Property Management and Metal Theft


Article from "The Good Practice Guide to Vacant Property Management"
Metal theft
Property managers have seen a dramatic increase in theft of copper and lead from properties over the past year, thanks to a 30 per cent increase in its scrap value.
British Transport recently said that they have seen a 70 per cent increase in theft from railway lines.
Churches have also seen a dramatic increase.

In 2003, there were just 10 claims;
since 2007 there have been 7,500 claims at an estimated cost of £23 million.
In late 2011, the government set up a Metal Theft Taskforce to tackle the problem, which costs the UK economy about
£700 million a year.
In January 2012 it announced that it will amend the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill to create a new criminal offence to prohibit cash payments to purchase scrap metal; and signifi cantly increase the fi nes for all offences under the existing Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964 that regulates the scrap metal recycling industry.
Metal thefts not only cause costly damage to property, but they have resulted in lifethreatening situations.
In March 2011, an explosion in an empty flat in a three-storey Liverpool Housing Trust property  in Runcorn was blamed on copper piping being stolen.
More recently a school in Larkhall, Strathclyde was forced to close when thieves took copper water pipes from the basement. 

Vacant property is seen by thieves as being an easy target for metal theft – a man was recently arrested for targeting a series of unoccupied buildings in Chipping Norton when stolen copper piping was found in his van.
The substantial cost to replace the stolen metal is only half of the story. Lost lead from a building’s roof can cause severe leaks resulting in the cost of replastering and redecorating;  property contents can also be damaged; and stolen copper piping causes problems with heating systems and water supply.
One large commercial building received £2.5 million of damage to steal just £80,000 of metal.
Metal thieves have been known to tear down suspended ceilings; damage or smash demountable partitions; lift and damage raised access floor panels; smash glazing; break sanitary ware; cut out copper pipework from air conditioning plant and main risers; cut out mains power and distribution cables; strip out IT data cabling beneath the raised access floors; and damage doors, kitchenettes, telecoms equipment and lifts.
Appendix 1 of this guide suggests measures that property owners and managers can take to prevent metal theft. 
Despite the damage caused by metal thieves, a landlord’s statutory obligations to maintain a safe property remain, even when a property is vacant – empty buildings are covered under the Defective Premises Act and Occupiers Liability Act – and failure can prove costly.
One trespasser injured in a vacant commercial property received £567,000 in compensation.
Someone falling off a roof while attempting to steal lead or someone injured when trying to remove stolen pipes could end up suing the organisation it was stealing from.
The SitexOrbis/BIFM poll revealed that a third of respondents were not aware of their health and safety obligations for empty buildings.
Empty buildings are also vulnerable to break-ins, vandalism, fly-tipping, arson and graffiti.
The figures for the 12 months to June 2011 (the latest available) showed a 10 percent rise in burglary and a 13 per cent rise in “other household thefts” such as those from vacant property.
So the picture may well worsen in coming months, especially with the numbers of police officers on the streets being cut.
Meanwhile in 2011, £1.2 billion was paid out to domestic and commercial residents as a result of claims for fi re damage, according to figures from the Association of British Insurers.
A metal thief’s wish list:

Outside a property (the building’s structure)



Lightning conductors

Air-conditioning or process

cooling units

Drains and manhole covers



Inside a property


Heating boilers

Water cylinders




Sub-station components

Materials and equipment stolen

Lead and copper sheet

Lead hoppers and downpipes,

especially from older buildings

Copper downpipes


Copper cooling coils and radiators

Cast iron and steel


Wrought iron

Materials and equipment stolen

Copper water and heating system


Cast iron casings and brass fi ttings




Generators and air compressors

Copper bus bars and cable


Article from "The Good Practice Guide to Vacant Property Management"
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