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How to protect your empty properties

Break-ins and vandalism of empty property can cost businesses millions, but there are easy steps companies can take to protect their property.

The financial crisis put businesses under pressure and, in some unfortunate cases, companies have closed down. This has led to many properties across the UK being left vacant.
These empty buildings are at heightened risk of arson, vandalism and theft – losses from this this type of criminal activity have cost the construction industry more than £1m per day.

Which buildings are most at risk?

Vacant warehouses, factories and office premises or parks are the most vulnerable. These buildings, unlike those situated on a high street, are often located in areas that are quiet outside working hours, allowing a greater amount of privacy for an intruder.

“While any theft or break-in is infuriating, often it’s actually the damage caused by thieves trying to get to leftover assets, rather than the cost of the stolen property, that creates major problems”

According to the Association of British Insurers, the number of theft incidents in the UK has doubled, with around 1,000 occurring every week.

While any theft or break-in is infuriating, often it’s actually the damage caused by thieves trying to get to leftover assets, rather than the cost of the stolen property itself, that creates major problems for the owners.
What’s more, the riots in 2011 also serve as a stark reminder that many companies can potentially be vulnerable to arson and fire damage.  
Unless the owners of vacant properties become more aware of the wider risks and implement measures to deter burglars and vandals, then they run the risk of their premises becoming targets for theft, malicious damage and/or arson, causing not just immediate financial loss but potentially making it harder to lease or sell properties in the future.

How do you mitigate those risks?

There’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution, but there is a basic level of management that should always be in place, such as turning off services, draining down the water and clearing all leftover waste and contents from the premises and yards around them.  

“Owners need to look at the size of risk and the potential loss and implement a level of protection and surveillance to match it”

In essence, the most important thing is to monitor and maintain the premises in a good state as if someone was occupying it.  

Business owners also need to ensure empty properties are properly secured and regularly inspected inside and out – spotting a break-in as soon as possible will help to limit any further damage.  

Ultimately, owners need to look at the size of risk and the potential loss and implement a level of protection and surveillance to match it.  

Below are some security measures that owners of vacant properties should consider; further guidance around these can be obtained from your insurer or broker.

As mentioned previously, buildings should be treated on a case-by-case basis, but following the guidance below may help save property owners a large, unexpected cost:

Monitored CCTV You should consider installing monitored CCTV at vacant properties. Where CCTV provision already exists, it may be possible to reconfigure the camera positions in order to provide a more comprehensive view of the property and ward off burglars.

Intruder alarms Alarms can be a relatively low-cost and effective option to protect against potential losses.

Communicate with the police and local authorities You need to work closely with local authorities to ensure everyone is aware of any risks in the local area and whether, for example, your property may be more prone to break-ins.

Colin Price is deputy underwriting manager at Zurich Insurance

Readers' comments (1)

  • Graham Sievers

    Good advice. Metal theft may have been reduced following the new scrap metal merchant laws implemented last year, but a recent Home Office publication of statistics on metal theft offences recorded by the police in England and Wales showed there were 61,349 metal theft offences between April 2012 and March 2013. Unoccupied commercial premises are likely to bear the brunt of the estimated total £1 billion costs to repair the damage and replace stolen items from these crimes

    Also there are vacant property specialists who work with and on behalf of insurance companies. They have experienced risk assessors that view each property before making recommendations for protecting that site, using a variety of options from guards through to technology. See the VPS white paper 'Guards vs technologies' published last year, and about to be re-released in a special construction industry edition.

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