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Damage limitation for recovery

High streets, out-of-town shopping centres, industrial estates, university campuses – it’s fair to say shockwaves are being felt throughout the business world, writes Guy Other, pictured, Chief Executive Officer of Orbis Protect the vacant property protection contractor.

Nothing seems to be immune from the economic fall-out of the coronavirus pandemic and sadly good people will lose their jobs as once-viable companies go under. It has been tough for people from all walks of life but it’s vital that the damage is mitigated so companies and people can bounce back together. With that in mind, in the event that companies do go bust and premises are suddenly left deserted, it is crucial to remain cool, calm and collected.

For it is important to remember that those vacant properties represent both assets and potential liabilities when they end up in the hands of receivers or administrators. From a receiver’s point of view, when they are first handed a portfolio there are three key elements to take into consideration:

• Protection – They need to ensure property is protected and value of assets safeguarded. That is key if it is going to be sold on because they don’t want anything to happen that might de-value the property through vandalism, arson, trespass, fly-tipping or even the elements if there’s a leaky roof so premises must be secured.

• Compliance – To enjoy peace of mind and avoid coming unstick by small print, you must be compliant in relation to insurance. Every insurer has an unoccupied premises code of practice – a set of rules and conditions similar to car insurances. This ranges from specifications on alarm systems and guarding to removal of combustible materials to reduce fire risk and de-commissioning of services so there is no running gas, electricity or water.

• Health and safety – if the property remains accessible to the public, and anyone suffered an injury – such as an innocent but curious child – as a consequence of something being overlooked in the property or its grounds, then the receiver would be liable, and that cost could be crippling.

The most fundamental challenge for whoever ends up picking up the pieces in an insolvency scenario is quite a basic one: it’s about knowing what’s what or in other words, what they are actually taking on. In an ideal world, when businesses become insolvent, there is a list waiting to be picked up which details all the crucial information including what security systems are in place, when it was last serviced, what’s in the property, the state of play with utilities.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world – as we are finding to our cost due to Covid-19. Once things go awry, it can be a real headache getting everything lined up, so you know what you’re up against. We know that from experience as we dealt with a huge portfolio of properties when MFI went into administration – shortly before Christmas in 2008. Staff just didn’t turn up for work, but they had all these properties across the country that they had to manage, maintain and keep secure to ensure compliance.

It helps that Orbis Protect are a specialist partner for Aviva insurance, and have worked with their risk consultants to design our Vacant Property Inspection – a 64-point guide that takes you through the property journey. That journey is a painstaking but absolutely vital process. If we notice anything on site, we report it and follow it up with the receiver to a point of resolution.

There’s clearly more to it than meets the eye – it’s not just a matter of boarding up windows and making sure doors are locked up. It’s like becoming an interim property manager – responsible for the building and paving the way for better days.


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