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How to protect a vacant property

5 months ago
How to protect a vacant property

There are many awareness days and campaign weeks designed to highlight important issues and while many don’t apply to us (National Tortilla Chips Day, anyone?), one did catch our eye.


National Empty Homes Weeks 2024 runs from 4th to 10th March this year and while the thrust of the event is to shine a light on bringing vacant dwellings back into use, the organisers offer support to all those who may have an empty property.


Landlords are one group who can find a property they own uninhabited. Common reasons include a period of renovation either upon purchase, between tenancies or at the end of a let, a void period between tenants or selling with vacant possession. Landlords operating in the holiday let sector may also have long void periods due to seasonal fluctuations.


A vacant property can be a vulnerable one, with the potential for increased incidences of vandalism, unauthorised access, illegal occupation, fly tipping and theft. It is also harder to monitor the condition of a property when no one is living inside, and minor maintenance issues can often be left to become major problems.


If you find yourself with a vacant property, there are steps you can take to reduce the risks associated with an unoccupied dwelling. We advise you to:


Visit regularly

There is no substitute for visiting a property, so diarise time to pop in and check its condition. If you live some distance from a dwelling you own, speak to us about a key holding and ‘visit on my behalf’ service.


Get post/parcels redirected

Nothing says ‘no one is home’ more than post spilling out of a letterbox, circulars stacked up in a porch and parcels on the doorstep. Use Royal Mail’s redirection service and change mail order addresses.


Take out specific unoccupied property insurance

Standard home insurance will not usually cover properties that are vacant for more than 30 days, or as detailed in the terms. Specific unoccupied property insurance policies are generally available to cover periods of 3, 6, 9 or 12 months and are a must if the property is empty.


Be vigilant about property fraud

An empty home is especially at risk of property fraud. Criminals will use fake documents, ID theft and careful research to target unoccupied addresses where they are less likely to be disturbed. We suggested signing up to the Land Registry’s alert service, which will notify you if someone applies to change the register of your property. It’s free and up to 10 properties can be monitored, making it ideal for portfolio landlords. You should also put a restriction on the title, which is another Land Registry service.


Ensure the property is secure

All access points should be secure – that means windows, doors and gates should be locked, fences in good condition and locking mechanisms in full working order. Any security systems should be kept active, and it’s prudent to install a motion-detection doorbell, consider leaving a couple of lamps on timers and install outdoor motion sensor lights.


Keep the front-of-house tidy

Recycling bins that never move, knee-high grass and a front garden strewn with litter will give off vacant vibes, so undertake basic maintenance and housekeeping so the property looks tidy to the passer by.


Be mindful of heat and water

If your property will be unoccupied over winter, ensure the boiler’s automatic frost protection setting is working, and leave the central heating on low (set to turn on if the temperature drops below 12°) to prevent pipes from freezing and bursting. If the property is left unoccupied for a extended period, turn off the mains water supply from the stopcock.


A note on council tax & vacant properties 

In some cases, vacant properties may be exempt from council tax. For example, landlords who buy condemned properties to bring back into use may not have to pay council tax at all. If a property is unfurnished, unoccupied but undergoing a refurbishment or major home improvement, it is up to the council as to whether they’ll grant a council tax discount.


There are three important aspects to note. The duration during which council tax doesn’t have to be paid or is discounted can vary, so it’s always worth checking with the local council. Secondly, some holiday homes rented out may not attract a council tax bill but there may be business rates to pay.


Lastly, there are no council tax discounts for long-term vacant homes. In fact, the reverse is true. Councils can levy an ‘empty homes premium’ that is in addition to council tax. If a property is empty and unfurnished for 2 years or more, you may pay a premium of up to 100% of your council tax. This rises to 200% if the property is empty for over 5 years, and can be as much as 300% of the council tax if the residence is unoccupied for more than 10 years.


If you would like any advice about vacant properties, or would like to reduce a void period by finding new tenants, please contact us today.

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