What are your options if squatters move in to a property you own?
Although it may not be a particularly common occurrence, clients do occasionally ask us to help them get rid of squatters who have taken up occupation in a residential or commercial property they own.
Although it’s always best practice to get advice as soon as possible when it comes to any type of legal dispute, dealing with squatters is certainly one of the specialist areas where seeking out advice immediately really will increase the likelihood you’ll achieve the outcome you want, especially as an injunction may be required.
If one of your properties is taken over by squatters, the first thing to remember is you run the risk of committing a criminal offence under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 if you use or threaten violence in order to gain entry if there is someone in the property who is opposed to you entering … even if those persons are trespassing.
In those circumstances, we’d advise you to make a court application for a possession order against “persons unknown”.
However, before you take that step if the property in question is a residential property, you should contact the Police in case they can help you remove the squatters without you having to start civil proceedings. Although trespass in itself is not a criminal offence (rather a ‘civil wrong’), under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 a person would be committing an offence if they:
– are in a residential building as a trespasser having entered it as a trespasser;
– know or ought to know they are a trespasser; or
– are living in the building or intend to live there for any period.
With that in mind, it is well worth asking the Police to use their powers to enter the affected property and investigate as they may be able to remove the squatters so you can re-secure the property.
Alternatively, if the police are unable to help you have two possible options:
- You can apply for an interim possession order
- You can apply for a standard procedure possession application against trespassers
A key pre-requisite to obtaining an Interim Possession Order is you need to bring the claim within 28 days of the date on which the landowner first knew or ought reasonably to have known squatters had entered the property.
Once you decide to start the Interim Possession Order process you will need to draft a Claim Form and Particulars of Claim as well as a witness statement in a specific format. While this statement isn’t an absolute requirement, the Court is obliged to refer to it.
The specific rules governing the way the application is served (i.e. once issued and again once obtained) means this part of the process is usually best handled by a legal specialist.
Once the order is granted, the squatters must leave the property within 24 hours of it being served or risk arrest.
As the name suggests this is only an interim measure. It is limited in that it is only effective until the hearing of the claim for a final possession order. That hearing will only be fixed when the court makes the interim possession order and will generally take place within a week of the Interim Possession Order being made.
Once the interim possession order is made final, it is enforceable in the usual ways, with a warrant of possession or through High Court Enforcement Officers.
The Standard Procedure route is the only option available where the 28 day deadline for an application for an interim possession order has passed.
The work involved is similar to the interim procedure in that it requires you to start a claim against persons unknown by drafting a Claim Form and Particulars of Claim in the required format.
Just one hearing is fixed at the time you commence your claim and when serving the claim under the standard procedure, witness statements must again be included and again there are specific rules about attaching these to the property as well as in the land around the property.
Once the claim is decided under the standard procedure, it will need to be enforced either with a warrant of possession or with the assistance of High Court Enforcement Officers.
Getting rid of squatters is a process but it’s never straightforward. If you have a problem with squatters we’d suggest you call James Jessup on 0113 399 3487 or email James at firstname.lastname@example.org so that he can help you work out your best option before you take any action.