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Council warns businesses about the danger of squatters

The owners of empty commercial premises in the borough have been written to by Waltham Forest Council after recent multiple cases of squatters breaking into and keeping residence at business premises.


The letter outlines the fact that the basic minimum clean-up bill for a small commercial property (such as a pub or three-storey house) after it is squatted can be upwards of £1,500, covering lock change and rubbish clearance.


This figure would increase dramatically for larger properties or where greater damage is perpetrated and does not take account of legal fees, which on average start at around £5,000.


Councillor Clyde Loakes, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Environment, said, “We have been carrying out checks on empty properties in order to identify suspect premises, but would also like business owners to do all they can to protect their property.


“Things like informing insurers when a property becomes vacant, commissioning a specialist firm to undertake a comprehensive risk assessment, isolating and shutting down the power and gas supplies and draining down water systems to avoid flooding.


“Likewise clearing the property of combustible material and installing a letter box seal to prevent mail build-up, installing other security measures such as CCTV, steel fittings on windows and doors and instigating a weekly inspection of the property.


“There’s even the option for businesses to consider applying to a property guardianship scheme whereby it is arranged that individuals reside in your property on a low rent fee to ensure its safety.”


Ultimately if squatters do invade a commercial premises it will be the business owner that will have to pick up the bill to evict them and repair their property, so it is in the best interests of the business, as well as the local community, to do everything possible to resist squatting.


Recently 40 alleged squatters broke in to the TFC Supermarket on High Road Leytonstone and were thought to be using the building for residential purposes for around two years.


It is difficult to calculate the scale of damage that occurred over that time, but given at the very least there were various ad hoc alterations to the electrical system over that time and additional partitions added, it’s likely the cost to the landlord was considerable.


Because the owner did not take immediate steps to remove the squatters, they were unable to take advantage of the accelerated possession proceedings, which would have added at least ten months to the eviction process.


In another case at Rigg Approach in Leyton, the first floor of a factory was converted into artists’ studios in 2012, but when a fire occurred on 28 May 2015 it became apparent that people were actually living permanently in the space.


The entire factory and all of its contents were destroyed by the fire including the belongings of those living there. The incident called into action various services, including London Fire Brigade, Police, Civil Contingencies, Building Control, the Salvation Army, and the Council setting up an emergency rest centre to provide temporary overnight accommodation to 14 people, including a two-year-old child.


The letter from the Council asks businesses to provide direct contact details for the person who is responsible for any empty premises to the Council’s Neighbourhoods Team so that they are aware. It also urges them to consider re-letting their property, which would mean the business owner not having to pay Business Rates on their empty property, and will bring benefit to the wider community and the local economy.


If you own a commercial premises that is currently empty or is due to be vacated soon, please email information to the Council for the attention of Gareth Jones indicating the address of the premises to neighbourhoods@walthamforest.gov.uk


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For out of hours please email media@walthamforest.gov.uk or call 07966 915 157.