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The need to look after unoccupied properties

Unoccupied properties are a substantial problem for companies of any size, but it is arguable that the issue should be of greater concern to larger corporate enterprises. With the advantages of size comes the fact that these companies are likely to have bigger property portfolios and it is almost inevitable that a number of these could be empty at any given point. With this in mind, it is important that big businesses act to protect their vacant premises as best they can, particularly given that there are around 9,000 fires in properties of this nature every year.

What are the risks of having unoccupied properties?

As well as the fact that they often attract arsonists, a number of other risks are also attached to vacant business premises. Theft of contents is a significant problem which not only includes any stock left but also can include fixtures and fittings such as pipework or boilers. Consequently, it is important for companies to ensure that their unoccupied properties do not look like an attractive target to would-be criminals.

Other common problems affecting empty buildings include vandalism, occupation by squatters and fly-tipping. Water damage can also be caused to properties which remain vacant for some time, especially if they are not regularly visited for inspections and maintenance checks by the company which owns them.

Furthermore, it is important to remember that building owners have a "duty of care" to those who enter it, whether they are authorised to do so or not. If a worker on the site - such as a third party employee who has been contracted to ensure that it remains in good condition - sustains an injury, the company responsible for the building could be held liable for it. This would also be true if estate agents, surveyors, potential buyers or even trespassers - for example, children using the site as a playground - were injured. Broken walls, piles of rubble, protruding nails, falling objects and live wiring are all potential causes of such incidents.

How can unoccupied property risks be reduced?

Thankfully, while unoccupied buildings pose a number of potential risks, there are plenty of ways in which a company can act to reduce these. First and foremost among these should be the need to carry out a thorough risk assessment to ascertain the problems which a vacant property could be facing. This can depend on many factors, including the location and type of the property. Typically, empty industrial units are most at threat of attracting criminals and unoccupied residential buildings carry the least risk, but it should also be recognised that a property in an up-market area is likely to be less of a target than one where crime is prevalent.

All loose contents should be removed, unnecessary services isolated and any fuel tanks drained down. Someone - either a third party company, a department of the firm or a specialist individual - should then be tasked with ensuring that the premises stay in good condition. This should involve the carrying out of routine inspections, with documented visits ideally being made once a week. It is extremely important that a building looks 'cared for' so anything which makes the detracts from this - such as damaged fencing, smashed windows, graffiti or fly posters - should be either repaired or removed at the earliest opportunity in order to dispel any such notion.

The security of a building is paramount. Good physical security to doors and windows is a basic necessity and may, in some cases, need to include boarding up, particularly in areas vulnerable to vandalism. Consideration should be given to the provision of, or continued provision of, a burglar alarm recognised by one of the alarm inspectorates - either NSI or SSAIB. Its effectiveness will depend on an adequate response to any activation which is likely to mean the use of secure monitored signalling to an alarm receiving centre.

Manned guarding may also be deemed as appropriate for some empty properties. Although this measure can be expensive, it is often seen as the best temporary solution for protecting high-value premises, particularly those in vulnerable areas.

Finally something frequently forgotten is that the letter-box needs to be securely closed. Neglecting this small but important measure could lead to unwanted materials being posted in to the building, but more seriously it may also give potential arsonists a way to set the building on fire.ADNFCR-2134-ID-19859916-ADNFCR