Photo credit: Roey Ahram
Squatters are on the prowl for commercial property in the UK, Cluttons has warned. Calling for further clarification in the law, which is set to change this month, the real estate consultants cautioned the industry not to be caught off guard by an influx of illegal occupiers.
At the beginning of September 2012, squatting in residential property became an illegal offence: a long overdue move that has been welcomed by many. With changes to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishments of Offenders Act 2012, squatting in residential property could carry a sentence of up to a year in jail or a £5,000 fine.
But Cluttons is concerned that this legislation is too narrow, as it only applies to residential buildings which have been "designed or adapted, before the time of entry, for use as a place to live", leaving commercial properties at threat.
There is also concern that this previous civil issue will not be prioritised in criminal courts, and without the serious threat of imprisonment or financial penalty, it will not be taken seriously.
Julian Briant, head of residential consultancy division, Cluttons, commented: "Owners of empty commercial buildings need to be particularly careful as squatters start to search around for a new place to live. Sheds, office blocks, retail units and industrial buildings will all become fair game for squatters for whom the risk of ‘getting' on to their particular residential property ladder is too great.
"The whole industry is pleased to see the government recognising squatting as the devastating problem it is, but we feel that the lack of clarification and transparency means the threat still very much remains, and we all need to be prepared for this.
"We will continue to recommend that commercial and residential owners use caretakers as a cost-effective and efficient way of protecting empty sites, particularly those high profile properties which are widely known as being unoccupied. The real question for property owners: can you risk an empty property becoming occupied?"
George Oliver, vacant property manager, Gallowglass Security, stated: "Although we cannot accurately predict how effective this legislation will be, we believe that the intrinsic culture of squatting will remain. We are preparing for an influx of squatters in commercial properties and recommend that others follow suit."