Vacant commercial property is a growing problem across the United Kingdom, and one that isn’t going away.
Considered something of a hangover from the economic downturn of the last half-decade, vacancy rates across most forms of commercial property have risen. Retail store vacancies have increased from 5.4% in 2008, to 14.1% in March 2013 – a staggering 161% increase in less than five years. Office vacancy rates in central London sat at just under 8% in Q1 2013 – amounting to 1.4 million square foot. 710,000 homes across the country are currently empty.
Of course, the increase in vacancy rates cannot be blamed solely on financial conditions. The changing patterns of the modern workforce have contributed to the redistribution of space, incorporating technology and alternative consumer behaviour.
While the commercial property market adapts to rapidly evolving agile workforce, a large numbers of business owners are sitting on space that’s currently empty. Are you one of them? Take a look at our Top 5 considerations when managing a vacant commercial property:
Squatting is the unlawful acquisition and occupation of space through means of forced entry or, if you’ve failed to properly secure your empty property, just regular entry. While the legality of squatting has been somewhat unclear over the years, the Legal Aid, Sentencing, and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 criminalised squatting in residential buildings. Commercial and non-residential buildings, however, remain a civic matter.Discouraging the estimated 20,000 squatters in England and Wales from occupying your vacant space may be arduous process, though can be addressed by properly securing a property. There are companies that specialise in securing vacant property, as well as Property Guardian schemes.Another option, in times when personal circumstances may be harder to resolve, is the repurposing of a space from commercial to residential. Red tape preventing this measure without prior planning permission was cut earlier this year, allowing the potential for quality residential space to be established in disused commercial property at the discretion of the property owner. This option saves a lot of trouble as far as squatting is concerned, as civil proceedings against squatters is a notoriously time-consuming process.
Vandalism and malicious damage is unfortunately a sad reality of managing a vacant property. Falling under this umbrella term is the wanton destruction of private property, arson, and other forms of deliberate damage. While motives and subsequent punishment for these different forms of vandalism differ from case-to-case, preventative measures are mostly uniform.Once again, proper security precautions are paramount in securing a vacant building against vandalism of any kind. This best taken care of by a professional team, which can be a sizable upfront expenditure which depends entirely on the size and location of your property.
Metal theft is an issue that affects properties both occupied and vacant, with very little discrimination for the function of the occupier. 67,000 metal thefts were reported across commercial sectors in 2012 – a figure that doesn’t even take into account theft from churches or telecommunications cabling.Appropriate preventative measures to ward off thieves include proper signage, surveillance (CCTV) cameras, and secure perimeter protection. The most significant anti-theft measure introduced in the last year, however, is new legislation that has seen the sale of scrap metal banned. The introduction of an electronic audit for metal sale tightens control, and may even serve to aid police investigations into theft. While this doesn’t stop theft outright, it should certain serve as a huge deterrent.
A consideration that may be secondary to some but should be at the forefront of thought for landlords looking to leave a property vacant. Duty of Care remains when a property is empty, as a vacant property is covered under the Defective Premises Act 1972 and Occupiers Liability Act 1984. If a trespasser were to injure themselves on your vacant property, they have every right to press charges.Unoccupied property insurance plans are absolutely essential in the event of an expensive legal proceeding that may arise from any number of eventualities. The risk of fire and flood is a very real possibility in a building where nobody is keeping tabs. Ensuring you’re properly covered protects you and yours from the financial fallout.
Advertising the vacant status of a property is simply asking for trouble. For many, a vacant property presents a tantalising prospect for many of the offenders mentioned in points above, so keeping up appearances is an important consideration.Naturally, the preventative measures taken to protect your property will be a giveaway as to its unoccupied status, but keeping the area tidy and free from graffiti will prevent ongoing problems. Regular property inspections are key to ensuring your property looks vacant, but not too vacant.