Small print, in leases, that is rarely read, can lead to insurance problems, uninsured losses of occupants and confusion over who pays for what when thieves target leased or serviced offices.

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The price of fashion

Mark calls me and tells me that his office has been broken into overnight. Indeed, all six offices in his building have been turned over. The office is in a fashionable part of London, and somehow they managed to bypass the security on the front door, unpick the locks on the first floor security door and then pull each of the glass doors to each office, off their hinges. Mark wasn’t initially concerned about the items stolen because it was only a redundant laptop, and a safe full of paperwork, rather than money. He did feel sorry for the five other companies on his floor, because the laptops that were stolen from them were new, contained sensitive data, designs, plans, and other important information… not all of which had been backed up.

How the thieves got past both doors seemed a bit of a mystery, the CCTV was in operation and the footage would show who exactly the thieves were. However, it transpired that the main door lock was not working properly, and the heavy security door on the first floor had not been locked by the last person to leave. No one wanted to admit it was them who had left last, and in such circumstances it’s never easy to determine who that might have been. The CCTV could identify the culprit, albeit not the culprits that everyone initially thought the CCTV would be used to identify.

Landlord negligence is uninsured?

The broken door to the street had been reported to the landlord, so they had been negligent in not arranging for an immediate repair. This certainly would have prevented the problem, but how did the thieves knew that this door was not working. It’s not sinister, they are purely opportunists. It’s daft that both security doors were left unlocked at the same time but it happens because we’re human and forget things. Sometimes these mysteries are never unravelled. Mark would have been gutted if it had affected his cover.

I had already visited Mark’s premises, to ensure that the security that he did have control over was accepted by his insurance company. When we first explored Mark’s prospective requirements, we had to negotiate with insurance companies because some of their humans had forgotten that a trendy office should have a glass sliding door. If you ever look at insurance company requirements you’ll find they’re quite ambiguous when an unusual feature is in existence. This often crops up with serviced offices, because landlords of these places do not spend a lot of money on the security because they assume nobody will get past the desk security.

They don’t realise that it’s not unusual for someone to “stowaway” in a premises and rifle through unattended offices overnight, before pushing an emergency exit door open and carting off their booty. Thieves love serviced offices because landlords are never going to warn proposed clients of this weakness when they are trying to sell them their office space.

Who is going to pay?

You would think that the landlord would accept responsibility, having not fixed the door. However, in my experience, they simply refer you to the clause in the lease, which confirms that they are not responsible for a loss of this type. The way leases are worded, it could be argued that they are not responsible for anything, but I am not a lawyer – I only wish I were that clever. The excess on office insurance is usually quite low – around the same amount as an hour of a solicitor’s time. It makes sense to pay a solicitor to review a lease or serviced office agreement. They will advise you on exactly what the landlord not taking responsibly for, giving you the opportunity to cover yourself for the balance

So, how do you enforce your rights against a negligent landlord? You could, in theory, stop paying your rent – to balance things out. However, you will find that an established legal process will kick in when you don’t pay your rent, because clauses in the lease normally dictate that there is no relation between the two issues. You might have to sue them, or at least threaten to. And if you are going to do that, you will need some sort of legal backing. This is widely available; indeed, a lot of people have this form of protection, yet because their cover has not been explained to them in detail they would not even know.

Wrap up: When you are in an office or any premises where you do not control the security, it makes sense to ensure that your premises are well protected. If undesirables do visit, and find that your security is stronger than everyone else’s they will, at least, leave you until last because they are usually in a hurry. It takes seconds to prize a door open and rifle through an office – thieves are usually after things they can sell for cash, don’t you just love the modern phenomenon of “pop-up” pawn shops. The fact these thieves took the safe indicates that they had a getaway vehicle, yet this is not always the case. The security to your premises is your responsibility. Don’t expect a landlord to be too concerned about it.

Top Tip

Mark discovered that the sensitive information in the safe meant that he did actually have to notify people if their privacy was likely to be breached. This is a requirement of the data protection commissioner, and applies to anyone who collects certain types of sensitive data. Fortunately, Mark and I had discussed this at the outset and the cost of doing this was not prohibitive.