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Commercial property owners warned on 'complacency' over squatters law
2:10pm Friday 4th May 2012 in Business Daily
FOR the first time, squatting in residential properties has become a criminal offence in Britain, as the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill received Royal Assent on May 2.
Vacant Property Specialists (VPS), however, is warning owners and managers of commercial property not to be complacent, as the new Bill could lead to a rise in squatters targeting empty commercial buildings, which are exempt from this legalisation.
As of September 1, 2012, squatting will become a criminal offence, meaning that perpetrators will face up to six months in jail and a maximum £5,000 fine if they move into a homeowners’ property.
While VPS welcomes the legalisation, it urges landlords and property managers of vacant commercial property to implement proactive measures in order to deter intruders. Proper protection will also guard against the high incidences of arson and vandalism.
Independent research has seen cases where squatters have stripped commercial properties, causing around £150,000 of damage.
Nick Tubbs, UK managing director of VPS, said: “While the new legislation may reduce the number of domestic squatting incidents, we see first hand the damage squatters cause in commercial properties and feel the Government needs to do more to protect these buildings.
“Security and loss of income are already the biggest issues for vacant commercial property owners and managers that are operating in challenging market conditions.
“We would urge those who own or manage vacant or temporarily unoccupied commercial buildings to implement effective deterrents, such as the use of state-of-the-art alarming technology, as these can help to prevent unauthorised entry, which can lead to damage or even arson.”
VPS offers the following advice to property owners and managers, who can take the subsequent steps to ensure their property is well protected:
Taking immediate action when a building becomes vacant is the most effective way to protect a property and mitigate the risks associated with squatting. You are required by law to inform your insurer immediately when a property becomes vacant. They might have specific requirements to ensure your building is properly covered.
Undertake a comprehensive risk assessment using a specialist company to assess potential risks, such as fire hazards and public liability exposure as well as the exposure to damage from squatters/criminals.
Isolate and shut down the power and gas supplies and drain down your water systems properly to avoid flooding. Clear the property, making sure to remove any combustible material. Install a letter box seal to prevent arsonists or squatters setting fire to the property. A build-up of mail is also a vital clue that a property is empty.
Ensure the perimeter of the property is secure and where required fit steel security fittings to windows and doors. Instigate a minimum weekly inspection of the property both internally and externally - as required by most insurance providers.
Secure the property with electronic security.