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The cost of land owners falling victim to illegal waste scams

I want to tell you about a scam which is leaving farmers and commercial landowners with bills for waste clearance in the thousands and hundreds of thousands of pounds. 

One scam starts with a property being let to a seemingly legitimate tenant.  The tenant presents identification and satisfies the landlord or the letting agent’s checks.  The tenancy starts and the first few rent payments are made on time. 

This tenant is not, however, legitimate and is a front person for a waste crime operation.  This crime ring uses the property to deposit large volumes of waste over a period of weeks, or in some cases days.  When the unit is full of waste it is abandoned and the tenant disappears. The landlord is left with a waste mountain which they must clean up.

The scam may take another form.  A landowner may be asked to allow a third party to store baled hay, or baled cardboard or plastics which are destined for recovery elsewhere. Once permission is granted (often for a tempting cash payment) baled general waste is brought in instead.  To begin with, it looks very similar to what has been agreed, and is covered in black plastic so it cannot be easily identified.  The third party soon disappears, and the waste starts to decompose, give off odour and attracting vermin, flies and complaints from neighbours.  The landowner is left to deal with the waste.

Where the waste is brought in by someone who has permission to access the land, they are not considered to be trespassers, and this affects how the police and insurance companies view the crime.

Some illegal waste operations target empty sites to tip waste upon.  Others look for dark corners which are not overlooked, where there is no CCTV. Locks are cut and over a very short period of time, usually under cover of darkness, large amounts of waste are tipped.  One client had a clean-up bill in excess of £50,000 following two evenings of tipping on a large vacant development site.

Waste that is deliberately tipped has normally been sorted to remove anything of value, and then put through a process which shreds or mashes it to remove any traces of where it has come from. The waste may also have hazardous properties, including asbestos and chemicals. This waste is very expensive to deal with, and most landlords do not have insurance to cover clean up. 

Currently, a ton of non-hazardous waste will cost in excess of £120 to send to landfill.  As a general rule of thumb, one tonne equates to a single bale or one cubic yard of waste.  The cost of removal can be hundreds of thousands of pounds, or in some cases millions.  One client faced a clean up bill which was so expensive they were forced to sell the property to fund it.

The Environment Agency have recently issued a warning to landowners across the country.  Agency figures suggest that the top sites for illegal waste dumping are farms (34%), industrial units (24%), abandoned factories (10%) and derelict sites (7%).  Given the speed of operations, and the methods used to conceal identities, it is very difficult to trace those who are responsible. 

The Environment Agency will look to the landowner or landlord to remove the waste where the guilty party cannot be found.  The Environment Agency’s powers to enforce against the land owner have recently been increased; read about them here  [link to other article].  A landowner who does not remove the waste when served with a notice can be prosecuted and fined, in addition to being forced to clear the waste.  

So, what can be done? 

  • Start by being vigilant when letting a property, and make detailed checks.
  • Make regular inspections in the initial weeks of a new tenancy.
  • Sites without environmental permits or exemptions should not be used to store any waste, even temporarily.
  • A tenant wanting to use the property for waste related activities should produce evidence of their environmental permit or exemption.
  • If you cannot confirm what it is being stored, for example due to baling, assume it is waste. Also assume that once waste is brought in, it won’t be removed. 
  • Consider CCTV for empty premises or development sites.

If you are a commercial landlord, check whether you have suitable insurance cover in place for the clearance of waste deposited by trespassers, and waste left by tenants.   

Contact Craig Burman on 0113 849 4072 or for any waste related advice. 


About the Author

Craig Burman


Craig advises nationally on contentious and non-contentious environmental, health and safety and regulatory…

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