An empty property is not only vulnerable itself – it can also make the owner vulnerable too. In the event of health and safety issues arising from the property, a property owner can risk being faced with huge bills, experiencing significant loss in the property’s value and even be exposed to litigation and compensation claims. So what can property owners do to minimise risk and maximise prevention of problems?
Do your duty
The first thing property owners need to be aware of is any obligations they have in relation to the property. All property owners have what is termed a ‘duty of care’ to those who access the building and it’s important to note that this obligation applies to everyone coming within the property boundary: regardless of whether they’ve been invited or whether they’re trespassing, the owner’s duty of care remains the same. This duty of care renders the property owner:
- Responsible for the safety of anyone entering the property – whether invited or not.
- Responsible and liable if anyone injures themselves on the property.
- Obliged to consider impact of actions relating to their own property on neighbouring properties – particularly when the properties are attached
- Required to inform the property insurer that the property is vacant, under the ‘change of occupancy’ clause. Vacancy can change the terms and cover of any current policy, so failing to inform the insurer may be considered a breach of this clause. This could mean that even if you’ve been paying insurance premiums during the property’s vacancy, any claim could be rejected. It’s also useful to know that standard policies for commercial premises do not offer cover if the property is unoccupied for over 30 days.
Owners may also be required to inform insurance company of key holders, in the event of problems, particularly if they’re not living locally to the property themselves and could possibly be required to account to the insurer for all keys, depending on the type of insurance or property.
Risk assessment is often used in business and the public sector, but is also very necessary when it comes to property – whether a residential property which happens to be between owners, or a business premises awaiting refurbishment. In brief, conducting a risk assessment involves three distinct actions:
- Checking the property thoroughly, inside and out, to identify elements which put the property at risk.
- Considering the identified risks and researching ways to minimise these.
- Carrying out the necessary actions to reduce the risk.
The majority of risks you’re likely to discover will be those which make your property vulnerable to loss or damage and put you (as the property owner) at risk of litigation in the event that someone gets hurt. Potential risk factors will vary, depending on whether the property’s commercial or domestic, where it’s located and whether the vacancy is short or long term, but in most cases, risk factors (and ways to minimise these) include:
Fire – by arson or accident, such as household appliance or service failure. if they are not turned off. Minimise risks by: removing combustibles and turning off utilities.