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Guest Blog: With no anti-squatting laws in place for commercial premises, what are the security options for commercial property owners?25th October 2013

There are a number of ways to deter squatters according to Standfirst Security SystemsFor any property owner the problem with quatting is that it is not only a time wasting drain on resources but also a serious financial liability. Last year, much to the relief of all residential property owners, the Government brought in a change in law to criminalise squatters in residential properties.

That was all well and good. But what about commercial property owners? They’ve been left out in the cold, which hardly seems fair. Particularly as there has been an increase in the number of squatters specifically targeting commercial buildings - a direct result of the new legislation.

Fortunately, pressure is being put upon Justice Secretary Chris Grayling to bring in tougher anti-squatting laws to cover commercial property. Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna, former Labour minister Dame Tessa Jowell and Lib Peck, leader of Lambeth council have recently written to Chris Grayling to ask for changes in the law so that shops, offices and other non-residential properties are protected.

Their letter referred to two cases of squatting where the costs to the owners in each case were over £100,000. The costs of additional security and the actual eviction process all contributed to the bill, as did the assets being stripped from one of the buildings.

Mr Grayling is said to be sympathetic to the squatting issue and is monitoring the problem, but in the meantime there are a number of vociferous squatters’ groups who are not afraid to air their disapproval of the anti-squatting law. Their argument being that squatting is a necessity because England is in the middle of a national housing crisis.

So if there is no forseeable commitment to criminalizing commercial squatting, what options do commercial property owners have at present?

Currently commercial property owners have to rely on civil procedure, which can take up to two weeks. They have to apply for an interim possession order (IPO) and make an application for possession. So in the meantime prevention is better than cure.

According to security experts Standfast Security Systems there are a number of ways to deter squatters and an obvious first priority has to be securing the premises, regardless of whether a building is let or vacant. This can be topped up with measures such as external timed detector activated lighting, which the police recommend as a first line of defence, as it is a proven method of preventing unwelcome visitors.

Another efficient intruder deterrent, particularly for vacant commercial property is CCTV, which can provide a combination of not only recorded video footage, but also alarms, loudspeaker announcements to the intruders and a connection to the police or fire brigade.

Regular visits to an empty building are strongly advised and even the use of caretakers or security companies should be contemplated by commercial property owners, as squatters are now focusing on everything from pubs and warehouses to offices.

Previously it was thought that only around 40 per cent of squatting occurred on commercial premises. But new reports show that figure has already doubled since the change in law. So with the Government making no promises, property owners had better switch on their lights and cameras and get patrolling. 

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