You know that feeling when you return home after a holiday or business trip: you left the house clean, emptied the fridge and the bins... but what is that questionable smell? And why has so much dust built up already?
Fortunately, in a generic family home, a flush of the toilets and a flick of the duster will quickly eradicate those problems.
But imagine those issues tenfold, plus larger scale security and maintenance issues. That’s just the beginning of what to expect after leaving a large accommodation block or multifamily space empty for a long period of time with zero maintenance. A building needs love and occupancy to function at its best.
But we know this. BTR and Purpose Built Student Accommodation blocks function optimally when the lights are on.
When the lights are off, maintenance is expensive. The environmental, economical, and socio-economic impacts of vacant properties can be devastating. Not to mention the cost and impact on building value which could be potentially threatening to your entire bottom line.
And with no income from rent, the cost of keeping the apartment clean and safe for the next tenant is going to put a huge strain on resources and profit.
Here, we’ve tried to account for every potential maintenance issue that will need to be addressed during periods of low occupancy:
Water damage and legionella threats
Empty units still require weekly plumbing maintenance which actually consists of having every toilet flushed, and every tap flushed through, every single week.
It might seem like a minor detail that can be skipped over but failing to do so can lead to potential maintenance and health issues.
Without regular flushing and running of water systems, stagnant water leads to legionella poisoning, limescale, and large-scale plumbing issues.
Not only does this raise potential health and safety threats but also ethical and moral concerns. A discerning landlord cares about the health and safety of its residents but also wants to avoid replacing costly plumbing infrastructures, and at worst, litigation.
Utilities and heating of empty rooms
Keeping the building warm and utilities running isn’t just essential for the health of existing or future residents, but for the property too. Even if an entire floor is completely empty, heating is necessary to keep a building’s infrastructure functional.
Particularly in the UK, crippling winter temperatures can cause irreparable - or at least, extremely costly - damage to pipe systems. Even a temperature drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit is enough to cause damage such as cracks in pipes and system malfunctions.
But the environmental impact of heating an empty building - even just one floor - is enough to raise concerns. Not to mention the cost and inefficiency which could cripple even the most successful business models during times of low income.
So even if a building is completely empty, it’s crucial that utilities are kept running. The result? High expenditure, inefficient use of energy, and unnecessary impact on the environment.
But, don’t be fooled into thinking you think you can take your foot off the gas during the summer months.
The warmer periods bring with them their own damage potential due to heating and sunlight. Particularly for properties with vinyl flooring - which is likely to be a large proportion - heat without ventilation from a resident opening windows and doors can cause flooring to fail. Add to that the sun damage from constantly open blinds or curtains, and you might be left with costly remedial works to repair large surfaces of flooring.
I know from my own experience in my home, the effects of sun damage on paint and gloss can be a bit of an annoyance. But that impact is intensified when it comes to a large building. Furniture and fixtures are expensive assets within your property, and sun damage and fading are less than desirable for future residents. Aside from impacting the aesthetics of the building, it compromises the perceived quality and value, potentially losing you future tenants.
An empty building still needs as much security as a full one. That might seem counterintuitive, but a vacant property in a large city will need protecting against vandalism, squatters, thieves, and trespassers. Security fixtures (such as fencing and alarm systems), CCTV, as well as security staff will be essential to ensuring the safety and protection of your building during periods of low occupancy. But qualified staff come at a cost and require management and payroll. Without residents occupying the property, it can be difficult to keep up with those additional responsibilities both from a financial and managerial perspective.
Such an important maintenance resource when a building is full, yet just as important when the building is vacant. It may seem unnecessary and perhaps a resource that can be dealt with later, such as just before a tenant moves in. But the build-up of dust, mould and limescale will add up to extra costs in the long run if not maintained during periods of low occupancy.
Seemingly unimportant maintenance resources such as cleaning might save you from costly situations in the future. It’s incredibly important that you keep a close eye on the status and functionality of your units while they are empty to protect the experience of your future residents.
Most maintenance issues won't make themselves apparent until a tenant is fully moved in and using the space. Imagine the horror of handing over the keys to a new tenant and not long after, hearing of an unnoticed maintenance issue. That’s not just damage to your reputation, but that resident’s experience and long-term custom is potentially lost.
A property/accommodation block is a highly lucrative asset and when functioning at its best, will provide you with income, business and investment value.
But it’s also a highly demanding asset when it comes to maintenance. And having empty units for long periods of time is detrimental to business. While some landlords and building owners might be reluctant to change use classes and take on short term rentals, having a filled room is on all accounts, the sensible option.
Keeping rooms occupied is a challenge. By becoming open to diversifying your building use and considering short term lets is the most strategic way to keep rooms filled, without damaging the building or its community.
Keeping the lights on is the key to longevity, functionality, profit, and investment. Don’t leave the lights out for too long!