Kerry London News

How to keep empty properties safe

Thursday 23rd March
How to keep empty properties safe

Increased hybrid working and rents have left many commercial properties unoccupied. London alone has 20 million square feet of empty office space – a 20 per cent rise since 2020 and the equivalent of almost 17 Houses of Parliament.

Squatters in commercial properties

Since 2012, squatting in residential property became a criminal offence punishable by up to six months in jail or a fine of up to £5,000, but squatting in commercial properties is not illegal. Squatters can be removed using an Interim Possession Order (IPO), but only if it has been 28 days or less since the squatters were discovered. Property Owners must file an IPO application with their local county court. Still, evicting squatters via the courts can take several weeks to months and involve substantial legal costs – an expensive problem for commercial property owners.

Criminal damage

Unoccupied properties face an increased risk of crime. Trespassers may leave a trail of significant damage behind them. In the current economic climate, theft is a significant risk. Contents, fixtures and fittings, such as metal pipework or utilities such as boilers, are expensive items and, therefore, at risk of theft.

Defective Premises Act 1972 and Occupiers Liability Act 1984 – duty of care 

Property owners have a legal responsibility to protect anyone that enters their vacant properties, including estate agents, the emergency services, trespassers and vandals, to name a few. Property Owners are liable for injuries and damage to adjoining properties if caused by a defect in their vacant property. This risk exposes them legally, especially if the property isn’t regularly inspected.

Reducing risks

Regular and thorough risk assessments are essential and typically cover:  

  • Switch off utilities and electric systems – to reduce the risk of fire or water damage.  
  • Regular maintenance checks – A system of maintenance and inspections on water and electrical systems. Removal of things such as posters or external damage to deter criminals or squatters from thinking the building is unoccupied.   
  • Secure the building from fire – closing letterboxes that can be used to set a building on fire.  
  • Security – can intruders gain entry and remain undetected? Is security rigorous, e.g., CCTV cameras and alarms?   
  • Valuables – is there anything in the property likely to attract thieves?  

How can Kerry London help?

We can arrange cover that includes unlawful occupation cover as standard. We also work with insurers that provide property owners with more detailed guidance on mitigating the risks in their portfolio, including vacant properties.  

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Kerry London is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. The company is a leading UK independent and Lloyd’s accredited broker, which means that we work with a wide range of niche and major insurers.

This note is not intended to give legal or financial advice, and, accordingly, it should not be relied upon for such or regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law and/or market practice in this area. In preparing this note, we have relied on information sourced from third parties, and we make no claims as to the completeness or accuracy of the information contained herein. You should not act upon information in this bulletin nor determine not to act without first seeking specific legal and/or specialist advice. We and our officers, employees or agents shall not be responsible for any loss whatsoever arising from the recipient’s reliance upon any information we provide herein and exclude liability for the content to the fullest extent permitted by law.

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