We work with all types of property owners to insure their residential and commercial properties that are being rented, renovated or on the market.
There are times when these properties will be unoccupied, possibly for an extended period of time, and this inevitably increases the risk. Before we explore the risks and how you can potentially manage them, let’s start with the basics… inform your insurer! Unoccupancy can change the terms and cover of any current policy, so failing to inform your insurer could result in any claim being rejected.
Check with your insurer before the property becomes unoccupied so you can arrange suitable cover. You may need to inform them of key holders that can be contacted to respond to issues if the property isn’t local to you.
Whether you are a residential landlord or run a portfolio of commercial properties, the key threats to those properties while unoccupied are more or less the same.
- Fire: Whilst the most common cause of fire in unoccupied properties is arson, it can also be caused by faulty electrical equipment where there has been a failure of proper maintenance.
- Vandalism: £500m of damage is caused by vandalism every year, from smashed windows, broken fences, graffiti, interior and structural damage.
- Theft: Metal theft from vacant properties amounts to an estimated £770m a year, encompassing cabling, pipework, tanks and roofing lead. Plant and machinery, building supplies, fixtures and fittings and even antiques such as fireplaces can be targeted.
- Flood: Damage caused by leaking and burst (or stolen) pipes can be considerable – and costly in both monetary and project timescale terms!
- Duty of Care: As a property owner you need to be aware of your obligations including responsibility (and liability) if anyone injures themselves on the property and being considerate of the impact on neighbouring properties.
Managing the Risk
Think about what you can do to minimise risk and maximise the security of your unoccupied property. To safeguard your property against the risks of being empty your first step is to:
- Intruders: Deter any potential intruders and manage lawful entry to the premises (such as contractors / inspection checks)
- Damage: Minimise damage by early detection of any intrusion or occurrence (such as storm-damage to buildings).
- Inspections: Ensure regular inspections of the property are made (this may be a stipulation of your insurance cover) and that all visits to the premises are formerly recorded.
Smaller / Residential Properties
There are some simple things you can do. For smaller properties this includes creating the impression your property is occupied.
- Windows: White-washing windows is a sure giveaway that the property is empty – use blinds, nets and curtains to cover them up instead.
- Lights: Install lights on timers in different parts of the building and ensure they operate at suitable times for that part of the property.
- Locks: Secure the doors, but don’t forget to secure the windows too! Consider all points of entry including garage doors, and don’t forget exterior gates leading to hidden areas where intruders will be less visible.
- Tradesmen: If renovations and development is in progress, don’t allow tradesmen to leave their tools behind. This makes it more attractive for thieves to break in and also cause damage.
- Post: Redirect your mail, seal up letter boxes or install an inside metal cage and regularly pick up the post and any flyers.
- Put out the bins: Ask neighbours or tradesmen to put out the bins, they’re probably using them too!
- Kerb appeal: Keep vegetation under control and if appropriate, allow neighbours to park on the drive overnight.
- Fire: To avoid fire damage and gas explosion turn off power supplies and remove all combustibles from the property when possible.
- Water: Isolate and drain down water and heating systems to avoid flooding. Where this isn’t possible, consider adding anti-freeze to central heating systems, and maintain a minimum temperature of 7 degrees within the property.
Large / Commercial Properties
For larger commercial properties or those in more remote locations, the above precautions may still apply – but you may need a different level of approach. You wouldn’t want to disconnect all utilities where you have existing security or fire protection systems in place.
- Security: This includes security alarms, cameras / CCTV, motion-activated lighting and even water sprinklers. Where power has been disconnected you might want to consider engaging a security firm which installs battery powered and remotely monitored security systems.
- Windows & Doors: Ground floor and accessible upper floor windows should be externally boarded up with plywood or steel sheeting. Making sure that all windows and doors are securely locked is paramount – using heavy duty and multiple locks also creates a visual deterrent to potential intruders.
- Alarms: Existing intruder and fire alarms systems should be connected and maintained by a firm listed on a suitably accredited inspectorate body.
- Keyholders: Security contractors should be accredited too and they can also be involved in carrying out regular inspections to determine if any damage has occurred that needs to be remedied, such as vandalism or structural storm damage.
- Health hazards: Significant health hazards can be caused as the result of intruders discarding rubbish, even syringes, and by fly-tippers – which, in turn, encourages infestation by vermin.
- Regular inspection and maintenance: To ensure boundary fences are kept intact and grounds kept clear of rubbish, clearing garden waste, trimming overgrown shrubs, nd removing any potential hiding place for would-be intruders.
Many of you may not have heard of Urban Exploring, but it is increasing in popularity mainly due to trends on social media. With a growing number of followers it’s inevitable that these rules, however well-intentioned, will not be adhered to by many.
Although codes of conduct exist within explorer communities – namely that those entering derelict buildings should “take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints” – it’s a dangerous pastime. There are a number of instances where urban explorers have died.
You have a duty of care as a property owner, and statutory obligation under the Defective Premises Act and Occupancies Liability Act to those who access the building – even those that are there without your consent. This means you could possibly face expensive litigation claims if someone breaks into your property and subsequently suffers an injury.
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