Vacant buildings are regularly targeted for illegal occupation (squatters) and in all cases damage and vandalism occurs when these properties are taken over. In some instances, this may be a single individual, but in the majority of cases where large properties become vacant, mass groups of squatters will often target a building. Due to size and space available, as many as 200 individuals have been found living in disused properties at any one time.
The exact number of squatters in the UK is hard to gauge but it is estimated that there are currently in the region of 20,000 to 50,000 active squatters. This is a dramatic increase from the 9,500 in 1995.
In September 2012, section 144 of the LASPO (The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012) made it a criminal offence to trespass in residential properties with the intention of living there. Squatting remains ‘legal’ for non-residential buildings, meaning that the police are in no way required to remove or prosecute individuals for trespassing and staying in non-residential properties, including hospitals. The point at which the police may intervene is when criminal activity is known to be taking place.
To remove an individual or individuals from a non-residential property, the owners must raise this as a civil matter with the courts, which can be a lengthy and costly process. The legal fees for removing a squatter start at around £5,000, and the clean-up bill for a small commercial property, such as a pub, can be upwards of £1,500, covering amongst other things lock changes and rubbish clearance.
Insurance group Aviva has seen claims as a result of squatters double in recent years. In some cases, claims for more than £1 million have been made. This includes not only the cost of removing the squatters, but also of repairing damage from flooding, for example, or fire caused either on purpose or by badly rewired electrics.
Squatters can also have a wider damaging effect on the local community, with anti-social behaviour cited as a common side-effect along with the negative perception of the property owner for allowing the property to fall into disrepair.
Protecting a property from illegal occupation before the damage is done is the most effective method, the initial solution for which is to deploy traditional security methods. Ad Hoc provide a more cost efficient and highly effective solution by installing Guardians.