Since the new law which criminalizes squatting in residential properties came into effect on 1 September 2012, commercial properties have come under bigger threat. As this type of property is not covered by the law – squatting now carries a very substantial fine or jail time if the perpetrator is found guilty of trespass – there is an increased risk that they might be targeted by people who would have previously only considered a house or flat as a potential squat.
Insurers are urging their clients in the commercial sector to take extra precautions, especially as the colder weather and dark nights approach. Whereas commercial premises were mainly mostly at risk from those intent on theft or damage, squatting is now a serious potential problem. The insurance companies have released a list of sensible precautions which will help to minimise the risk of squatters gaining ingress to a commercial property.
The list is really a matter of common sense but first and foremost is the need to prevent anyone getting in:-
- Board up any doors and windows which can easily be reached from the ground.
- If there is a perimeter fence, make it more difficult to breach.
- All alarms should be on and in working condition – if there is not a connection to a main switchboard, this should be enabled if possible.
- If the vacant premises does not have specific intruder alarms which are triggered by attempts to break in, these should be fitted.
- CCTV cameras should be present and in working order.
- Appoint security staff permanently or arrange for regular visits from an outside firm.
- Inspect the building frequently.
If the worst happens and someone does break in, then it is easy to make the premises unappealing as somewhere to stay. Most squatters will want basic services and so it is easy to deter them from staying long by draining and switching off all water supplies and disconnecting the electricity supply to the premises. If this can be done at the perimeter or in another, occupied building, so much the better.
If the building is to be left vacant for a long time, it is worth investing in some very serious security measures, such as shutters. These can seem expensive in the short term, but if they protect the building from squatters, who can take years and a lot of hassle to remove from the property and can also do a lot of damage whilst there, the cost will be worthwhile. It may also impact on the premium on the insurance.
Squatting will only be possible in an unoccupied building and in the first instance it is essential that the insurer is informed that the property will be empty. Companies have different clauses in their policies to cover empty commercial properties so it is very important to check what the insured’s responsibilities are as regards this issue. If anyone is in any doubt, they should contact the insurer as soon as possible – some cover may be invalidated otherwise.