Protecting unused premises

02 December 2020 - Elizabeth Nichols

The impact of COVID-19 on our workplaces is well documented. But whilst the focus has been on ‘working from home where possible’, an important aspect that has been less frequently addressed is managing unused work spaces.
Whether you own or lease your premises, leaving them unused does not necessarily mean there will be a significant decline in the maintenance costs, and there are a number of risks that the premises will now be exposed to, which need to be properly managed.
Your unused business premises could fall into a number of categories:

  • Partially used business space where some buildings, or parts of buildings are shut down as staff are working partly or entirely from home;
  • Reduced use production or warehousing facilities where the building is fully open but only parts of it are being used;
  • Entirely mothballed operational premises, with no immediate plans to re-use.

Depending on the nature of your own business’ response to lockdown or trading level requirements you should consider the following areas of risk and allocate their review and assessment accordingly.
This is by far the most immediate risk and applies to all levels of reduced premises use. Your buildings are vulnerable to attack from people, pests and the weather.
You should ensure that all premises are visited and checked on a regular basis (every day if you can) for the following potential threats:

  • Vandalism and anti-social behaviour around your buildings. Ensure that any CCTV and security equipment is fully functioning
  • Break-ins and theft of, or damage to, building fabric and equipment
  • Squatters
  • Any indications that birds, rodents or insects have gained access
  • Water ingress or any indication of damp, rot or fungi.

Don’t assume that partial use by staff will highlight any issues; premises require purposeful inspection. If your business does not have the resource to conduct its own inspections, consider placing a short-term security contract with a local company to undertake checks on your behalf.
Fully mothballed premises
As well as the security issues highlighted above, buildings and their contents don’t benefit from just being left empty. Consider the following:

  • Heating and ventilation: both the buildings themselves and any equipment left in them will benefit from your maintaining the pre-lockdown environment. Consider implementing periods of ventilation – natural or mechanical. Or for previously heated premises, leave the thermostat set low, so that a background level of heating is maintained and pipes don’t freeze.
  • On-going asset maintenance – you will have undertaken regular checks of  any machinery prior to mothballing, but equipment and plant will require on-going review and attention to ensure that it can be recovered quickly to operational status at the end of any period of closure.

Maintenance of fully- or partially-closed premises
Your obligation to ensure that your premises are properly maintained does not change during periods of business inactivity. Leases and insurance policies place obligations on you, and neglect of a building can invalidate an insurance claim.
Ensure that your maintenance staff or contractor continues to check the following areas on a regular basis:

  • Windows, doors, roof lights and other points of access must be tested for security and efficacy
  • Roofs and drains must be checked for damage or deterioration and any seasonal cleaning carried out
  • Perimeter security – fencing, gates and access points must be checked for damage or evidence of unauthorised access
  • Lighting, emergency lighting, intruder alarms and CCTV systems must all be checked in accordance with their normal schedules
  • Fire alarms, smoke alarms and sprinkler systems and any supporting equipment should be checked according to maintenance protocols
  • Water and heating systems must be checked. Toilets, taps etc are all notorious for quietly failing and can cause substantial damage to buildings and equipment. With low use, particular attention must be paid to systems with potential for Legionella.

Your IT team may require continued access to central systems and will have their own maintenance regime and requirements. These are likely remain a business-critical area for your attention whilst staff are working remotely.
Being away from the office, it can sometimes be easy to overlook policy renewals, but it’s critical that you maintain this line of defence against the impact of unforeseen events.
Talking to an independent broker with experience of commercial covers will make your life easier as they can help you review your premises and identify areas where you may need particular policies to ensure your buildings are properly protected. An independent broker can also look at the whole of the insurance marketplace to find the best and most cost-effective policy, and they aren’t limited to one insurer. And if the worst does happen, they will be able to help you through the claims process to ensure that you are quickly and fully compensated.

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