Empty Properties: Occupiers’ Liability in the time of a Pandemic

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Empty Properties: Occupiers’ Liability in the time of a Pandemic

Published 15 June 2020

The temporary closure of many businesses through the time of the COVID-19 Pandemic, in combination with the closure of schools, may have increased the risk of trespass to properties which, but for the Pandemic, will have been in frequent use.

Factories, restaurants, cinemas, pubs, shops, schools, church halls and many other buildings have been closed for some weeks, through the lockdown and partial release of the lockdown.  Empty buildings and unattended building sites often present temptation to children, and when the temporary closure of  schools is combined with the closure of entertainment venues, landlords and the occupiers of properties should bear in mind their duties toward trespassers.

The duty owed to non-visitors or trespassers (persons without express or implied permission to be on the premises) suffering injury on the premises caused by a danger due to the state of the premises is set out in section 1(3) of the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1984, which provides that the duty is owed if:

a)  the occupier is aware of the danger or has reasonable grounds to believe it exists;

b)  the occupier knows or has reasonable grounds to believe that the trespasser is in the vicinity of the danger concerned, or may come into the vicinity of the danger; and

c)  the risk is one against which, in all the circumstances,  the occupier may reasonably be expected to offer  some protection.

While businesses and properties are not in use, or are not in use as frequently they were pre-Pandemic, there is merit in inspecting the properties, regularly, in order to check on their condition and to check for signs of trespass. 

Where signs of trespass (or attempted trespass) are noted, the occupier should consider whether the property can be secured to prevent further trespass.  Any danger in the property with which a trespasser may come into contact should be considered; can the danger be removed or secured?  The occupier may wish to explore the provision of security monitoring, CCTV and more frequent checks on the property.

Whilst some insurers have advised that they will not require their insureds to comply with occupation conditions in their public liability and property insurance policies through the period of the Pandemic, occupiers and landlords should ensure that they check the position with their insurers and comply with inspection requirements of their policies.

For more information or advice, please contact our experts in our casualty injury team.

Authors

David Williams

David Williams

Leeds

+44 (0)113 251 4844

Ruth Winterbottom

Ruth Winterbottom

Leeds

+44 (0)113 251 4856

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