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Evidence shows that unoccupied residential properties are more vulnerable to damage than similar occupied premises.
This is true even if vacancy is temporary.
Poor supervision, lack of appropriate security and the misplaced notion that there is nothing inside to steal are all contributory factors.
Fires in vacant commercial properties are well documented but the risk to residential properties should not be under estimated. Theft, wilful damage, vandalism and intrusion by squatters are also known risks.
Unattended buildings, if not managed, can suffer fire or water damage due to non-maintained services.
Owners also have a legal ‘duty of care' to third parties. This includes invited persons e.g. surveyors, contractors, estate agents, buyers and even uninvited persons - including children who may simply use the grounds as a playground.
This Hardfacts helps identify precautions which need to be considered in relation to unoccupied residential properties.
Identify Risks - Implement Precautions
The degree of risk varies with locality, neighbourhood, crime history, security, general management, length of unoccupancy and perceived attractiveness of contents.
The following headings identify the risks and appropriate precautions.
Avoid an Empty, Unsupervised Appearance
However, in crime ridden areas, the ‘lived in' appearance may be unworkable if the appropriate level of security demands boarding of windows/doors.
Fire and Malicious Ignition
Ensure all but essential services are ‘off'.
Drain down water and turn gas and electricity off unless essential for maintaining heating, fire systems, security lights or alarms.
Fences, Sheds, Garages, Outbuildings
Deter people from approaching the house:
Sheds, garages and outbuildings should be securely locked/ padlocked:
Remove contents of value, retaining only any needed for keeping a normal appearance, e.g. curtains. It is usually advisable to remove all contents to reduce the fire risk. Lofts should be cleared.
Consider an alarm for large premises.
Generally, audible-only alarms are quite adequate in built-up areas where the alarm sounder may deter trespassers. Arrange with a neighbour
(preferably one who will hear the bell ringing) to act as a key holder and contact you in the event of an activation. Alarms fitted with secure monitored remote signalling to a 24 hour manned approved Alarm Receiving Centre are preferable for high risk homes - your alarm will need a police URN (unique reference number) and appointed keyholders.
Keyholders should be informed of what to do in event of a call out - carry a mobile phone; do not risk personal safety, wait for the police to arrive. Be aware that Police may not respond to non-confirmed alarm systems if the alarm has been installed since recent changes to Police policy (ACPO SSP 2000).
Ground floor and vulnerable upper floor windows (overlooking accessible roofs, or next to downpipes) should be secured with key operated window locks or screw fixed.
In crime-ridden areas boarding of windows may be necessary. Otherwise, selected vulnerable windows may need to be individually boarded. Use minimum 18mm thick exterior-grade ply secured firmly to wood frames by 50mm exterior non-return screws or ribbed nails. Welded mesh, bars, grilles and laminated glass may sometimes be suitable alternatives.
NB Low level rooflights will need protection.
Doors, particularly if concealed, can offer the best method of unauthorised entry:
To minimise causing injury, watch out for:
- Loose masonry or roof tiles/slates
- Rubble, rubbish, glass
- Protruding nails, jagged edges
- Ease of access onto roofs, from which trespassers could fall.
Inspect the inside of the building:
- Do visitors need torches?
- Are there missing/damaged stairs, rails and floors?
- Is there exposed or damaged electrical wiring? Is it live?
Living on site
High-value properties in rural or isolated localities, may best be protected by someone living in, even if intermittently or temporarily. Special cases may require the services of a manned security company.
Insurance of Unoccupied Premises
It is important that you:
Key Action Steps
Sources of further information
InFiReS (now RISC Authority) ‘Code of Practice for the protection of empty buildings: Fire and Security' and IPCRes ‘The selection and use of electronic security systems in empty buildings' documents obtainable via www.riscauthority.com
This document contains general information and guidance and is not and should not be relied on as specific advice. The document may not cover every risk, exposure or hazard that may arise and Aviva recommend that you obtain specific advice relevant to the circumstances. AVIVA accepts no responsibility or liability towards any person who may rely upon this document.
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