The process of securing unoccupied buildings
Unoccupied buildings pose a greater risk from the likes of arson, vandalism, theft and escape of water. So, what can be done to protect a vacant property and mitigate a loss?
If you own an unoccupied property, you are at a greater risk of suffering a loss from all manner of damages, including environmental, for example a storm or flooding; antisocial behaviour, such as squatting; as well as criminal actions like theft or arson.
In the case of historic buildings, unoccupancy may lead to architectural theft; ornate fireplaces, other period features, and metalwork may be targeted.
Property owners also need to consider the risks to members of the public which could arise as a result of gaining entry to the property, both legally and due to trespassing. The Occupiers’ Liability Act imposes a duty of care to both lawful visitors and trespassers.
To help manage both property and liability risks arising from an unoccupied property, it is important to advise your broker if any building becomes or is due to become unoccupied. Once this is done, the following measures should be considered:
- Utility services to unoccupied properties should be disconnected and water systems drained down. However, if present, existing fire and security systems, security lighting or automatic sprinkler systems should be maintained.
- If water supplies cannot be isolated and drained down, heating systems should be maintained to provide a minimum background temperature of 7°C to prevent freezing.
- Any fuel or storage tanks to the property should be drained down.
- The site should be cleared of waste materials, including redundant contents.
Secure the building
- Any perimeter fencing to the site and landscaped areas should be maintained. All points of access to the property should also be secured.
- Accessible windows and doors may need to be boarded over depending on the location
- A responsible person should inspect the property at least weekly to check there is no deterioration in the building. Any graffiti should be removed at the earliest opportunity and broken windows repaired or securely boarded over.
- Lighting can deter criminal activity. In the absence of good street lighting consider using security lights.
Review safety assessments
- The local police and fire and rescue services should be advised of the unoccupancy.
- Any fire risk assessments for the property need to be reviewed and updated to reflect the change in risk.
- The installation of a temporary alarm system should be considered if there isn’t one present.
- Consider the use of Manned Guarding services.
- Ensure all property keys are accounted for. Codes to security systems should also be changed so they are only known to those with responsibility for the property.