The Number of Empty Properties has Doubled in the Last 12 Months.
Vacant properties have a serious impact on communities, Action on Empty Homes’ annual report showed a 5.3% rise in long-term empty houses in the last 12 months, double the increase from 2016 to 2017. The highest regional figure is in the North West where 1 in every 72 homes are long-term empty.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) found of 634,453 empty homes, 216,186 have been empty longer than six months. Managing empty properties and making use of them can have social, regenerative, financial and strategic benefits.
Five Reasons Why Vacant Property Security is Important
Protecting against Squatters
Squatting is a big issue for empty commercial properties, unlike residential premises where it is illegal, it is a long and expensive process for commercial property owners. Especially the additional cost of rectifying damage and paying the run-up utility bills. Security measures to prevent forced entry is a high priority, to stop squatters at vacant properties.
This is the occupation of land by a person not legally entitled to it, leading to legal ownership without paying any compensation. Adverse possession should be a consideration of long-term empty property owners. You should not allow any temporary people to stay at the property.
Theft, Vandalism and Arson
Vacant properties are highly susceptible to theft and arson, property owners should be aware some trespassers have intent to cause damage and make properties unsafe. It is extremely costly to carry out repairs and repeat crimes are highly likely, making it imperative that empty properties be properly secure.
The UK’s unpredictable weather patterns can cause damage to empty properties:
- Plumbing and water should be shut off to prevent pipes bursting.
- Utilities should be shut off to prevent fires, gas leaks and flooding
- The property should be in good condition to resist extreme weather.
- The roof should be checked regularly for vulnerable points that could cause internal property damage.
- Gutters must be checked and cleared frequently to prevent leaks.
- Create a regular schedule for checking the property particularly after extreme weather.
Consideration to the Community
Empty properties can be a nuisance and safety concern to your local neighbourhood, if not secure they can attract anti-social behaviour. This can extend to neighbouring properties, making them more vulnerable to crime.
How to Secure Empty Properties
Inspection by the Professionals
Regular inspections are key to managing vacant properties, maintaining security and condition of the building. ARK’s Vacant Property Inspection Service protects the property owner’s investment, prevents trespasser damage, avoids delays of associated repairs and ensures security is operational. ARK’s presence is also effective for deterring criminals. ARK will supply all clients with a full report and photographic evidence of inspections.
Alarm and CCTV monitored systems are proactive security and crime prevention methods. The owner and the relevant authorities will be altered to unauthorised access to the property as well as, helping with the prosecution of criminals who enter the site unlawfully.
ARK’s CCTV Monitoring means we always know what’s happening at your property. Alerts will be verified and dealt with appropriately by contacting the owner, keyholder and local emergency services.
In addition, our Alarm Response and Keyholding means you can feel confident your empty property will be safe. If the alarm is activated, ARK’s officers will respond at all hours of the day, performing thorough checks so your property is completely secure.
Pay attention to the local news and do research, for example, a rise in break-ins, may require an increase in security.
Know your Neighbours
Get to know your neighbours, you can ask them to keep an eye on the property and report anything unusual back to you. You can then get on top of any issues before they get serious, like broken windows if left alone can entice squatters or thieves. Create and maintain links with the whole community, join the Neighbourhood Watch, show you want to keep everyone’s property safe.
Keep the Property in Good Condition
Caring for and maintaining the property will discourage thieves. A build-up of waste and rubbish around the building is a sign to criminals that the property doesn’t have frequent visitors.
Cleaning the premises frequently will make it less obvious it is vacant, don’t create a pattern by doing it on the same day every week. Keep the garden clear to avoid creating hiding places for criminals.
Consider installing lights on timers and collect any post regularly.
Keep Everything Locked
It sounds obvious, but everything including windows, doors, garages and any outbuildings, should be locked. Heavy-duty, multiple locking systems that are highly visible are both functional and a warning for intruders.
