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Does this liberty of voting and evicting, however, translate when faced with real-world squatters in non-residential properties?
Up until recently, squatting in England and Wales was generally viewed as a civil, rather than criminal matter. In September 2012, a new piece of legislation made it a criminal offence to trespass in residential properties with the intention of living there. However, the legislation only covers residential properties, so what do you do if squatters gain access to a commercial or non-residential property?
Squatting in non-residential buildings is still regarded as a civil matter and resolution usually means resorting to the civil courts. In essence – it is not a criminal offence for someone to enter a non-residential property without the owner’s consent or authority.
The good news for property owners is that it is still not easy for a trespasser to acquire ownership of a property, or “squatter’s rights” as per common parlance. A squatter can only gain title to a property if the squatter has excluded the world at large from the property, including the owner, for a period of 10 years (12 years if dealing with unregistered land).
As mentioned above, squatting in a non-residential property still isn’t looked upon as a criminal offence. The police take can action on your behalf if squatters commit other crimes when entering or residing in your property. These can include:
Regrettably, most squatters will put up notices on the property which advise the owner that the squatters are living in the property and therefore have protection of the Protection from Eviction Act 1977. This means that you cannot simply turf them out without a Court order.
The only way to remove squatters from a non-residential property is to seek legal advice and have your solicitor apply for a possession order from the County Court.
If you act quickly after become aware of the presence of squatters, you can apply for an Interim Possession Order (“IPO”). You can only apply for an IPO if it’s been 28 days or less since you found out the squatters had entered your property. An Interim Possession Order can normally be obtained in about 7 days. After being served with an IPO, squatters can be arrested and criminally charged if they do not leave your property within 24 hours. Most squatters are quite savvy to the applicable law so will often move on once served with an IPO.
An IPO might not be suitable in all circumstances; for instance, it cannot be used when you are evicting former tenants, so it is important to seek appropriate legal advice as soon as you become aware of squatters.
If you currently have an issue with squatters on your commercial or non-residential property, please contact our Commercial Property Litigation Department.
The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. Specific legal advice should be taken on each individual matter. This article is based on the law as of February 2017.