The house party may be over for residential squatters, but commercial property is still fair game. Security expert Shaun Miller explains how to defend such sites from trespassers.
Justice secretary Chris Grayling issued a warning last week that the “house party is over” as he published figures confirming that 38 squatting cases had reached court in the first four months since new legislation came into effect last September making it a criminal offence to trespass in a residential property with the intention of living there. Squatting now carries a maximum sentence of six months in jail or a fine of up to £5,000.
Some 78% of these cases related to London properties, with Metropolitan police figures revealing that Romanians accounted for 45% of the people caught breaking the new anti-squatting law, and 17% from Poland.
There is still a high risk to landlords, however. A plethora of squatter-friendly websites offer would-be occupants advice on choosing a suitable property, gaining access and having utilities reconnected.
While residential properties now have a degree of protection, squatting in non-residential property remains a civil matter – and therefore legal – effectively turning previously unappealing commercial properties into the obvious targets for trespassers.
With prevention better than cure (£5,000 less expensive and about 12 weeks quicker than eviction), landlords, insolvency practitioners, administrators and managing agents need to be one step ahead to avoid unexpected and unnecessary eviction, clean-up and repair costs.
Tackling this is a problem, since vacant properties rarely warrant on-site security guards – and when a business has gone into administration little is left in the pot for security. But leaving unoccupied buildings without adequate security, in order to cut costs, is a risky strategy and one landlords take at their peril.
Adding steel security doors and steel over windows does increase physical protection, but it does little for ‘kerb appeal’ when trying to sell a property – and ironically, it indicates that a building is empty. Conventional mains-powered alarm systems are also useless as often telephone lines and electricity supplies may have been terminated when the last occupier left or turned off during decommissioning to comply with an insurer’s unoccupied building criteria.
So what other measures are available to protect vacant commercial premises when there’s no budget for a guard?
Most savvy landlords are installing VideoGuard, Secure Site UK’s very cost-effective battery-operated vacant property alarm system, to provide remote monitored CCTV for even the most isolated sites.
Being completely wireless, the system can be installed in a matter of hours to provide instant surveillance of warehouses, factories, farms, shops or open land (subject to network coverage).
With up to 26 internal or external cameras possible on one system, it can monitor even the largest sites – like a team of dedicated sentries positioned at all vulnerable or valuable areas but for a fraction of the cost.
Once installed and armed by a fob, all entry and movement activity is logged, but more importantly, once armed, the vigilant CCTV cameras are ready to transmit video images of any intruders to the central station for immediate action and response.
This video verification therefore prevents false alarm call-out charges and by enabling a swift response prevents vacant sites becoming squatter shelters or being stripped of copper and cabling – even allowing thieves to be caught red-handed.
Costing from just £10 per day, the VideoGuard system includes two internal or external night/low-light passive infrared sensor cameras, arm/disarm fobs and round-the-clock monitoring of footage by security professionals.
Other services that Secure Site recommends and looks after to reduce squatter attacks at clients’ sites include lock changes and decommissioning, waste and fly-tipping clearance, window and door physical security, vegetation management, and perimeter fencing as well as providing Security Industry Authority licensed security officers.
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Shaun Miller is the managing director of Secure Site UK Limited, which offers vacant property security solutions nationally. Formed in 2005, it is the original one-stop shop for property professionals with vacant property problems.
Shaun has owned and managed alarm, CCTV and guarding companies over the past 25 years, giving Secure Site UK a truly wide understanding of the security industry.