New Squatting laws will not apply to commercial property, VPS warns

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New  squatting laws will not protect commercial buildings, the Vacant Property Specialist warns, and anincrease in commercial property being targeted by squatters is predicted.

 

The new legislation which may be passed next week in the House of Commons, will only apply to residential property. At present, it is not illegal to squat in a vacant non-residential property.

According to VPS, the basic minimum clean-up bill for a small commercial property, such as a pub, after being squatted can be upwards of £1,500. This figure would increase dramatically for larger properties or where greater damage is perpetrated and does not take into account legal fees, which on average start at around £5,000.

With an estimated 100,000 incidents of squatting in the UK, the clean-up bill for commercial property owners and managers could cost £650 million, before taking into account the cost of any repair work. 

It is not just squatting that poses a risk to vacant property. Proper protection will also guard against the high incidences of arson and vandalism. According to Aviva, £2 billion of damage is done to property in the UK through vandalism and arson, with 25% of this relating to empty properties.

Nick Tubbs, Managing Director VPS UK, said: “Security and loss of income are the biggest vacant property issues for commercial property owners and managers in the UK because where there are empty buildings, squatters can soon follow. While we welcome the Government’s proposed changes to the law, squatters may begin to target more commercial buildings, causing increased concern and cost for commercial property owners that are already operating in challenging market conditions. If more commercial buildings that are vacant or temporarily unoccupied are targeted it could also become a real issue for surrounding communities.”

Tubbs adds: “The new legislation can only go so far to speed up eviction timeframes. The majority of damage to squatted properties takes place within the first 48 hours of the premises becoming occupied, so proper protection is vital. Prevention is the best course of action to mitigate the risks posed by squatting, arson and vandalism and will avoid a costly clean-up bill, at a time when over half (51%) of UK property owners and managers are affected by vacant property.*”

VPS offers the following advice to property owners and managers, who can take the following steps to ensure their property is well protected:

·        Taking immediate action when a building becomes vacant is the most effective way to protect a property and mitigate the risks associated with squatting. You are required by law to inform your insurer immediately when a property becomes vacant. They may have specific requirements to ensure your building is properly covered.

·        Undertake a comprehensive risk assessment using a specialist company to assess potential risks, such as fire hazards and public liability exposure as well as the exposure to damage from squatters/ criminals.

·        Isolate and shut down the power and gas supplies and drain down your water systems properly to avoid flooding. Clear the property making sure to remove any combustible material. Install a letter box seal to prevent arsonists or squatters setting fire to the property. A build up of mail is also a vital clue that a property is empty.

·        Ensure the perimeter of the property is secure and where required fit steel fittings to windows and doors. Instigate a minimum weekly inspection of the property both internally and externally – as required by most insurance providers.

·        Secure the property with a permanent security officer and/ or alarm (which includes passive infrared smoke detectors and water detectors). Not only will the alarm act as a deterrent, but if squatters do gain access, the alarm activation will register any break-in. This can act as evidence when applying for an Interim Possession Order – a fast track eviction process.

Not only will these steps help to address concerns linked to squatting, but minimise the negative impact on local communities.

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