protecting unoccupied properties

Protecting Unoccupied Properties

If you are the owner of a property which is left unoccupied for long periods of time, you should be aware of the possible risks and how those risks might be minimised when it comes to protecting unoccupied properties.

What are the risks?


The most substantial and obvious risk to an unoccupied property is that posed by human beings. Of these, arsonists, for whom unoccupied properties present a favourable target, are among the most dangerous. While arson attacks are rare, when they do occur they can be catastrophic. In unattended properties this danger is all the greater, as there will be no-one to alert the fire brigade until the flames have spread well beyond control.


For similar reasons, abandoned properties also representing tempting targets for thieves. They need not worry about speed and with no-one immediately on hand to stop them, they will have the luxury to steal at will. A cliché holds that a determined thief will take everything that isn’t nailed down. In the case of an unoccupied property, this is untrue. Thieves will often take things that are secured to the wall, such as pipework and boilers; as such things are made from valuable metals like copper. This will be a costly process to get right again.

Other malicious damage

Unoccupied properties are vulnerable to other threats too, threats which though less severe, are more common and so more damaging over the long term. Vandalism and fly tipping will pose a regular nuisance to owners of abandoned properties. The presence of squatters can also cause damage to the property and will cause legal ramifications in the long run should any accident befall the squatters while they are on the premises.

Duty of care

Owners of buildings have a “duty of care” to anyone who might conceivably enter it – and so could be held liable should an accident occur because of a problem with the building. This duty extends to surveyors and other contractors, but, crucially, it also extends to those who might trespass on the site itself. This trespass might, for example, be a group of small children breaking into the property on a dare, who then proceed to electrocute themselves on a piece of exposed wiring. In such an event, the owner of the property could well face severe legal consequences.


Over time, a site can develop problems through factors which have nothing to do with human interference. Water damage in unoccupied properties can pose a severe problem, for which regular inspection is the only real solution. Similarly, high winds and snowfall can cause property to quickly fall into disrepair. It might be tempting to allow a building to fall into this state of neglect, but doing so can devalue the property and risk incurring the legal problems already discussed.

How to reduce risks

The most obvious way to reduce the risk posed to your property is to carry out frequent inspections, in order to check whether any problems have occurred. A risk assessment should be performed before a property is bought, in order to determine how difficult and costly it will be to secure and maintain. There are a number of factors which must be considered when carrying out such an assessment and a number of questions which must be asked.

Where is the property?

The location of the property massively influences its propensity to fall victim to crime. As one might expect, properties situated in areas with higher crime rates are more vulnerable than those which are not. You can find statistics online, should you wish to research this before parting with money for a property.

What sort of property is it?

As well its location, a property’s layout and physical makeup will vastly influence its attractiveness to criminals. This is because certain properties are more easy to break into and more difficult to secure. Larger, industrial units are attractive to criminals, while smaller residential properties are less so.

How does the property look?

It has been demonstrated that properties which appear ‘cared for’ make less appealing targets for thieves. This is perhaps unsurprising; if someone lacks the motivation to fix a broken chimney, or remove graffiti, then it seems likely that they will have been similarly lax in their security measures. This fact only serves to highlight the importance of regular and thorough site maintenance.


This is of little consolation if your business needs tend toward a larger industrial unit in the centre of an area with a higher crime rate – in such instances, you would be well advised to hire security guards and employ a technological solutions in order to minimise this threat.


Manned guarding is an option, though unfortunately it is an expensive one. This is especially the case in larger properties – a guard can, after all, only be in one place at any one time. Guards are also vulnerable to human error and corruption – which makes it important to vet them thoroughly before allowing them access to your property.

Manned guards can respond to situations instantly, and can provide a visual deterrent against would-be thieves and vandals. They can also perform minor housekeeping while they work. Manned guards are most cost-effective in smaller sites containing higher value goods.


Other solutions come in the form of technologies, like security cameras, electronic locks and fire and burglar alarms. These typically incur a higher one-off cost; in the long run, however, they can prove invaluable.

CCTV can observe and crucially, record activity on your site – they can be placed strategically so as to cover potential points of entry and in many cases can be monitored remotely from many miles away. Alarm systems can set off sirens, which will alert passers-by as well as deterring thieves, but they can also be set to alert security staff at a remote site, who can travel to the premises and take corrective action.

An ideal solution will rely on a combination of both human and technological remedies and should be tailored to suit the site in question.

A word about the letterbox.

One final step worth mentioning regards a property’s letterbox, which is often used by arsonists in order to set fire to a property. In unattended sites, this risk is all the greater. It is worth ensuring that your letterbox is sealed in order to prevent this from happening.