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How to Deter and Prevent Squatters
In this third and final post of our series updating you on the risks and rights relating to squatters and your vacant property, the focus is on preventing squatters from getting in. See the first two posts here:
- Our first post addresses what “squatters rights” are, what adverse possession is and other common questions about squatters.
- Our second post explores official eviction protocol for legally removing squatters from private and commercial property
In all cases, whether the property is commercial or residential, there are two main ways to help prevent squatters:
(i) Ensuring the property is less appealing for occupation by squatters.
(ii) Ensuring the property is inaccessible, which means making it secure.
However, how you approach these methods of preventing squatters will be influenced by the length of time the property is likely to be vacant…
Short term security
(i) During a temporary vacancy, a property can be much less appealing to squatters if it actually appears to be occupied already. So, if the property isn’t going to be shuttered up and clearly empty, then it needs to look as busy as possible. And ways to achieve the lived-in look include:
- Using timer switches with lights, to come on at times to suit daily routines and seasonal lighting-up times, such as morning and evening.
- Placing good quality fake plants in windows, so that at-a-glance something appears alive and cared for inside.
- Having a friend or neighbour coming in regularly to remove post, open and close blinds and curtains, switch on additional lights, play music and put the wheelie bins out etc, so that all normal routines appear to still be happening. If this person has a dog which they can bring to spend a bit of time in the garden whilst they are checking the house, then this also helps to add to the sights and sounds of a protected and busy home.
- Offering a neighbour the use of any available driveway, so that their comings and goings give the impression of ongoing occupation.
(ii) To make the property fully secure, it’s essential that access points are fully shut and locked and that thought is given to the ways in which an intruder may try to gain entry:
- Any doors and windows with poor quality locks should have locks replaced so they are fit for purpose and / or additional deadlocks installed. Locks should also be fitted to outbuildings such as sheds and garages, to prevent theft from these areas and stop tools inside them from being used to gain entry into the main property.
- Exterior security lights should be added – timed lights at the main access door will help the property look lived in, whilst motion-activated sensor lights to rear access areas such as gates, shed and garages as well as doors, can be a useful deterrent.
- Any items normally kept outside which might assist a break-in, such as wheelie bins, ladders and benches, should be removed or locked away.
Long term lockup
When the property is going to be vacant for a considerable period of time, then efforts to minimise the appeal of the property and access inside it need to be significantly stepped up.
(i) Properties without utilities are far less appealing to squatters and intruders. Although many property owners think that electricity supplies need to be maintained in order to feed alarms, this is not the case as there are now many good quality CCTV monitoring and alarm systems which do not require phone line and electricity and can effectively cover the entire property.
Installing alarm and monitoring systems is advisable for a property which is going to be empty for a significant time. The visible presence of alarm and camera systems which are actively monitored by security personnel makes the property less appealing to squatters, who would rather sneak in unannounced.
Additionally, the presence of monitored CCTV recorded surveillance also means that in the event of any attempted break-in, trespass, vandalism and criminal damage to your property, prompt action can be taken and evidence gathered so for police follow-up, criminal proceedings and insurance purposes.
(ii) For long term vacancy, access security, heavy duty screens and shutters, such as security screens to doors and windows, are essential. The variety of steel screens available should suit any type of long-term vacancy, for instance when:
- The property will be empty during a long-term refurbishment project, but viewing the property in daylight might be needed, perforated screens offer both protection outside and natural light inside.
- The property needs to be fully secured for minimal access and internal contents need to be fully secured against prying eyes. such as during prolonged probate or legal processes, solid screens which completely shut out daylight and views into the property may be better suited.
- Access points include awkwardly placed windows, such as sky-light windows. These can often be forgotten by property owners but easily accessed by squatters, so the custom-fit options afforded by steel security screens means that no access point remains unsecured.
All steel screen designs offer tamper-proof fixing and innovative locking designs, to maximise security. But, whilst access and removal by intruders is highly preventable, owners and security personnel can gain ready access when necessary.
When it comes to access points on commercial properties, it’s also worth considering that some exits, such as fire doors, are generally secured with a catch only rather than locks. This, and the fact that squatting in a commercial property is not covered by the same laws as residential property, can make a vacant commercial property a prime target for squatters and is another reason why fitting tamper-proof security screens and shutters to all access points is essential.
As with short-term vacancy, outside areas also need protecting in the long-term too. External items which could facilitate a break-in should be removed from the property, external security lighting installed and perimeters should be protected with security fencing as required.
Many of the security essentials, such as alarms and security screens, can be hired rather than purchased and installed by professional teams and offer cost-effective security for a one-off long term vacancy.
Spending the extra time and money to fully secure the property can also help offset any additional insurance premiums or excess charges, which occur once your insurers are updated with the change of circumstances and the property becomes vacant for a period of time. As such, it’s important to liaise with your insurance company to ensure compliance with any additional security measures they wish to be included so that your policy is not invalidated.
Finally, it’s worth remembering that, in the event of attempted trespass and intrusion by squatters, one of the main protocols for eviction is through an IPO. Because this has to be applied for within 28 days, it’s essential that your squatter prevention plan includes a regular schedule of inspection, including monitoring via CCTV, so that any attempts to break into your empty property can be identified, reported and followed up with further action swiftly, to prevent squatters from settling in.
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