Each year there are around 9000 fires in empty properties and 22,000 non-residential fires. Empty premises are also at risk of water damage due to inadequate maintenance/repairs, especially when coupled with infrequent site visits. Owners have a legal ‘duty of care’ to third parties such as authorised people entering the premises, whether they are employees, estate agents, surveyors, buyers, etc. or even trespassers – including children who may simply use the area as an unofficial playground.
Empty property is at risk of flood damage or water damage
One in six properties are at risk of flooding from coastal, river and surface water according to a Parliamentary Select Committee report in 2015.
If a building is unoccupied without regular inspections & maintenance, there is a significantly increased risk of water damage, for example: from burst pipes, or a small water leak that goes undetected and becomes more serious.
Empty property is at risk of fire damage
Sixty fires a day occur in or beside empty properties according to data produced by DLCG. Home Office estimates construction firms in England and Wales are affected by 104,000 fires each year. 40% of these construction sector fires are lit deliberately, equating to 11 fires every day, costing the construction sector more than £400 million a year (estimate by Zurich Insurance.)
Some buildings have poor electrics. An empty property may attract anti-social behaviour. Squatters light fire’s to keep warm. Stolen vehicles may be dumped and set on fire in or next to an empty property and arsonists may target empty properties. The net result is an increase in claims and increased insurance premiums. One way to secure your commercial property if it is to be empty for several months is to carefully select guardian occupiers to live there temporarily. This will also deter party-goers from holding a rave at your warehouse, for example.
Over 40% of vacant commercial premises are subject to vandalism according to the Home Office. Theft and vandalism costs the UK construction industry over £1 million per day. Metal thieves target out-of-town retail units, vacant or isolated industrial units and historic buildings, particularly churches. Zurich data found that between 2004 and 2015, the total cost of medium and large losses (valued at over £25,000) caused by metal theft increased by 2,500% in real terms.
Protect your empty property from fire damage
Remove all rubbish and other combustible items from inside and outside the premises. Secure your letterbox to stop delivery of unwanted post and flyers and ensure a secure empty property. Isolate the gas, turn off electrical supplies and empty your fuel and water tanks and water supplies. All services should be turned off except those essential for maintaining heating, fire protection or alarms. Keep any sprinkler system turned on, protect it from frost, check it is working and has remote signalling. Maintain and set your fire alarm and ensure it has remote signalling. Know which contractors are working on your site when.
Secure your empty property
Risk assess the premises and location before closing it up and make sure you have an emergency plan. Identify who to call in an emergency, for example, industrial cleaning company Charles Piton Ltd to clean up if there is any fire damage or water damage. Review your arrangements for security, fire, and Health & Safety regularly to minimise the risks. Ensure your control measures are maintained. Comply with any legal/insurance requirements including undertaking weekly inspections of the property. Take advice from and only use experienced specialist contractors for construction work and maintenance.
Inform your business insurance company of secure empty property
You must notify your insurer before the premises become unoccupied, check and agree to any restrictions of cover and comply with any requirements or conditions including inspections, services and make sure to secure an empty property.