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Property Owners & Landlords - A Guide to Unoccupied Properties

With an estimated 600,000 unoccupied homes in England and approximately 20,000 squatters in the UK, unlawful occupation is one of the biggest risks owners face when leaving a property empty. Other potential risks facing your property can include theft, vandalism and accidental damage. We examine some of these key risks below, and what you can do to mitigate them.

Unlawful Occupation

In 2012, a new law was introduced, making squatting in a residential property a criminal offence, punishable by up to six months in jail or a fine of up to £5,000.

However, squatting in commercial properties is not a crime and the process of evicting squatters using the civil courts can take several weeks and incur substantial legal costs. Evicting unlawful occupants can therefore be an expensive concern for commercial property owners.

Theft & Criminal Damage

Even if a property owner does manage to evict squatters, or if they have left voluntarily by the time the owner comes to sell or let their property, it is possible that significant damage may already have been caused, either by squatters or other trespassers. We covered the topic of malicious & accidental damage in a previous blog which you can view here.

Vacant properties can be at an increased risk of crime. Theft is a significant risk, not just of contents but also of fixtures and fittings, such as pipework or boilers, which can be expensive to replace.

What can be done to reduce these risks?

The first step should be to carry out a thorough risk assessment (a link to which is at the end of this article). The nature of this exercise will vary depending on the type of property, but it should cover:

  • How easy it is for intruders to gain entry to the property and remain undetected.
  • Whether there is anything in the property likely to attract thieves, and how secure items are.
  • Whether there are any hazards or defects that could create a risk of injury to others.

Security should be a top priority. This means installing good quality locks and burglar alarms, and also considering additional measures such as mobile security cameras. Owners should also ensure a basic level of maintenance of their properties, including removing anything that is likely to give a building the appearance of being uncared for and therefore unoccupied, such as fly posters and graffiti.

Notifying your Insurance Company

If your property is to become vacant for any period of time (usually 30 days or more) you will in most cases, be obligated to notify your insurance company of this change. Your insurers may choose to restrict cover, or even cancel the policy entirely and request that you take out Unoccupied Property Insurance in its place. Conditions may also be applied to your policy which must be complied with at all times. Examples of which could include:-

  • Internal/External check of property by you or someone acting on your behalf at least every 7 days.
  • Maintain a weekly log of such inspections (to be retained for a period of 12 months).
  • Securely lock all external doors, close & secure all windows & seal letter boxes/openings.
  • Turn off all sources of power, fuel & water at the mains & where possible, chain & padlock the isolation valves.
  • Drain all water & fuel supply tanks, apparatus & pipes.

Every insurance company is different. It is important to be aware of your responsibilities as a landlord by checking the terms and conditions of your policy carefully. Failure to notify any changes in occupancy may invalidate your insurance and result in any potential claim being rejected; leaving you to pick up the bill.

You can download a copy of our Unoccupied Property Risk Assessment by clicking here.

This content was written with the help of Zurich plc.

For further advice or to arrange a complimentary review of your insurance please contact our teams on:

Torquay: 01803 652000 Exeter: 01392 880000


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