think ahead to the future. Clarify exactly what purpose you see for the property and how you plan to achieve it. Is it a residential or commercial property? What kinds of improvements or refurbishments may need to take place before a new tenant moves in? What kind of tenant are you looking for going forward?
You’ll also want to make sure that you have everything in order when it comes to risk assessments, licensing, and rental contracts so that once you’re ready for tenants to move back in, you’re prepared. Be sure to take the time to seriously consider your vision and processes for reaching it, as this will make things run so much smoother going forward.