Squatters one year on

patrolling and protecting empty properties

Article as published on Professional Security News Website http://www.professionalsecurity.co.uk/news/interviews/squatters-one-year-on/

In September 2012, the law changed making it a criminal offence to trespass in a residential property with the intention of living there – the change did not extend to commercial property. One year on and reports are mounting of squatters targeting vacant commercial buildings. David Ward, pictured, managing director of Ward Security, explains the importance of protecting commercial sites as squatters increasingly exploit this legal loophole.

Squatting in residential premises became a criminal offence, punishable by up to six months in prison or a fine of £5,000. In contrast, the door to squatting in non-residential buildings was left wide open. Instead commercial landlords must bring about a civil proceeding against trespassers, which can be both costly and almost certainly time consuming. The result is hardly surprising with reports of squatting on commercial premises on the rise.

Squatters are generally pretty clued up on their rights and from a basic internet search there are lots of websites that provide detailed advice and support to them. Some of these websites clearly explain that squatting in commercial premises was not covered by the change in the law last year.

Given some 15 per cent of commercial property in the UK stands vacant and with nearly 50,000 empty shops on UK high streets, a shift towards the occupation of these properties has been inevitable. Empty shops, restaurants and properties awaiting redevelopment are particularly being targeted and with the winter months fast approaching, the problem is likely to worsen. But above all others, pubs are the prime target for squatters. An increasing number of these establishments are closing down and, while pubs are commercial properties, many come with living accommodation posing an attractive proposition for the discerning squatter!

Squatters are far more than just a nuisance – these individuals can cause serious damage to premises. To add insult to injury many insurers don’t cover the cost of repairing property damage caused by squatters, while the landlords may be liable for any injuries incurred by the trespassers. In addition, property owners have to inform their insurers once a property falls foul of squatters which can send insurance premiums soaring. Clearly, it is imperative that facilities managers and property owners take extra steps to prevent squatters moving in and so prevent this costly problem occurring.

There are a number of security measures site owners and managers can take to protect commercial sites. First and foremost, it is important to act as quickly as possible to protect a property when it becomes vacant. Whatever the size of the site there is always a security solution be that on-site guards, CCTV, wireless intruder detection systems, and what is more they will almost certainly be more cost effective than trying to get rid of squatters. Ultimately, if a site is clearly well secured and looks as though it is being monitored, squatters will be less likely to try their luck at breaking in.

There are practical measures that site managers can take too. Removing any articles of value internally and externally can help prevent the building from drawing attention to itself. It is also a straightforward exercise to clear combustible materials on or by the site – clearing such items reduces the risk of fires, which can literally act as a beacon to its void status, and can help comply with the terms of insurance. It is also vital to check that all existing forms of security are in good working order. If there are any doubts about a site’s security, call in a security expert to review the arrangements as a matter of urgency.

The good news is that change is in the air. Pressure is growing on the Coalition Government to widen the scope of the anti-trespassing law. In July, the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling acknowledged the growing issue and promised to evaluate the full scale of the problem. Further calls have also recently made by senior politicians, including Chuka Umunna and Tessa Jowell, for the Government to act.

But the truth is that any review of the law that criminalises squatting in commercial property would be a lengthy procedure. For now it makes sense to avoid falling foul of the problem in the first place and make sure your commercial property’s doors are firmly closed to any would-be trespasser.

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