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Any vacancies?

Vacant property is increasing around the UK according to latest figures from the Local Data Company. So what should landlords be doing to protect their premises and find new tenants?

The number of vacant shops in the UK has risen to an all time high, with one in eight retail premises now vacant (source: Property Week). Weak demand also puts offices and industrial units at risk of squatting, antisocial behaviour and vandalism. According to insurer Aviva, claims for the eviction of squatters have doubled in the last year. Problems like these have an adverse effect on value and ultimately make premises harder to let. So what can property owners do to protect their empty property from damage or unwanted residents?

The first step is to undertake a risk assessment: review security arrangements as well as determining the risk of fire or damage from frozen pipes. Do the maths: compare the cost of decommissioning services against the cost of re-starting them when the property is reoccupied. Without making your empty property look like a fortress, using security guards and CCTV can pay dividends. Even letting property to temporary tenants for a peppercorn rent may be a viable option. Owners shouldn’t forget that they have a legal duty of care to anybody on the property whether they are there legally or not. The onus is now on the owner to ensure that premises are safe and precautions taken to deter trespassing. Seal up letterboxes, cut grass and clear graffiti – it pays to maintain your property in a lettable state that is appealing to potential tenants, while deterring unwanted visitors who may be put off by a smart property that looks cared for, secure and frequently visited.

If you do find yourself with empty property, don’t forget to tell your insurers and keep them informed as circumstances change. Failure to keep them updated could result in your insurance being invalidated, or at the very least could prevent compensation being out paid quickly if you have to make a claim.

Discovering you have squatters in your building is probably the worst case scenario from the property owners’ perspective. If this situation does arise, take expert advice. Using High Court enforcement officers is the most costly but effective solution – with squatters being evicted on the same day. Once they have exited the building, act quickly to put appropriate security precautions in place and ensure the situation does not arise again.

For more information contact Robert Burke, Director in Watts’ London office on 020 7280 8000

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