Unoccupied premises

Unoccupied commercial properties are vulnerable to fire, theft and damage. Arson, the stripping out of copper cabling and water services, the removal of lead and other architectural features, water ingress and other damage caused by trespassers are particular problems.

The first part of this risk bulletin looks at unoccupied premises risk assessments and premises management:

Risk Assessment

A risk assessment should be completed covering fire, theft and general safety. It is essential that Insurers are advised of the unoccupancy and action taken following any requirements or policy conditions they may impose.

A key element of the risk assessment is the premises locality, specifically the local crime rate; whether premises are in a prominent or secluded situation; who may be attracted to the site (thieves, vandals, vagrants, squatters, children); and the site perimeter security.

Recognition should also be given to ongoing legal responsibilities under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order, or equivalent legislation in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Under the Order, people responsible for commercial buildings i.e. the employer, owner, or any other person who has control of any part of the premises, are required to carry out a mandatory detailed fire risk assessment identifying the risks and hazards in the premises. Importantly, the “responsible person” for the premises is required to keep any findings of the risk assessment under review.

Premises Management
The following key points should be followed:

  • Appoint a responsible person to manage the property whilst it is unoccupied
  • Ensure that keys are strictly controlled
  • Conduct documented inspections at least weekly and establish procedures to remedy any issues arising
  • Remove all graffiti and fly posters regularly
  • Remove combustible materials, flammable liquids and gases, and waste materials externally and internally
  • Purge fuel tanks and remove temporary combustible buildings from the site
  • Supervise contractors’ operations and control all hot work with a permit to work system
  • Isolate the entire electrical and gas supplies unless essential to maintain heating or fire and security protection systems and equipment
  • Isolate and drain down all water services
  • Seal letterboxes and remove all accumulated mail
  • cut back and remove trees, shrubs and general vegetation in the landscaped and other surrounding areas as required
Premises Security 

  • As a minimum, secure external doors with locks to BS 3621: Specification for Thief Resistant Locks or equivalent standard, or padlocks to Security Grade 5 or 6 of BS EN 12320: Building Hardware – padlocks and padlock fittings
  • Protect vulnerable windows by boarding with minimum 18mm thick exterior grade plywood, shutters or proprietary stool or polymer screens
  • Maintain perimeter security fencing
  • Existing intruder alarms should remain in service and be maintained. Where there is no alarm, consideration should be given to a temporary alarm system specifically designed for use in unoccupied buildings
  • Maintain any external security lighting
  • Existing remotely monitored CCTV protection should remain in service. Alternatively, a temporary CCTV system may be a cost-effective solution if visual evidence of activities at an empty building is required. The provision of manned guarding services by a Security Industry Authority approved contractor is an alternative
Fire Protection 

  • Existing automatic fire alarms should be retained in service and be maintained
  • Retain use of any private fire main or sprinkler system where practicable but subject to maintaining the temperature within all buildings above 4 Degrees C to prevent frost damage. If this is not feasible, sprinklers and fire mains should be isolated and drained down and Insurers informed
Health & Safety
Unoccupied premises can present hazards to authorised visitors and to trespassers. It is essential a risk assessment is carried out and that appropriate safety precautions are taken, such as:
  • Securing the building and where necessary the site perimeter, especially against access by children
  • Providing suitable warning notices regarding specific dangers, such as fragile roofs, structural defects, isolated services and contamination
  • Strictly controlling guard dogs in accordance with the Guard Dogs Act
  • Providing barriers around dangerous and unsafe areas
  • On-going compliance with fire safety legislation
Property Protection Services
There are companies that offer specialist services including site clearance, physical security (including boarding up), monitored alarms, alarm response, manned guarding and property inspection. These services can provide a cost effective one-stop solution to vacant property protection needs.