Unoccupied buildings

27 May 2015

When a commercial property is left unoccupied it becomes exposed to all sorts of potential risks; fire, theft and damage, as well as the increase in liability issues are all important factors which owners should take in to consideration.

To someone who is looking for shelter, unoccupied buildings may be enticing, especially in the colder Winter months. In addition to the potential for vandalism, trespassers may set fires to provide heat. All combustible or hazardous material inside and outside the buildings should be cleared and properly disposed of within 30 days of your appointment. Failure to do so can expose the owner to potentially expensive litigation by intruders who claim to have been injured on the site and risk serious losses from fires started deliberately or accidentally.

Prevention of fire starting can also be assisted by removing sources of ignition and all electrical and gas supplies are to be turned off at the mains, unless there is operational fire and/or theft protection /detection equipment in place which requires the electrical supply to be maintained.

During the winter there are additional risks of owning vacant commercial property. Central heating and water systems should be drained down to prevent damage from freezing temperatures or heating system should be set to ‘tick over’ to prevent burst pipes and other damage. However, if you have a working sprinkler system then for the period 1st November to 31st March inclusive, the heating system should be kept operational to maintain a minimum temperature of 4ºC/40ºF.

There has been a marked increase in theft of fabric from a building, with copper and lead traditionally the choice of metal thieves, but scrap metal prices mean that cables, pipes, taps and boilers are also desirable. You should ensure locks and boundaries are strong and well maintained and that windows and skylights are secured or boarded up, as well as ensuring that letterboxes are sealed. All keys should be accounted for and if necessary, locks should be replaced.

As well as adhering to the UBC, unoccupied commercial properties also require a Fire Fisk Assessment to be undertaken. Under The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, and the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 and the associated Fire Safety (Scotland) Regulations 2006, the responsible person must carry out a fire safety risk assessment and implement and maintain a fire management plan.

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For further information, please contact Ed Brittain, Head of Restructuring and Recovery Risk Practice on +44 (0)12 1626 7821.