A 101 to guarding vacant commercial properties

Alexis Potter, Managing Director at site security firm, BauWatch, looks at "Broken Window Theory" and why empty buildings need protection.

Related topics:  commercial,  security
Alexis Potter | BauWatch
24th October 2023
Alexis Potter 228
"Vacant properties also present a tempting opportunity for thieves, primarily due to the perceived lack of surveillance and security measures."
- Alexis Potter - BauWatch

Research from The Empty Homes Network suggests that, since the start of the decade, around 7000 UK local authority-owned commercial and business properties have been vacant for over a year.

Meanwhile, the Local Data Company reports that the vacancy rate in UK town centres topped 14%, reaching its highest level since 2013. These spaces are likely to be repurposed into residential units, community centres or other innovative solutions at some stage. But in the interim, they’re vulnerable to crime.

The danger of vandalism

Vandalism, for instance, is common amongst vacant properties, the impacts of which can be further reaching than we might imagine. Not only does vandalism impede the progress of projects, but it can also have lasting implications on the perceived and actual value of properties.

A building marred by graffiti, broken windows or other forms of damage can be viewed as neglected or located in an unsafe area.

Moreover, the "Broken Window Theory" suggests that visible signs of disorder and neglect can act as a catalyst for crime and further deterioration, as it signals a lack of concern or oversight by property owners. This perception can also deter potential buyers or tenants - it’s a vicious cycle.

Unwanted waste

Fly-tipping poses another significant financial and environmental challenge. Dumped waste may contain hazardous materials that can leach into the soil and waterways, causing long-term contamination.

The costs associated with cleaning up fly-tipped sites are also substantial and the responsibility of the asset owner. Ranging from car loads to entire tipper lorries, operations can be well-organised, involving groups working together to collect and dispose of waste for a fee. This waste also poses a risk of fire, putting entire assets and lives at risk.

Unwelcome visitors

Vacant properties also present a tempting opportunity for thieves, primarily due to the perceived lack of surveillance and security measures. Metal theft is a growing issue in the UK, and criminals specifically target locations based on the value of their materials. Spoils such as copper wiring or metal fixtures are easily sold on and are difficult to trace.

Vacant property owners should also be aware of squatters. As a response to housing shortages and economic disparities, many homeless individuals resort to squatting after exhausting other housing solutions.

For obvious reasons, squatting needs to be handled with care. Finding a solution that works for all parties through the courts can take some time, which in turn may delay the chance to convert property or mean damage is caused internally.

From deterrence to defence

Protecting your assets needs a multifaceted and proactive approach. Physical barriers such as concrete blocks, fences and boards serve as the first line of defence against unauthorised entry. They not only demarcate property boundaries but also act as a deterrent.

It’s not enough to put a fence up, however. Regular checks and periodic property inspections are crucial in identifying potential vulnerabilities. This could take the form of damaged fences, malfunctioning cameras, or other compromised security features. These checks may be remote or utilise technological solutions such as CCTV.

Real-time monitoring capabilities of CCTV can ensure that any suspicious activity is promptly detected and addressed. With the advent of cloud storage today, surveillance data is also safer and more accessible. Motion detection is another supporting technology that allows remote monitoring teams guarantee timely detection of intruders or unauthorised activities.

Alternatively, you may opt for a human touch and hire personnel for regular patrols. While someone cannot be everywhere at once, a human presence often acts as a strong deterrent.

We're faced with a blend of challenges and opportunities when navigating the evolving landscape of property management. As the number of vacant properties rises, so does the potential for innovation. Yet, we must remain aware of the equal dangers. Property owners and developers not privy to these risks will jeopardise assets.

But with foresight and proactive measures, we can safeguard vacant properties and edge closer to solving the UK’s housing crisis. The tools for a safer, more secure sector are at our fingertips.

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