A residential property or commercial premises can be a desirable asset which may appreciate in value considerably, so however the property is used – whether for commercial and business, primary residence, part-time holiday home or full-time letting – protecting the property’s value is wise. However, as soon as a property becomes vacant, protecting its value becomes more difficult, as a poorly managed empty property can quickly depreciate not only in value but also in condition, to the extent of even becoming a liability for absent owners.
Vacant and vulnerable
Whilst many of the general risks for property, such as storm damage, flooding, utility leaks or fire damage can happen and require expensive repair when the property is occupied, the risks and potential for additional damage and costs rise considerably once a property is empty. For example:
- Flooding and utility leaks – these can be quickly addressed in an occupied property, but in an empty property the problem can exist for a considerable period before being identified – by which time extensive damage and repair costs could result.
- Fire damage – a fire can quickly take hold and in an empty property and with no one listening out for smoke alarms, what starts as a small fire can quickly render a property uninhabitable and dangerous as a result of flames, smoke damage and water damage when the fire is eventually extinguished.
- Fly tipping – whilst occupied residences might find the occasional litter, Fly-tipping, the illegal dumping of larger-scale waste is the scourge of empty properties. Fly tipping has been on the rise in the UK since councils introduced bulky item collection fees in 2014 and empty properties – including their gardens, yards and driveway space – can be a target for irresponsible fly-tipping. What’s more, when this occurs on private properties, the landowner is fully responsible for the cost of removing the dumped items, and can be ordered to do so by the council – and even fined if they don’t comply.
- Squatters – individuals who trespass and occupy a property without permission, squatters are known to target empty properties including vacant commercial premises. Squatters in occupation of an empty property are extremely difficult and costly to evict and can cause considerable damage whilst in situ. Squatters or other trespassers may also make the property a hub of anti-social behaviour including malicious damage, theft of fixtures, fittings and amenities such as boilers, plumbing, metals and even fitted kitchens, reducing the fabric of the building to costly ruin.
Your empty property plan
Having a plan in place to manage your empty property is a good tactic for reducing the possibility of problems. Measures to reduce risk should be in place from the start of the vacant period and could even be minimised by avoiding the vacancy altogether:
1) Avoiding vacancy
This can be achieved by ensuring that the property is occupied. For residential properties particularly, ways to do this can include:
- Using a Property Guardian – literally a professional house-sitter, a property guardian is only appointed after stringent vetting processes and once an occupation agreement is in place. Most agreements allow 28 days maximum notice for vacating the premises as required so that vacant possession for sale or alternative occupation can be quickly achieved. A property guardian will generally have the use of a bedroom, plus domestic amenities such as kitchen and bathroom, in exchange for a nominal rent. This rent may be negotiated and even waived in return for maintaining the garden as this keeps up the appearance of someone being in residence from both inside and out. Another benefit of the property being occupied rather than empty, is that there is someone on site to alert the owner or managing agent of any problems, such as break-ins, leaks, weathering or storm damage.
- Council Re-let Services – a small number of the UK’s local councils run schemes where they will rent a property from a private landlord for a period of time (usually around 6 months) during which time they will re-let the property to council tenants. Such schemes are largely in place where there is very low housing stock and high demand for social or subsidised housing. Re-letting your property this way involves comprehensive agreements which all landlords are advised to consider fully and does present a money-making alternative to having a property standing vacant, where it’s not just failing to generate an income, but possibly also generating bills through falling into disrepair or into the hands of squatters or vandals.
However, if the property has to be vacant, either temporarily or for the longer term, there are still steps which can be taken to maximise security and minimise risk…
2) Secure the property
Securing the empty property by adding security boards or screens to all access points – including doors, windows, basement casements and roof light windows – will help to prevent trespass. Whilst standard security measures such as exterior lighting might be beneficial to every property, when it comes to boards and screens the most suitable security screening will depend on the premises, environmental conditions and length of vacancy:
- Timber boarding can be most cost-effective for securing a vacant property in the short term, such as after a fire or accident, or between tenancies.
- Steel security screens and security doors can be very cost-effective for long term and repeated use as their highly robust galvanised steel construction offers durability and strength. Options for steel screens include either solid steel, fitted to the outside of access points, or Sitex screens which offer small apertures to allow light and ventilation and are fitted to the property interior. All designs offer tamper-proof fixings and are damage resistant, even against attempted break-ins using crowbars and hacksaws. As such, steel security screens are ideal if the interior of the property contains items of value, for instance metal fittings or construction tools needed when the property is undergoing renovation.
3) Property checks
Managing a vacant property should also include regular inspections and checks on the property. Inspections should include all aspects:
- Check the building and remedy any build up of leaves or debris in the gutters and drains, which can result in damp and damage from leaks;
- Check roof for damage following any storms or seasonal weather;
- Checking seals to letterboxes, access points and any security screens to ensure no tampering;
- Check the boundary fencing to ensure the overall premises is fully intact.
- Check loft regularly for storm damage within roof space;
- Look out for seasonal problems such as leaks from frozen pipes, damp and mildew from lack of ventilation or rodent infestation.
4) Property monitoring
When it comes to ensuring security through monitoring, manned security may be an option, but remote rather than manned methods can actually be a more effective method for cost, response and overall efficiency and convenience:
- 24-hour monitored CCTV
Contemporary CCTV systems offer on-site security with off-site or remote monitoring from Safe Site’s trained security staff so that in the event of intrusion, criminal or suspicious activity at the property, the police can be quickly alerted. Cameras can be panned and tilted to achieve the best possible surveillance, monitoring and recording of any situation, with recordings being retrievable to support police and insurance processes for evidence or identification purposes.
- 24-hour monitored alarm system
Whilst standard burglar alarms can of course deter burglars, monitored systems will alert trained security personnel if a break-in is attempted or an intruder breaks through, ensuring a fast response and timely action as appropriate. As it’s recommended that vacant properties have utilities switched off, monitored alarm systems function fully without the need for electricity or phone line connection, so alarms still act as a visible deterrent but can respond immediately as needed, to:
- Pass on alerts to a designated mobiles, to ensure information and updates are available for your peace of mind.
- Record when activated, so that the situation can be checked out remotely but immediately in case of accidental tripping by wildlife.
- Gather evidence in the event of vandalism or attempted trespass.
Using monitored security also means that entire buildings can be observed for both short and long periods of time, to fit in with both temporary or long term vacant periods.
Of course, none of these methods are mutually exclusive, so for further advice on which methods or combinations of security may suit your empty property needs, speak to Safe Site Facilities, to ensure the value of your vacant property is protected, not neglected.