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This week’s fire fatality highlights property manager obligations

The news that a man died this week in a fire in a derelict building, underlines the importance of managing vacant property properly, claims a vacant property firm.

A disused, and derelict sports pavilion in Leyton, east London, was burned down earlier this week. After tackling the blaze for more than two hours, firefighters found the body of a man inside the building. He was confirmed dead at the scene.

“This sad news demonstrates that vacant buildings can be death traps if they are not managed professionally, said Layton Tamberlin, acting managing director of SitexOrbis.

“A property owner’s statutory obligations remain, even when a property is vacant – empty buildings are covered under the Defective Premises Act and Occupiers Liability Act. Failure can prove costly. One trespasser injured in a vacant commercial property received £600,000 in compensation. Someone falling off a roof while attempting to steal lead or someone injured when trying to remove stolen pipes could end up suing your organisation.”

In response, SitexOrbis has issued some top tips on managing vacant property:

  • Conduct a risk assessment and take precautions

If your property is empty, carry out a risk assessment looking at both how squatters or intruders could access the property and other potential sources of damage. Disconnect services to the property to prevent water damage or fire risk and check protective installations such as fire detection and alarm systems. Property owners may be liable if a squatter or intruder injures himself within the property so it needs to comply with health and safety legislation – if a property owner can prove that he took reasonable precautions to prevent intruders, he may be protected.

  • Keeping up appearances

Don’t advertise the fact that the property is empty. A pile of post by the front door is a dead giveaway, so consider asking your contractor to clear it while the property is empty. Lights which never come on, no sign of people coming and going, unkempt plants, and locked doors and gates are all signs of an empty property. Consider purchasing an electronic timer which turns lights on and off at random times to create the illusion of occupancy. Consider deploying temporary alarms with visual verifications and 24/7 monitoring so that incidences of graffiti or other anti-social behaviour can be dealt with quickly.

  • Secure your building

Before you close up a building, make sure that any window locks are in use, doors are shut and locked and alarms are set (but don’t forget to give the combination or key to anyone who is looking after the property) while you are away. Extra security patrols may be enough to put off many would-be intruders. If necessary demountable steel screens can be installed to prevent intruders. Demonstrating that you are serious about security means they are likely to move on to an easier target.

  • Informing those who matter

If you know a property in your portfolio is going to become empty, tell your insurance firm so that you are covered in the event of an intrusion. Regular inspections with a full audit trail are often necessary to remain compliant with insurance requirements and health and safety regulations. You may also need or choose to inform your landlord, local authority and neighbours.

  • Being in the know

Having real-time information is vital to facilities professionals. Information such as alarm activations reports must be accessible 24/7, and photographic evidence of all work taken by your supplier will help you to keep an eye on the property without having to travel to the site.

SitexOrbis has written the British Institute of Facilities Management guide to Vacant Property Management. The guide looks at why buildings can become vacant; the risks of vacant buildings; managing a building’s closure; the principles of managing an empty building; and getting a building ready for reoccupation or demolition.








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