Why it’s never a good idea to leave a building empty…

At LOWE, we’re passionate about imaginatively repurposing properties – proactively protecting your building from the pitfalls associated with remaining empty.

Your property portfolios may differ, but whether you’re a landlord, developer, housing association or local authority you all have something in common: at some point, you’re likely to face issues that arise from owning a vacant building.

Vacant properties: what are the risks?

The premises we’re entrusted with are vacant for various reasons – they may be due to be redeveloped, demolished, or up for sale – but if left unoccupied, these buildings will become vulnerable.

Key threats include:

  • Theft
  • Fire
  • Water damage
  • Vandalism
  • Squatters

“With vacant properties comes lack of maintenance, which can at best be costly, and at worst dangerous,” explains our Property Services Manager, Andre. “Just one of the elements we see neglected is the building’s electrics, gas system or boiler. The longer these aren’t maintained, the more they will deteriorate – and ultimately this will be at the landlord’s expense.”

Don’t invite squatters

Break-ins are another high-risk factor, with perpetrators either stealing fixtures and fittings, or setting up home in the vacant space. In the UK an increasing number of squatters are making empty buildings their home – often causing damage such as graffiti, vandalism, broken windows and even arson.

Evicting squatters can be difficult, involving long and expensive legal battles. The risk to empty commercial premises can be even greater than residential, as the squatting of commercial property is not currently a criminal offence, and court proceedings are usually required to regain possession.

Rectifying the consequences

At LOWE, we’ve witnessed first-hand the aftermath of leaving a building vacant. Just one of the many properties we’ve repurposed is a former social housing office in Battersea, which we now look after and have successfully adapted for meanwhile use.

Before we were asked to step in and manage the property, it had remained empty for three years – and although the owners installed security panels and an alarm, this wasn’t a deterrent and squatters had managed to enter the building.

Andre explains, “They were clearly professional squatters as they had put a sign on the door quoting the housing act, stating you can’t enter without legal possession through the courts. As the property wasn’t built for residential use, it’s a different legal process to get the building back once it’s squatted. It took some time to evict them.”

The squatters had left destruction, and when we finally took possession of the property it cost thousands to clear their waste. They’d also caused electrical damage, requiring the entire building to be rewired, plus stolen copper pipes which had to be replaced.

Our team successfully cleared, cleaned and renovated the building, and our approved guardians (made up of professionals and key workers) now live in the property – protecting it 24/7 while benefiting from affordable accommodation.

Andre summarises: “Overall, the building’s re-fit – which was originally estimated at £3k – cost our client around £7k. All because of squatting, which ultimately occurred because the building was left unoccupied.”

What’s the solution?

It’s clear that leaving a building empty for any length of time comes with significant risks. There are ways to safeguard your property that go above and beyond security fencing, cameras, guards and watchdogs.

At LOWE, we can help protect your vacant property, while also creating meaningful meanwhile use. We offer property guardianship, affordable workspace and charitable occupation – innovative solutions that breathe life into empty buildings, repurposing them as short-term homes for key workers and professionals, or unique workplaces for creatives and charities.

By temporarily occupying your property, our carefully vetted guardians provide round-the-clock security, reducing the risk of squatters and vandalism, as well as lowering insurance premiums and business rates on commercial properties; while our dedicated team ensures your building is well maintained – giving you peace of mind.

Learn how we can help!

We can keep your empty property safe and secure, while benefiting the local community! Please get in touch today for a free consultation.