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In a spot of Big Bother - squatters and your rights

Tonight is the final episode of this year's Celebrity Big Brother, and once again we'll hear those infamous words - "who goes? You decide". But is it all that easy to evict when faced with 'real' squatters?
The annual finale of Celebrity Big Brother is imminent; this year, we have witnessed various large personalities pass through those infamous eye-adorned doors. And, as always, 80% of the housemates have been evicted as part of a UK-wide public voting system, leaving us with 7 for this series’ climax. The notorious catchphrase rings true - who goes? You decide.

Does this liberty of voting and evicting, however, translate when faced with real-world squatters in non-residential properties?

Squatters and Their Rights

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).

Squatters and Your Rights

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:

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Squatters in Romford, Havering

In the past week, the property litigation team at Pinney Talfourd have been instructed by two clients whose commercial premises have been squatted.
Damian Pitts and Stephen Eccles have recently been instructed by two clients to recover land from squatters or unlawful occupiers. In each case, we gave urgent advice and had the technical competence and resources to immediately institute possession proceedings in Romford County Court, to obtain summary Possession Orders.

The law requires that in respect of commercial premises a Court Order be obtained. Within 24 hours we were able to obtain all necessary information, attend the Court and issue the proceedings, obtaining a hearing date. Our trusted agents were then able to personally serve the squatters.

Case One - A Court Order

In the first case, the squatters left voluntarily on service of the Court Order and our client has now physically barred entry to the premises with concrete blocks.

Case Two - Calling in the Sheriffs

In the second case, the squatters (who were occupying premises in Central Romford), did not vacate voluntarily and Sheriffs were instructed to obtain possession.

Swift action is needed if you have squatters 

Often squatters once evicted find new premises to squat. Landlords should physically secure any vacant properties they own, as there is clearly a local problem with squatters at present. Reports of more squatters have already been made.

If you, or anyone you know, have commercial premises which are squatted, we can provide immediate remedy saving you stress and money.

Please contact our Commercial Property Litigation team for more information on 01708 229444.

This article was written by Stephen Eccles, Head of our Dispute Resolution Department at Pinney Talfourd Solicitors. 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 at March 2016.

Photo courtesy of Camping Links on Flickr

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