Schools and colleges have vacant buildings at times due to declining enrollment, program cessation or other reasons. Vacant property poses risks and hazards including fire, water damage/mold, weather-related damage, damages due to lack of maintenance or supervision, and environmental exposures, along with a range of crime – vandalism, arson, theft of contents, sprinkler units and copper or other metals, etc. Criminals target vacant buildings, especially those that are not secured and without power.
A study in Austin, Texas found that vacant buildings generate 1.8 times as many theft calls and twice the number of violent crimes. The National Fire Protection Association reported in 2003-2006 that U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 31,000 structure fires in vacant buildings per year. These fires resulted in $642 million in property damage per year.
Tips to protect vacant property:
Consider letting another organization occupy your property at minimal to no charge to maintain the property. If not feasible then:
- Conduct and document frequent external and internal inspections of the vacant property, including roof area.
- Maintain heating at 55○ to keep pipes from freezing and AC at 85○ to protect against humidity and mold.
- Turn off the water supply.
- Install alarm system with remote access to monitor premises remotely.
- Keep all alarms in service -sprinkler, fire, smoke and/or intrusion detection.
- Secure all perimeter doors and windows with deadbolt locks.
- Install and maintain exterior and interior motion or timed lighting.
- Remove any debris or hazardous materials, including unnecessary combustibles, pollutants or chemicals.
- Electrical equipment and utilities not necessary for protection or security, should be turned off.
- Suspend mail and delivery services.
- Make the property appear occupied to minimize risks of crimes (i.e. maintain the exterior, mow grass, remove leaves, etc.)
- Prevent leaks by checking roofs, keeping roof drains and gutters clean and check for damage or unauthorized access.
- Notify neighbors, any alarm company, and local authorities including police and fire departments, that your building is unoccupied. Provide them with updated emergency contacts.
- Post WeTip signs throughout property to encourage tips if unwelcomed activity occurs and to deter crimes.