21 January 2019 | Herpreet Kaur Grewal
Asset protection specialist VPS Security Services has warned that the ongoing Brexit saga is likely to lead to a rise in vacant properties, both commercial and residential, as property developers and investors are even more reluctant to move forward with their UK real estate strategies.
Despite a serious housing shortage, there remain over 200,000 homes in the UK that have been empty for six months or longer and, as commercial rentals slow down, especially in the retail sector, there is a growing movement to 'repurpose' commercial properties into housing, even temporarily.
Phil Bunting, a director of VPS Security, said: "Empty properties of any type can be a significant cost to the owners, local authorities and to the environment They attract vandalism, metal thieves, arsonists and squatters far more than occupied premises. And owners have a legal duty of care for empty properties even to the extent of maintaining their safety for unauthorised trespassers."
According to figures collected by VPS, across the country dozens of fires are deliberately started every day in or next to vacant premises. Illegal fly tipping occurs every 40 seconds, and grounds such as a car park surrounding an empty office block, are prime targets. With more severe wintry weather forecast, storm damage from snow and ice are also likely to take their toll far more on an empty building.
Bunting added: "The longer an empty property is left unattended, unprotected and neglected, the greater the risk of further devastating dilapidation, compounding the cost and timing of eventual remediation. The sooner it is secured against unwanted visitors and the elements, the sooner it will be re-let or sold to provide a home again."
VPS stated that the most basic solution is setting up a secure perimeter fence, and installing steel screens or hoardings on all main entry points, such as windows and doors. Concrete blocks can be used to prevent access to car parking or external grounds. The environmental impact of steel screens can be lightened by using specialist decals that imitate the look of the original windows and doors.
Alarms placed in and around buildings can trigger alerts if there is an attempted breach to the premises.
Human guards may be needed for certain high-profile locations, but they are an expensive option, and the range of technological alternatives are fast moving into and taking over this more traditional guarding option.
A relatively new trend is to provide security through occupation by installing property guardians into temporarily empty buildings. VPS said this method "not only provides low-cost accommodation, but can help significantly reduce the costs of neglect or vandalism, as well as cutting business rates for the property owners".