Vacant schools: The risks of leaving buildings empty and unprotected

Vacant schools: The risks of leaving buildings empty and unprotected

Simon Wright, Ad Hoc Regional Manager, Midlands & South West, talks about the risks of leaving school buildings vacant whilst undergoing a change of use or pending sale, and how by protecting these buildings, property owners can save thousands of pounds.

Communities all over the UK are being left to look unsightly as we are increasingly seeing empty buildings being broken into, resulting in ugly smashed windows and graffiti-covered walls. When properties are left vacant they become targets for this sort of anti-social behaviour and with the number of empty properties in the UK only growing, unless tackled, this problem will continue to get worse.

Vacant buildings attract more than just vandals. With the scrap value of copper and brass being at a premium, asset strippers who are on the hunt flock to strip buildings of their lead and plumbing works. Beside the material damage and repair costs this results in, there are real risks to human safety. If wires are still live, those who may come into contact with them face electrocution which can be fatal. Meanwhile, the water supply to buildings, especially those which are commercial, often needs to be run regularly to avoid Legionella and other bacteria forming in the pipes which if come into contact with, can cause serious health issues. Older buildings are already naturally prone to damage because of their age, but when they are left vacant, it is even more important that they are maintained to ensure their safety. Property owners have a duty to ensure their properties are safe, even to intruders.

Vacant school buildings are some of the most frequently targeted buildings for anti-social behaviour. Partly due to the fact that they have a variety of access points and windows adjacent the perimeter of the building, criminals with the skills to break into a building will have little trouble doing so. This can be amplified when the building is situated in a rural area with acres of open land.

In 2015, a school owned by Birmingham City Council closed its doors leaving the building potentially vulnerable to crime. However, the council was proactive in acting quickly to secure the property by choosing Ad Hoc Property Management for its property protection services. For the last three years, the property has been occupied by property guardians who have taken up temporary residence in the building.

Property Guardianship is an effective and affordable way to protect vacant property. By placing carefully-vetted individuals into empty buildings, property owners can rest assured that their property will be secure and maintained. The individuals who reside in the buildings do so on a temporary basis while the property awaits sale or redevelopment, which in some cases can take years, and in exchange for paying a license fee to live there which is below the market value for traditional assured shorthold tenancy (AST), they also oversee the property.

The former school in Birmingham is an excellent example of how property guardianship benefits all parties involved. For the Guardians who only pay £220pcm, including all bills and council tax, they are able to live in central locations more flexibly than traditional tenancy and save money while enjoying the social benefits of guardianship. For property owners, they are able to benefit from their property being effectively protected at an affordable cost while it’s future is decided.

Some of the Guardians living in the old school are a group of vibrant young girls who perform in the circus. Due to the nature of their job, a gig isn’t always guaranteed and during the months when their diaries aren’t very full, having an affordable living option really pays off. Because the building is a former school, the property has a lot of room. There are lots of facilities such as a kitchen, bathrooms and lounges as well as a gymnasium which the girls use to train for their job. The property guardians have made great use of the space and have turned the school into a cosy place of their own, creating a community for themselves. Each one has a large bedroom which they have turned into their own studio apartment.

Since choosing Ad Hoc Property Management, the building has become a safe and secure place. With a large entrance gate providing access to the school which has a lock on it, and due to there being Guardians in the property at all times, security is never a concern.

Most property owners have looked at traditional security methods when faced with a vacant building, such as fencing off a property or hiring security guards. However, these come at a premium cost (sometimes £300 per day) and don’t provide the degree of observation and cover that full-time residents can provide. Even if a property sits on a large piece of land which can’t be overseen at all times, Ad Hoc Property Management has other solutions that can work independently or in parallel with property guardianship to ensure a property is fully protected.

Because Birmingham City Council secured their empty property, they ensured it didn’t fall into disrepair which could have resulted in thousands of pounds worth of damage. Since property guardianship comes at a low cost to property owners, on top of the peace of mind in knowing the property is being well-maintained, the council is also saving hundreds of thousands of pounds on traditional security methods.

It’s vital that property owners protect their vacant properties from all of the associated risks of leaving them empty. There are hundreds of former school buildings all over the country which are sitting empty and by protecting them, it will not only keep communities safe, but it will save on emergency resources for call-outs which in turn hits the tax payer’s wallet.

For more information about Ad Hoc’s property protection services please contact 0121 773 8116 or 0333 015661, or visit


Vacant schools: The risks of leaving buildings empty and unprotected