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Risks Involving Vacant Buildings

Over the last 20 years the number of vacant buildings in both urban and suburban areas has increased. Yet, no longer having businesses occupy these spaces does not mean that no one owns the properties. For property managers, these vacant buildings become a safety risk and an environmental hazard. Long term, these unkempt properties prove to be harder and harder to sell, leaving the owner with a worthless building and creating an eyesore. For those in Connecticut, Hartford’s long-vacant Capitol West building once exemplified this phenomenon – an owned but less than desirable property that only got worse with time.

If you’re in the possession of a vacant or soon-to-be-empty property, what should you know?

General Risks

Many believe that a vacant property comes with fewer risks, as no one passes through and businesses no longer operate in the space. Yet, leaving a structure empty and isolated opens up a new group of hazards:

  • Vandalism
  • Repairs that go undetected and unfixed
  • Fire
  • Property losses
  • Environmental contamination

Your building could experience:

  • An unfixed leak that later turns into a stagnant pool or flood. In the process, your building gradually experiences water damage and mold buildup. The source may even be something as mundane as a sprinkler.
  • Pests that chew through wires and eventually create a fire that burns the building down and could possibly spread to neighboring structures.
  • Chemicals that seep into the ground. When any chemicals or pollutants are not removed or adequately stored, they may leak out of their container, seep into the ground and turn into an environmental hazard. Not only have you contaminated the earth and groundwater and harmed local wildlife, but your business is financially responsible for the cleanup. In some cases, a municipality may fine you for creating a brownfield.
  • Weather damage, including from lightning, windstorms or hail.
  • Sinkhole collapse
  • Smoke damage
  • An explosion
  • Malicious mischief that harms the structure.
  • Squatters who begin living in the structure.
  • Theft, typically involving criminals stripping the structure of copper pipes, wires and other valuable metals. Appliances and systems, including HVAC units and lighting fixtures, may also be illegally removed and sold.

Through a combination of these factors, your building loses its value and you could end up selling it for far lower than the purchasing price. In certain cases, a potential buyer will look around, find that the structure requires a high degree of repairs and refuse to purchase. This keeps your property on the market for longer.

Reducing Risks

To keep your vacant building in a safe, sell-able condition, what steps should you take?

  • Install security cameras in the building to monitor the area and its surroundings. You will know when a fire or illegal activity occurs inside the structure. If you do spot suspicious behavior, always contact the police.
  • Keep the area clean, including trimming shrubbery and removing any trash. A property that is well maintained is less likely to look vacant, reduces fire hazards or water hazards and is less likely to attract suspicious activity.
  • Install perimeter and interior motion detection systems, especially if your property has metal, appliances or electronics inside. Further consider a glass break monitoring system.
  • Continue to conduct quarterly fire alarm inspections.
  • Consider sealing off windows and letterboxes. Otherwise, the structure’s interior becomes easy to access.
  • Have an alarm system that gets triggered by fire or flood.
  • Continue to have insurance coverage. If someone is injured on a vacant property that you own, they can still sue you for damages.

Is a property you own about to become vacant, even for a temporary period, or do you currently own an empty building? In any case, it is important to make sure the structure is still insured. To discuss your options, give us a call at 800.801.8013.