The fact is, if a property looks secure, it’s less likely to fall prey to opportunistic criminals whether the property’s vacant for the short or long term, and especially if the property is already vulnerable in some respect such as disrepair or damage. So what does secure look like during these vacant periods?
Short Term Vacancy
When a property is vacant for only a short while, for instance between tenancies, one of the best ways to secure it is to keep up regular maintenance. Whether the property is residential or commercial, the appearance of normal routines and activity, to make the property seem occupied, rather than vacant or vulnerable, can be achieved by:
- Maintain the outside space – sweep up dead leaves, keep weeds to a minimum, don’t leave fruit to rot.
- Visit the property regularly and check the locks.
- Use obvious visible locks on entry points.
- Keep the lights on timers.
- Keep artificial plants in the windows.
- Fit an alarm or fake alarm in a visible spot.
An alternative to a key holder who checks on the property regularly is to use a trusted house-sitter to actually stay at the property. Having someone staying in the property and carrying out their own domestic routines from there, means the property won’t just appear occupied and less vulnerable – it actually will be.
If a house sitter is not possible, then whether the property is residential or commercial, neighbours may be enlisted to help out generally to keep an eye on the property. Willing and trustworthy neighbours might be more actively involved in prevention as well as monitoring, by removing any post, putting out bins or alerting you quickly in the event of problems. Helping these neighbours out in return by allowing them to use the drive or outside space can also help to enhance the appearance of normal routines.
Long Term Vacancy
When properties are vacant for a longer term it is not always possible to maintain the appearance of a property that’s lived in. In this case a different tack can be taken:
- Turn off utilities – this not only prevents problems such as leaks, but also makes the property less appealing to squatters.
- Remove waste – this includes maintaining any grounds and removing the waste, to reduce any outward signs that the property has been abandoned. Keeping foliage trimmed back is also a good way of limiting any potential hiding places for trespassers and would-be intruders.
- Instal visible deterrents – alarms, Neighbourhood Watch signs, Beware of the Dog signs, a sign from your security company.
- Install steel security screens which act as a deterrent as well, but a physical barrier to entry too. There are several types of steel security screens to suit several types of property and vacancy requirements, such as:
- Sitex screens – allow light through into the building, but their perforations allow additional ventilation as well as light. Made of the same robust steel, Sitex screens also have the additional benefit of being fitted and secured from the inside of the property, making them an ideal option for increased security or for use when good exterior of the property needs to be maintained or where a poor exterior has started to fall into disrepair.
- Solid steel screens – allow no light into the property and are the best option for making a vacant property or premises less appealing to trespassers and squatters. This is particularly relevant for owners of vacant commercial property, as squatting in commercial premises has been steadily increasing since 2012 after squatting in residential properties became a criminal offence. As it still remains a civil, rather than criminal offence to squat in commercial property, these are now the primary target for long-stay intruders.
Visible protection for vulnerable vacant property
Where the fabric of the property or premises has already been compromised in some way, perhaps after the removal of squatters or following fire, flood or damage to the property or even illegal dumping, then additional, highly visible security is recommended.
As with mid-term vacant properties, it’s important that security is highly visible so that the protection of the property appears to be a priority – even if administrations such as insurance claims, planning permission or other legislation means the schedule for repairs, refurbishment, selling or letting the property is temporarily stalled or has stopped completely.
Where the property is additionally vulnerable, barrier security and ‘active’ security deterrents are also essential to prevent access as the site may be derelict and dangerous, and the safety of the public and neighbourhood compromised if access is gained. Options for active security to provide a barrier to access and early alerts to problems include:
- Security screening
- Monitored CCTV
- Warning signs – specifically including CCTV monitoring and security company signage
- Motion sensors
For optimum security, the property’s whole plot should be assessed and secured, which includes securing the surroundings and perimeter against trespass and illegal dumping. Although fly-tipping is illegal, since 2014 when the majority of local authorities started charging for bulky item collection, 53% of local councils have seen an increase in the illegal dumping of household, trade waste and even abandoned vehicles (research by Keep Britain Tidy). And it’s not just causing a blot on the landscape of local beauty spots, as irresponsible tippers are now prioritising their own convenience by dumping waste in the grounds and gardens of vacant plots and premises.
As well as it being a nuisance, there are two sound financial reasons to ensure fly-tipping doesn’t happen at your vacant property. Firstly, the sites of illegally dumped items can not only be down-valued by the presence of the items, they can also become extremely difficult to sell.
Additionally, as it’s the owners of the property who are legally responsible for the cost of removing such waste – and they can even be prosecuted for failing to do so. As with preventing problems for the property itself, the best way to secure the perimeter is with visible and access-limiting security, such as:
- Robust fencing
- Barrier systems – particularly useful in the event of any particular site, environmental or seasonal factors such as extreme weather, high-wind location or hard to get to site.
- Monitored surveillance – dedicated log-in systems for property owners not only allow for convenient checking of the property yourself, they also allow monitoring by professional security staff so that a quick response to any breaches of security can be facilitated, as well as recording of evidence to assist in the identification, successful prosecution and insurance claim against criminals.
Overall, whether temporary or longer-term, or to protect derelict, damaged property, what a secure property looks like is one which looks like someone is looking out for it – which you can achieve for your vacant property through keeping up appearance, protection and prevention. For further advice on securing an empty property specialists SafeSite Security Solutions are happy to help.