Empty property risks: fly-tipping, metal theft and squatting

Empty threats

21 December 2017

Statistics show that crimes such as fly-tipping, metal theft and squatting are on the rise, with vacant properties far more vulnerable. Gideon Reichental outlines some of the risks and explains how these can be mitigated

Many asset owners will already be aware of the devastating effects that vandalism and arson can have on a business, as it is expensive and time-consuming to deal with these. Deterring such crimes is difficult, however, as most vandalism, including graffiti and arson, occurs at night and on weekends when sites or properties are vacant.

Variety of risks

Fly-tipping is also on the rise, with vacant sites being prime targets. The number of incidents has increased for the 3rd year in a row: councils across England and Wales reported 936,090 cases in 2015–16, up 4% on the previous year, according to data from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Clearing up fly-tipped rubbish cost councils £49.8m, while the expense for landowners can also be significant as the waste is usually mixed and can often contain hazardous materials.

Vacant property is at heightened risk of metal theft as well, a crime estimated to cost the UK economy £770m per year, the Office for National Statistics reports, while the Association of British Insurers claims its members pay out more than £1m a week in claims from property owners. Property Insurance Initiatives – an independently owned commercial real-estate insurance broker – has also reported that metal theft from vacant commercial property is soaring. Adding insult to injury, the cost of reinstating properties after such thefts is out of all proportion to the value of the metals stolen.

Many of these threats can be caused by illegal occupation, such as when a building is squatted or land is used by travellers; however, it also entails additional legal costs, project delays and remediation following the occupation. While squatting in residential property is illegal under section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, commercial property was not included and when vacant is prone to squatting. There are a large number of vacant commercial properties that fall in this category and the legal process can be long, protracted and costly for the asset owner when securing an eviction.

Of particular concern to property owners, but perhaps less well understood, is public liability. The owner is responsible for the safety of people entering their site whether invited or not, and has an obligation to ensure that the site remains safe and well maintained even when it is secure. This is particularly true when properties could be accessed by children, as it is a well-established legal principle that you have to be aware of their natural propensity for mischief.

Proper protection

Property owners can mitigate these risks by carrying out a thorough risk inspection and considering the issues that might affect the property or site. The premises should be well maintained, overgrown vegetation cleared and external lighting installed if possible. Water systems should be drained to avoid flooding and utilities isolated to lower the potential for fire. Openings such as doors, gates and windows should be properly locked and secured, and regular inspections carried out so problems can be identified and resolved quickly, helping to mitigate any further issues.

Metal theft from vacant commercial property is soaring

Outsourcing this process to a professional vacant property protection company can ensure that the site is as safe and secure as possible. Members of the British Security Industry Association (BSIA) can provide advice on the best ways to secure the property against a range of risks and ensure that the site meets or exceeds insurers’ standards. All members of the BSIA’s Vacant Property Protection Section are subject to strict quality criteria, which include demonstration of compliance with BS 8584: 2015 – Vacant Property Protection Services Code of Practice, as part of their ISO 9001 audit.

Measures often advised include property inspections, security guards posted on site, physical security solutions such as perimeter fencing, barriers, steel doors and screens, as well as electronic monitoring of activity to deter or detect intruders through the use of CCTV and intruder alarms. BSIA members are also experienced in best practice of protection through occupation by property guardians.

The statistics speak for themselves; protecting premises that are going to be vacant for any period of time should be a vital consideration for property owners. Failing to do so can lead to costly repairs, project delays or even legal implications in some instances.

Gideon Reichental is Commercial Sales Manager for Clearway Environmental Services and Chairman of the BSIA Vacant Property Protection Section

Further information