Vacant (or Void) commercial property is a headache for any property owner or manager. However, the original innovator of void property management services is coming to the rescue of the property manager faced with this challenge. David White, Chairman Loxal Security Ltd writes;
Vacant property security and related support services are a £200m industry which mitigates the risk of vandalism, arson, squatting and theft from residential and commercial properties. Additional services support the owner or facilities manager (FM) in the re-letting or refurbishment of properties by offering a ‘one-stop-shop’ in the clearance of voids, removal of graffiti and fly-tipping and the like.
According to The Empty Homes Agency, there are an estimated 870,000 empty dwellings in the UK and enough empty commercial property to create 420,000 new homes. Statistics for empty commercial premises are not correlated centrally and so the precise quantity is not known but a simple look along most high streets and retail parks amply demonstrates the scale of the issue.
Risks have escalated significantly with the recession increasing both the quantity of empty properties and the duration of the void period. In addition, increasing unemployment combined with the high value of metals such as copper contained within the building has contributed to a much higher incidence of attack. Metal theft alone is estimated to be running at £770m per annum. This is also reflected where the Metropolitan Police reported an 18.5% increase in house burglaries in 2011 when most crime is actually falling. Attacks are now more ‘determined’ and result in much higher repair costs where electrical cable, boilers, radiators, cylinders and internal fittings can be aggressively removed from empty premises. This can result in flooding, follow-on damage to adjacent property, full electrical re-wires, lost rental income, refurbishment costs, legal costs to remove squatters, business interruption cost etc.
Homelessness has contributed to an increase in squatting and it is estimated that there are20,000 squatters in the UK. Just because a property is empty however, responsibility for the property remains and landlords have statutory obligations under the Defective Premises Act and Occupiers Liability Act where trespassers can sue landlords should they be injured within a vacant property.
Seeking further innovation in their void turnaround process, Southwark Council trialled a completely revolutionary technology designed specifically for empty dwellings. Designed and manufactured in Britain by Loxal Security, their Intelligent Digital Access Control System – IDACS, is the result of over three years development work. A formal pilot programme was initiated and closely analysed by the Housing team. The pilot demonstrated a significant improvement in void turnaround as a result of these efficiency and productivity gains. Major voids – those requiring significant refurbishment and repair activity – were returned to occupancy 7.25 days faster using this new access control technology. This represents a 15% reduction in void duration and translates into a full additional rent-week in income for the borough – approximately £120 per void. On minor voids, a saving of nearly four days was made between the void being returned to the housing team and subsequently re-let reducing this period from eleven to seven days. This can be attributed to eliminating delays in awaiting keys to be returned and shows a more ‘joined-up’ housing management process between hand-back of the void from the repairs team, pre-allocating potential new tenants and commencing the tenancy.
|Loxal digital void security door with digital
keyless access control
|Loxal digital void security door disguised
with Chameleon graphics
The re-let process can be complex and protracted with multiple contractors, gas and electrical test and inspection, cleaning & clearance, property viewings, minor works or refurbishment, key holding etc. Any security installed to the property should not hinder this process by making access difficult for the multiple trades and should allow light / ventilation / weatherproofing inside the property to assist working.
Traditional approaches to void security such as plywood boarding can be unattractive diminishing the property asset value and potentially actually attracting attack as the property is perceived as ‘value-less’ and unwanted. This also has a negative impact upon adjacent property asset values. Static manned guarding is very expensive whilst mobile patrols tend to be ineffectual at deterring attack as this will always occur when the patrol isn’t actually on site. Temporary void alarms do have a place in the arsenal against vandalism however, these must be battery powered and communicate wirelessly without telephone lines to dedicated keyholders and response teams. The latest systems include CCTV verification of alarm events capturing video segments of the intruders in action and relaying this to an alarm receiving centre.
Vacant dwelling by Region
|Yorkshire & the Humber||86,300||85,686||90,947||101,091||102,582||98,604||92,819|
|East of England||65,665||66,799||68,509||69,107||72,773||72,891||69,651|
Many risks are traditionally covered within commercial property insurance however affordable or registered social housing landlords such as local authorities or housing associations tend to self-insure these losses over their property portfolios. Never the less, any insurance policy will reduce cover significantly should the property become vacant for more than 30-days or so reflecting how voids are perceived as ‘risky’.
The ‘Grandfather’ of void property management is David White. David is a serial entrepreneur in the vacant property management industry. He is credited with establishing all of the major service providers in this business commencing with Sitex Security Products Ltd and subsequently Vacant Property Specialists in an industry now operating throughout Europe and the United States. Certainly a British export success story.
David created the void property management market utilising his expert knowledge in physical security and locking mechanisms. He designed a range of modular universal and re-usable products which could be installed quickly to a properties doors and windows to keep out vandals, thieves and squatters. These products became protected through a number of UK and European patents.
Loxal Security is built on over 30-years void security experience and focuses on low-impact access controlled security services with sophisticated digital key-less operation which is both user friendly and attractive supporting the refurbishment and re-let process. Physical and electronic security deterrent levels can be tailored to the risk of attack for each property.
This innovation culminating in IDACS – Intelligent Digital Access Control System – is a hi-tech leap forward bringing 21st Century technology into an industry which has not moved on significantly from mortice locks. Central to IDACS is the technology which allows very long battery life to operate the access control systems – in excess of two years in normal use. This is essential as voids rarely have mains power connected. IDACS allows a comprehensive audit trail of all visits to the void by agents, contractors and sub-contractors through its programmable keyless access coding.
The technology makes traditional void security systems obsolete and Loxal is establishing a range of pilot projects to determine the impact upon re-let times, efficiency improvement for contractors, loss rates etc. A major issue addressed by the technology is improved operational and labour efficiency for contractors working in voids – especially refurbishment or Decent Homes contractors working on multiple affordable housing units. Poor key management can contribute significantly to costs and down-time lost where access to the property is problematic. Using keyless technology improves efficiency and so reduces overall cost or schedule of rates for void works.
Voids can be a dangerous place to work for contractors and tradesmen so sophisticated mechanisms are utilised to ensure that operatives can evacuate a secured property quickly. Staff can also be safely locked within the void to minimise the risk of attack or theft of tools when lone working.
Clients range from housing developers, landlords, high street shops, pubs, schools, retail units, factories and the like becoming vacant due to long-term refurbishment, change of use, divestment, property portfolio down-sizing or liquidation. Residential clients are affordable housing landlords (local authorities and housing associations) through to managing agents, estate agents, mortgage defaults, buy-to-let and residential property owners – even individuals on extended holidays or convalescence - making the property vacant for extended periods.
Upon instruction, Loxal will survey the property and tailor the security response to meet the perceived level of risk. Property keys will be collected and any front entrance door converted into a keyless digital access controlled door. Access codes can be issued by the landlord or Loxal within agreed parameters allowing universal access, time or date barring, one-off use etc. Modular window screens can be abutted to cover any window size. New ‘Chameleon’ graphics disguise the products to mimic adjacent properties or show agents re-let advertising. The LXA CCTV alarm complements the security measures producing a fully verified alarm activation to the 24-hour monitoring centre for key-holder response.
A simple rental contract makes invoicing and budgeting easy. Cost depends upon the geographic location of the property and number of doors and window screens required. One-off services such as clean and clears are charged on an hourly basis.