Preventing and Removing Squatters

Squatting is a serious worry for many commercial property owners. This worry is even greater when a corporate property is vacant or unoccupied.

To make matters worse, squatting laws in the UK can seem needlessly complex and lenient in the squatter’s favour.

Yet, understanding squatting laws will give you a competitive advantage, allowing you to prevent squatting and follow the legal process right from the start if you do become a victim. This knowledge will speed up the process of eviction and allow you to feel in control of regaining your property.

You won’t need to squat on this page for too long. In this blog, we make the UK’s squatting laws simple, giving you all the major facts you need to know, as well as pointing you to some reliable resources for further reading.

What’s more, we’ll delve into the ways you can prevent squatting at your property by taking some security precautions.

UK Squatting Laws — The Basics

What Is Squatting?
If you’re worried about squatting or suspect somebody is squatting in your commercial property, you must understand the definition of squatting first. Squatting is a deliberate act to make a property an informal, permanent residence without a legally binding agreement or exchange.

How Legal Agreements Impact Squatting
Having or not having a legally binding agreement is crucial. Many residential landlords who encounter trouble with tenants will trip up over this. A person who continues to live in a property with a formal agreement does not qualify as a squatter. For more information on residential squatting, read The Guardian’s, What to do if squatters take over your property.

Is Commercial Squatting Criminal?
For commercial property owners, tenants aren’t so much of a worry. However, professional squatters — large groups that usually take refuge in vacant properties for a living — are a cause for concern. These groups often survey an area to seek out vacant properties and make them a semi-permanent home. For commercial property owners, knowledge is power. Professional squatters of this sort are well-versed in their rights and the laws surrounding squatting. They understand that commercial squatting is not a criminal offence, so long as you don’t damage the property in question.

When Are Commercial Squatters Obligated to Leave?
Individuals and groups must leave a property when met with a repossession order or a formal demand from the police, council or property’s owner. In most cases, it will be necessary to get the backing of a landlord agency, a police officer and a formal repossession order to get squatters to leave. Even though a request to vacate from an owner is valid, it’s rarely listened to by seasoned squatters.

What Counts as a Commercial Squatting Crime?
If squatting in a commercial property isn’t classed as a crime, then what is? According to GOV.UK:

“Crimes include:

  • Causing damage when entering the property
  • Causing damage when in the property
  • Not leaving when they’re told to by a court
  • Stealing from the property
  • Using utilities like electricity or gas without permission
  • Fly-tipping
  • Not obeying a noise abatement notice.”

Do Squatters Have Rights?

As individuals, squatters have the same rights as any other person, including basic human rights. In terms of your property, squatters only begin to have rights once they’ve occupied the property for longer than ten years. At this point, squatters can rightfully apply for ownership. Ownership can also be granted if a property is unregistered and a squatter makes an application.

How Can I Prevent Squatters from Gaining Legal Possession?
If you’ve unknowingly had squatters occupying your property for a sustained period, you can block an application for ownership. To do this, you’ll need to seek the advice of a legal professional like a solicitor or a conveyancer. These individuals can give you tailored advice, depending on your case. HM Land Registry is the body that will make the final decision.

Where to Find More about Squatting Laws in the UK

Want to advance your knowledge? There is plenty of free, expert advice on UK squatting laws — if you know where to look for it.

An obvious place to start is on the UK’s government website.

Head to www.gov.uk/squatting-law to find information about legal possession, squatters rights and squatter removal.

Here are some other reliable resources on squatting laws:

You may also seek advice from your local council, as well as emergency services such as the police, if necessary.

How to Remove Squatters from a Non-residential Property

Having squatters in a commercial property can be unsettling and frustrating. However, you must exercise caution when removing squatters from your property to protect yourself and others.

This means refraining from using threat or force to remove squatters. You’re entitled to ask squatters to leave your property but doing so in an inappropriate manner means you are committing a crime.

Despite the validity of your request for squatters to leave, many squatters will require more intervention before they are willing to vacate. This is why so many landlords resort to paying legal fees and asking for formal assistance.

Removing squatters can indeed end up being costly, with thousands of pounds of legal fees payable before the process occurs.

To remove squatters lawfully, you’ll need to apply for an Interim Possession Order (IPO) (PDF, 171KB). This document will go to your local county court for review. If you successfully gain access to an IPO, this notice will be served to the squatters. Once served, squatters must leave the property within 24 hours and stay away from the property for a further 12 months.

Having an IPO is incredibly effective and more often than not, forces squatters out of residences without police assistance.

However, getting an IPO, as we have noted, is costly and often takes some time for outside bodies to approve. In total, removing squatters can take upwards of six months with court paperwork taking up to five months to process.

How to Prevent Squatters from a Non-residential Property

If you’re already dealing with a squatting problem, prevention is no longer an option.

However, those in the early stages with concerns about squatting — or those who’ve had issues with squatters in the past — might think about security services to prevent squatting from happening or recurring.

Unoccupied commercial properties are at high risk of vandalism and squatting, especially if a building is in a remote area, has an entrance that backs onto a small side street, is in a desirable area or has a highly publicised closure.

Factory buildings, underfunded construction sites and empty mansions are all common targets. Sometimes squatters rest in derelict places as a result of opportunities — such as an empty factory in a quiet estate or a vacant construction site. Some squatters, however, are known as “lifestyle squatters” and choose buildings that allow them to make a social statement such as a major business closure or a high-priced estate.

These buildings need constant protection through two means:

Building insurance will cover you financially for any losses as a result of vandalism, forced entry and damage. Vacancy property services — in other words, security measures — will help to prevent such events.

Installing CCTV is an obvious answer, allowing you to monitor suspicious activity, record evidence and act as a deterrent to potential squatters. Yet, there are other security measures that we also provide, which may complement this.

  • A wireless security alarm could catch squatters in the act and cause them to leave just as fast as they entered.
  • Mobile patrolling gives you the added assurance that your internal and external property is secure.
  • V-POD is a self-contained monitoring system that proves there is room for innovation in security equipment.

We donate to homeless and poverty causes every time we work on a new void property site. After all, there’s nothing more preventative than providing support to places that can reach the root of the problem.

Do you want to prevent the chance of squatters raiding your commercial property? Contact a security expert to discuss which prevention strategy is best suited to you.