Vacant properties can pose a number of risks if not properly maintained. Without putting the correct measures in place, a property could be entered and damaged by vandals, thieves or squatters. Whether you’re waiting for the sale of an empty house or you’re a business owner with a vacant commercial property on your hands, taking safety and security precautions will protect your property from any potential damage.
There are many reasons why residential properties become empty – awaiting a sale or probate, living elsewhere at certain times of the year and illness account for some of the main causes. One of the easiest safety measures you can take is to get to know your neighbours. Befriending the neighbours will mean that there will be someone to look out for your property and they’ll be able to inform you of any suspicious activity whilst you’re not around.
Ensuring your property is fully secure is the most important measure you can take, so be sure to install substantial locks to all doors and windows if there aren’t already some in place. You could also consider the installation of an alarm system, CCTV and warning signage which can be very effective deterrents for potential criminal activity. Outdoor security lighting at both the front and back of the property is another useful deterrent.
Creating the illusion that the house isn’t empty will also protect your vacant property. Timer switches to turn on lighting at particular times will create the effect that someone is in and will automatically make your property appear occupied. Ensuring post is collected regularly and maintaining the appearance of continued use will also contribute to the protection of your property.
Having unoccupied home insurance in place will protect you in case your property is damaged. Your current home insurance may not account for a vacancy so check your policy. If not, when obtaining unoccupied home insurance, the insurer will assess your location, security and reason for why the property isn’t occupied.
Even though your property is empty you will still usually have to pay Council Tax. When you inform the council that the property is empty they may decide to give you a discount – the amount is up to them. If your property is vacant for two years or more, be warned that the council can charge up to 50% extra. However, if you’ve been left a property from someone who has passed away, you will only have to start paying Council Tax six months after you receive probate. If someone has moved into a care home or hospital, the property will not be billed for Council Tax for the duration of the vacancy.
Much of the advice for residential properties can also be considered for empty commercial properties. Damage by vandals and forced entry by squatters are two of the major problems faced by commercial property owners and has been a cause for concern for many property owners in the town centre. A vacant commercial property is a very attractive prospect for squatters as we have recently seen in the empty Havens Hospice store on Alexandra Street, the recently sold Clarence Yard bar on Clarence Street and most notably, BHS on the High Street.
Just like residential properties, co-operating with the neighbours and fully securing a commercial property are important steps in protecting it from damage and break-ins. Apart from substantial locks for windows and doors, ensuring all fencing and gates are secure will offer an extra level of protection. Anti-climbing paint, movement-activated security lighting and CCTV will also help to deter unwanted visitors. As soon as your property becomes vacant, inform your insurer so that if any damage does occur, you will be covered.
As commercial properties often have large windows, it may be difficult to protect the view of the inside of the property. You could consider boarding the windows up but if this isn’t possible, ensure you remove all contents that might attract thieves. If the property is going to be vacant for a significant period of time it may also be wise to turn off the water and gas supply and remove any hazardous items.
Did you know?
Business rates will be frozen for the first three months of a commercial property becoming empty, and frozen for six months for industrial premises. After this period you will have to pay an empty property rate. If the property is sold to a new owner in this three month exemption period unfortunately it doesn’t recommence and the new owner will be liable to pay empty property tax as soon as the three month period is up. A new exemption period can only commence once the property has been occupied for at least six weeks before being vacated again.
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