The top seven dangers for properties left empty - special briefing for RICS members

Broken pub window

The risks to unat­tend­ed or unoc­cu­pied prop­er­ties are far greater than for occu­pied premis­es. Vacant prop­er­ties are far more vul­ner­a­ble to van­dal­ism, arson, or sim­ply to the impact of extreme weath­er, such as storm dam­age, or to util­i­ty leaks, which if unno­ticed can severe­ly dam­age the fab­ric of a building.

With these risks in mind, the vacant prop­er­ty experts, VPS Secu­ri­ty Ser­vices, have list­ed the top sev­en dan­gers that need to be man­aged for emp­ty prop­er­ties, recent­ly shar­ing this brief with mem­bers of the Roy­al Insti­tute of Char­tered Sur­vey­ors (RICS).

  1. Water Ingress, Flood­ing and burst water pipes. Escape of water or flood dam­age is one of the most com­mon types of domes­tic prop­er­ty dam­age claims, with insur­ers typ­i­cal­ly pay­ing out £1.8 mil­lion for it every day. The dam­age that can occur to a prop­er­ty that is tem­porar­i­ly vacant can be sig­nif­i­cant­ly high if it is not known about, nor attend­ed to, for some days or even weeks.
  2. Fire. Arson accounts for about 50% of all fires attend­ed by Fire & Res­cue Ser­vices in the whole of the Unit­ed King­dom – that means of the 150,000+ fires attend­ed, approx­i­mate­ly 75,000 of them were start­ed delib­er­ate­ly. That’s the equiv­a­lent to a mind-bog­gling 200 fires EVERY DAY are arson – and prop­er­ties that are vacant are eas­i­er tar­gets, and so bear the worst of these attacks.
  3. Fly-tip­ping. In com­par­i­son to arson, fly-tip­ping sta­tis­tics are even more alarm­ing. Last year, local author­i­ties report­ed that there were almost one mil­lion inci­dents of fly-tip­ping, or 2,700 times dai­ly. VPS has ded­i­cat­ed clean and clear’ teams who do noth­ing else but remove waste, often from the sur­round­ing grounds or car-parks of clients’ prop­er­ties that are tem­porar­i­ly vacant and there­fore become a fly-tip­pers’ tar­get. An oper­a­tion they car­ried out for Tesco received atten­tion in the press because VPS deployed drones to high­light an ille­gal fly-tip­ping hub’ that had been cre­at­ed by one of their superstores.
  4. Van­dal­ism and theft. These crimes can range from unwant­ed graf­fi­ti through to attempt­ed break-ins and thefts, such as met­al crime. Before it could be secured, one pub­lic house that closed down had three peo­ple in yel­low high-vis­i­bil­i­ty jack­ets pull up a truck along­side it, use lad­ders to climb onto its roof, and then steadi­ly strip it of lead tiles, all in broad daylight.
  5. Squat­ting. Since 2012, a law made res­i­den­tial squat­ting a crim­i­nal offence, so squat­ters now tar­get more vacant com­mer­cial prop­er­ties. Squat­ters gained access to an emp­ty build­ing in South York­shire by remov­ing the win­dow cov­er­ing, forc­ing it open and cut­ting through inter­nal secu­ri­ty bars. The squat­ters detached tiles from a sus­pend­ed ceil­ing, dam­aged the key­pad entry sys­tem, wrote graf­fi­ti on the inter­nal walls and dam­aged floor­ings. They also removed con­crete blocks from the wall sep­a­rat­ing two adjoin­ing units. The insur­ance claim for mali­cious dam­age was esti­mat­ed at £65,000.
  6. Tres­passers and urban explor­ers. Dur­ing the sum­mer we run a cam­paign to warn the risks of chil­dren climb­ing onto derelict prop­er­ties or play­ing in desert­ed build­ings in their school hol­i­days. (“Don’t Goof on the Roof”) Over 3,000 young peo­ple are esti­mat­ed to take risks every week tres­pass­ing on derelict build­ings or emp­ty con­struc­tion sites. Any­one who owns, or con­trols a site, has a legal duty of care to pro­tect peo­ple on the site from fore­see­able harm, and this duty even extends to peo­ple who are tres­pass­ing. Peo­ple injured on a site, even if they are unau­tho­rised tres­passers, can sue the own­ers and man­agers for neg­li­gence and for respon­si­bil­i­ty for their injuries.
  7. Neglect. Of course, none of the above may occur, but vacant prop­er­ties can some­times fall into dis­re­pair just from being neglect­ed, with sim­ple main­te­nance checks and repairs unheeded.

Along­side these sev­en dan­gers, lies the sev­en dead­ly sins of mis­man­ag­ing them: expo­sure to lit­i­ga­tion, non-com­pli­ance, no evi­dence of inspec­tions or care, DIY inspec­tions, inval­i­dat­ing inspec­tions, no record­ed trail or, sim­ply, no inspections. 

When seek­ing prop­er­ties to be pro­tect­ed, clients most com­mon wish list boils down to three things:

  • Effi­cient and sim­ple key management 
  • Con­trolled, safe but fast access for inspec­tors, trades­peo­ple, autho­rised personnel
  • Reli­able, trans­par­ent and hon­est secu­ri­ty and guarding