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How to Secure an Abandoned Building

How to Secure an Abandoned Building
How to Secure an Abandoned Building

An abandoned building is a substantial risk to a community – and is a more serious consideration than vacant or unoccupied premises that remain under the owner’s control. Where there isn’t a specified owner and a building has been left to decay, the threat of infestations, criminal activity and fly-tipping amplifies many times over.

In this article we offer practical advice to ensure that abandoned buildings neighbouring your property or on a managed site are secured and pose no issue for the surrounding premises.

Why Are Abandoned Buildings Such a Big Security Threat?

It might seem that a few security measures similar to those for a temporarily unoccupied building would be suitable for an abandoned property, but the risk factors are somewhat different. In most cases, a short-term vacant building is well maintained and secure since the owner or landlord will need to comply with insurance requirements and protect the value of their asset.

An abandoned building is a different prospect because, where there isn’t an identified owner (or the property has just been acquired), there is a greatly increased issue of criminal interest. However, the most critical security threats relate to children and wild animals – while being mindful of the potential for squatters, thefts and vandalism.

Around 5% of fires in abandoned buildings are caused by children playing with matches, and infestations of insects, rodents or birds can degrade the fabric of a property faster than any environmental impact. The repercussions affect entire complexes, multi-unit properties and streets. An abandoned building becomes a focus for potential arson and other undesirable activities, so the onus is on the responsible owner, buyer or investor to provide adequate protection.

Why Invest in Securing an Abandoned Property?

Any property that has fallen into disrepair will require investment to bring it back into use – but securing entrances and preventing further exposure to damage will ensure the condition does not deteriorate further.

Examples of ongoing challenges if a derelict property is not secure include:

  • The risk of legal liability if a trespasser or passerby becomes injured.
  • Thefts of fixtures such as roof tiles, copper wiring or doors.
  • Contamination and infestations.
  • Water damage from broken roofing can cause rot and mould and compromise the safety of joists and supporting beams.
  • Fire risks due to combustible timbers, acts of vandalism or fly-tipping.

As a building falls into a worse state of repair, the cost of restoring it will inevitably climb higher – and a lack of sufficient security may void any insurance coverage.

The Best Ways to Secure an Abandoned Building

You may wish to take several possible actions, depending on the location, nature, size and intended use of the property.

Preventing Physical Access

One of the first considerations is property access – you don’t want anybody to enter the building without permission, including criminals, children, trespassers and squatters. Due to old, damp wood or worn frames, dilapidated properties typically have weak entry points, so a standard external door or window won’t provide adequate protection.

Steel panels and Clearway key-operated steel door

Steel security doors are a solid precaution, and you can reinforce the property for the long or short-term with a safety barrier that prevents access.

Adding steel security screens to the windows will prevent glass breakage and render the building inaccessible to anybody who doesn’t have either security keys for the door lock or an entry code.

Deterring Criminal Activity

Much of the crime around abandoned buildings is opportunist, whereby vandals smash windows, spray graffiti or explore empty properties out of interest. A vacant lot is appealing because the building is unlikely to be under observation, so putting alarms and monitoring in place can resolve this.

There are lots of options:

  • Vacant property CCTV surveillance is suited to higher-value properties or those exposed to greater potential for crime. Commercial-grade batteries and mast-mounted cameras can cover a broad area, with 24/7 monitoring to respond to attempted break-ins.
  • Temporary wireless alarms operate similarly, without the need for mains power. Motion detectors can raise an alert if an intruder is detected.
  • Mobile guard patrols or canine patrol units are a visible deterrent and demonstrate that the building is under protection from professional security personnel.

In many cases, erecting signage indicating the presence of alarms, CCTV surveillance or manned patrols is sufficient to reduce the likelihood of incidents.

Avoiding Health Hazards

utilities for vacant property

The health risks linked to an abandoned property cannot be overstated. Leaving utilities in place can greatly increase the risk of fire, flooding or gas leaks, and stagnant water in pipes poses a contamination threat.

Draining down the water system, isolating utilities and organising regular property inspections are key to preserving the property condition.

A weekly or periodic inspection visit includes interior and exterior checks, identifying any build-up of rubbish, verifying the safety of the utilities and reporting on any signs of rodents or insects that require action.

Removing Waste and Fly-Tipping

Fly-tipped waste at an abandoned property can quickly accumulate as it becomes apparent that there isn’t an owner, or that waste materials can be left without repercussions. While alarm systems and CCTV can be preventative, arranging for any dumped materials to be removed as soon as possible remains important.

Along with reducing the potential for recurrences, fly-tipped waste can lead to biohazards and contaminations, so it should be dealt with professionally and promptly. Read more about our fly tipping removal services. 

Arranging Controlled Access

Finally, if you own or manage an abandoned property, you will need to organise access for authorised visitors, such as surveyors, contractors and insurance assessors. A steel door with keyless access can simplify this by allowing you to share a security code used to gain entry to the property and is particularly useful if you are not based nearby.

Other options include key holding services. If an alarm is activated, your keyholder can attend to allow security responders or authorities to access the site or verify whether the cause of the alert is genuine. We also recommend an open or unlock service when visits are required to confirm that the site is safe to enter and ensure it is securely locked up when the visit ends.

Securing an abandoned building is extremely important, not only to prevent further property deterioration which will incur additional costs, but also to minimise the threat of criminal activity and environmental issues that can have a detrimental effect on the surrounding area.

Clearway are specialists in vacant property security and management. Operating nationwide, we have extensive experience working with some of the largest property and facility managers, landlords, insolvency practitioners and insurance providers in the UK. We also work across the public sector with local councils, the NHS, the Met’ Police and social housing providers.

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