Protecting Communities from The Risks of Empty Property

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( — October 17, 2016) —  While vacant properties remain in a state of limbo they become increasingly vulnerable to suffering damage and disrepair from a number of illegal activities.

For a vacant commercial property owner, the greatest immediate concerns are personal and financial. However, these concerns are equally as pressing for the local community. Often far down on the list of priorities, this group are on the front line, directly facing the negative impact empty buildings have on local environments.

Uninvited occupants

The UK is in the throes of a housing crisis; buying and renting property has become so expensive that many people are being forced out of their homes, unable to keep up with rising payments. With social housing and benefits in high demand and short supply, the number of people squatting in vacant properties has been steadily increasing.

Despite the complex economic and social circumstances, occupying residential buildings in this way is illegal and the squatter communities themselves are often criminalised. Their presence is, therefore, potentially distressing to the surrounding neighbourhood. They may or may not be at risk of falling victim to crime, but persistent squatting could see the crime rates of an area climb.

Even those who can afford to keep up with their rent are made vulnerable by vacant local property. With so many homes standing empty, criminals are able to break in and pose as property owners in order to rent out the property to unsuspecting ‘tenants’ illegally.

Empty buildings are full of opportunities for thieves

Even the most unlikely, unfurnished commercial spaces have thousands of pounds worth construction materials that seem like easy pickings for thieves. When these elements are embedded within the infrastructure of the building, the unskilled or rough removal of the goods by criminals can cause the building to become unsafe.

Since authorities began to step up their efforts to tackle the illegal scrap metal trade, the number of reported thefts has fallen in the UK. However, buildings which are frequently left standing empty, such as churches and dilapidated farm buildings, are still experiencing high level of this crime.

Where privately owned properties are left empty, they too become targeted, putting other local buildings and facilities at risk. Police teams in the West Midlands list ‘lead stripped from properties’ and ‘copper cable stolen from telecoms and transport operators’ as being among the most frequently stolen metal items. Losing these items to theft can cause serious disruption and expense to local communities.

In the face of these threats, where the potential damage may be expensive to repair and replace, having a more immediate security measure offers much better protection to the property and community. For buildings which are set to be left vacant for a prolonged period of time, owners may consider property guardian services to deter and address any vandalism or theft.

Effective security is essential

In order to protect local communities, vacant property owners have a responsibility to make sure that they remain aware of any activity in and around the building.

Security system suppliers Carter Security recommend placing visible badges, shields or bell boxes on the front and back of the property to indicate the presence of a security system. However, they also acknowledge that deterrence is not enough.

In order to prompt immediate action and dissuade intruder entry, 24/7 remote alarm monitoring services should be considered. If the sensor is set off, the monitoring personnel are able to select an appropriate course of action, judging from the visual information being recorded.

These more active methods of deterrence would notify the police of a break in long before the problem had time to develop into a squatting or illegal tenancy issue. Local residents are then relieved of such responsibilities and fears as the wider community is also made safer.