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Properties will be vacant for longer because of Brexit, warns expert

Vacant properties attract vandalism, metal thieves, arsonists and squatters far more than occupied premises, said VPS Security. Photo: Bruce Adams/Associated Newspapers/REX/Shutterstock

UK commercial and residential properties are likely to be left sitting unoccupied for longer as Brexit uncertainty continues, according to experts.

Asset protection specialist VPS Security has warned that the ongoing Brexit saga will lead to a rise in vacant properties in the UK, as developers and investors become increasingly reluctant to move forward with real estate strategies.

As commercial rentals slow down, especially in the retail sector, there is a growing movement to “re-purpose” commercial properties into housing, even temporarily, according to VPS Security.

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Despite a serious housing shortage, in 2017 the Department for Communities and Local Government figures found over 200,000 homes in the UK were empty for six months or longer. In 2018, the department reported the number of empty homes rose for the first time in a decade to 205,293 – meaning there is now £50bn ($64.2bn) worth of vacant property across England.

“Empty properties of any type can be a significant cost to the owners, local authorities and to the environment,” explained Phil Bunting, director of VPS Security. “They attract vandalism, metal thieves, arsonists and squatters far more than occupied premises. And owners have a legal duty of care for empty properties even to the extent of maintaining their safety for unauthorised trespassers.”

VPS cited arson and flytipping as major concerns regarding vacant properties, pointing to government data that shows flytipping happens every 40 seconds in the UK. Damage from snow and ice are also more likely to take their toll on empty buildings, it said, as the UK faces severe wintery weather forecasts.

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“The longer an empty property is left unattended, unprotected and neglected, the greater the risk of further devastating dilapidation, compounding the cost and timing of eventual remediation,” Bunting said. “The sooner it is secured against unwanted visitors and the elements, the sooner it will be re-let or sold to provide a home again.”