Change the Locks when Necessary
Keep a record of who is visiting the property to ensure they are authorised. It’s reasonable that contractors or letting agents may need a key, but you need to track how many keys there are and who has them. If any are lost, you can identify who has lost them through your record. You should change the locks on all access points if this happens.
Board it Up
If there is damage, boarding up windows and doors with timber, will provide additional security short-term. If the property is repeatedly targeted, consider steel security screens. If the property is empty long-term, board up access points in addition to always keeping them locked.
Clear Warning Signs
Warning signs that allude to an alarm system or CCTV cameras can make the difference between being broken into or not. Whether the signs are true or false, criminals are unlikely it. Commercial properties under the Health and Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations 1996 must have adequate signage is required for significant risk to employees and others, despite other security measures.
Protect the Perimeter
If the property is in a secluded industrial area, perimeter security shows the property is supervised. Security fencing will make it difficult for criminals to climb over or cut through. If it is a large open space susceptible to fly-tipping, barriers can block vehicle access and prevents anti-social behaviour on site.
Legislation on Residential Properties
- Local authorities can serve Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs) if a property is uninhabitable and a violation of human rights.
- Under the Housing Act 1985, section 17, local authorities can take over land and property to improve the quality of housing stock.
- Local authorities, under the Law of Property Act 1925 can enforce a charge if a property owner does not obey a statutory notice, pay Council Tax or other debts.
- The Building Act 1984 lets authorities to order owners of dangerous property, to make it safe or allows the authority to take emergency action.
- The Environmental Protection Act 1980 and Building Act 1984 requires a property owner to improve safety or allow authorities to do it for them due to an impact on health.
- The Housing Act 2004 enables local authorities in England and Wales to issue Empty Dwelling Management Orders (EDMOs) to take over empty properties and use them for housing. The property must have been empty six months to two years, it must have been used for anti-social purposes and the EDMO must be supported by the local community. Properties being sold or let, those unoccupied because the resident is in care, partly-occupied properties like apartment buildings and non-residential properties are exempt from EDMOs.
Squatting in Residential Properties
Squatting, deliberately entering a property without permission and living there, is illegal in residential buildings under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. Punishment is 6 months in prison, a £5000 fine or both.
You should check with your local council for their policy on Council Tax for empty properties, they can offer discounts in some instances. Typically, all properties that have been empty and unfurnished for over two years must pay a 100% Council Tax premium.
Empty properties exempt from Council Tax includes, but is not limited to homes:
- Of someone in prison (where their sentence is not for not paying a fine or Council Tax)
- Of someone in care or a hospital.
- That has been repossessed.
- That cannot be lived in by law, if they’re derelict.
- That have been compulsory purchased and set to be demolished.
Legislation on Commercial Vacant Properties
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 dictates employers have a duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of employees, visitors and the general public. If the employer owns a vacant property, they have a duty of care to ensure it is safe.
Squatting in commercial properties is not a crime, however, damage, theft, fly-tipping and not obeying a noise abatement order is. Not leaving a property when instructed by the owner, Police, Council or a Repossession Order is also a crime.
Always contact the Police if you see someone breaking into or damaging property.
Business rates do not have to be paid on empty commercial buildings for three months, after this period businesses must pay full business rates. Some properties can get extended empty property relief:
- Industrial properties e.g. warehouses are exempt for a further three months.
- Listed buildings until they’re reoccupied.
- Buildings with a rateable value under £2,900 under they’re reoccupied.
- Properties owned by charities if that will continue to be the purpose of the building
- Amateur sports club buildings if the next use will continue to be a sports club.
Contact your local council to let them know when your property becomes vacant.
Alarm Response and Keyholding is part of the Asset Protection Group and we specialise in providing professional keyholding and alarm response services across the UK. Securing your home or business to ensure the safety of your family and staff. We have been providing keyholding and guarding services since 1982. Because we take the responsibility for responding to out of hours of alarm activations. As well as securing sites on behalf of owners with fully licensed SIA security officers.