How To Get Rid of Squatters
As a landlord, one of the most difficult challenges you can face is dealing with squatters who occupy your property without permission. The expert landlord solicitors at Percy Hughes & Roberts can provide you with all the information you need to evict squatters safely and legally.
Unfortunately, many landlords face situations where squatters have taken over their property without permission. Squatting is a criminal offence in the UK, but dealing with squatters can be a complex and stressful experience for property owners.
Squatters can cause significant damage to your property, create safety hazards, and make it difficult for you to regain control of your own property. This can affect residential or commercial properties, and while the PHR team specialises in advice for residential property owners, much of the advice will apply in all cases.
Thankfully, there are legal steps you can take to evict squatters and protect your property rights as a landlord. This short guide will walk you through the process of legally evicting squatters from your property, including the procedures you need to follow, the legal requirements you need to comply with, and the potential risks and costs involved.
If you have any questions we have not answered, our specialist landlord solicitors are happy to speak to you regarding your landlord query. You can contact us by completing the enquiry form below or by calling 0151 666 9090.
What is squatting?
Squatting refers to the act of occupying an empty or abandoned property without permission from the owner.
Under Section 7 of the Criminal Law Act 1977, a squatter commits an offence if they fail to leave the accommodation after being asked to leave by, or on behalf of, a displaced residential occupier or protected intended occupier.
The act of squatting in a residential building or house can be punishable by up to six months in prison.
Squatters may occupy various types of property, including commercial, industrial or residential property. They may be individuals or groups of people seeking shelter or aiming to establish alternative living arrangements.
Squatters often claim that they have a legal right to occupy the property, but this is only true in certain circumstances, which we explain in more detail below.
What problems can squatters cause?
Squatters can cause various problems for landlords and property owners, including:
- Property Damage: Squatters may cause significant damage to the property, such as broken windows, damaged walls, and vandalised fixtures. This damage can be expensive to repair and may lower the value of the property.
- Theft: Squatters may steal or damage personal belongings, appliances, or fixtures within the property. They may also take advantage of utilities without paying for them, resulting in increased utility bills for the landlord.
- Nuisance: Squatters may cause disturbance and nuisance to neighbours and the local community, such as excessive noise, littering, and loitering.
- Safety hazards: Squatters may create safety hazards within the property, such as fire hazards from cooking or heating, and potential harm to anyone entering the property.
- Legal issues: While squatting is illegal in the UK, landlords may face legal issues if they attempt to evict squatters illegally. Landlords may face legal action if the eviction process is not carried out correctly.
These problems can cause significant financial and legal issues for a landlord or property owner. Therefore, it is important to take appropriate legal action to evict squatters and protect an unoccupied property from further damage and harm.
What legal rights do squatters have?
While squatting in the UK is a criminal offence, there are some legal rights that squatters may have during the eviction process, including:
- Notice period: Squatters are entitled to a notice period before eviction, which must be provided in writing by the landlord. The notice period can vary depending on the type of property, but it usually ranges from two days to two weeks. Landlords are asked to give squatters a “reasonable” timeframe within which to vacate the property.
- Reasonable force: Landlords are not allowed to use force to remove squatters from the property. However, they may use reasonable force to gain entry to the property, as long as it does not cause harm to anyone inside. Do not try to remove the squatters yourself using force or the threat of force. Landlords who do this are committing a crime.
- Illegal eviction: If a landlord evicts squatters illegally or without following the proper legal procedures, they may face legal action from the squatters.
- Squatters' rights to property: If squatters have been living in the property for a long time and have established it as their home, they may have the right to contest the eviction in court. This is usually done under the Human Rights Act 1998, which provides protection against homelessness.
The squatter’s right to property allows long-term squatters to become the registered owner of property or land they have occupied without the owner’s permission. Squatters can apply for this if they can prove:
- They, or a succession of squatters, have occupied the property continuously for 10 years (12 years if it is not registered with HM Land Registry)
- They (or their predecessors) acted as owners of the property for the whole of that time
- They (or any of their predecessors) did not have the owner’s permission, for example the property was not originally rented to a squatter
All of the above legal rights make it even more important for landlords to follow the correct legal procedures when evicting squatters to avoid any potential legal issues further down the road.
How can you legally get rid of squatters?
- Report To The Police: You should call the police immediately if people are squatting in your home or a rental property you own. While the police are able to evict squatters from residential properties, they may decide not to act until the matter has been resolved in court. Informing them of the issue as soon as possible is always recommended, however.
- Eviction Notice: Once you have reported the problem to the police, you can issue the squatters with an eviction notice. Landlords are required to allow the squatters a reasonable amount of time to vacate the premises. You can include the following in your notice – “Squatting in residential buildings is illegal. It can lead to 6 months in prison, a £5,000 fine or both.”
- Interim Possession Order: If the squatters do not leave the property after the notice period, landlords can apply for an Interim Possession Order (IPO). You must apply for this within 28 days of discovering the squatters. This order allows the landlord to take back possession of the property and can be issued by a court within a few days of the application.
Landlords can apply for an IPO if:
- They discovered the squatters within the last 28 days
- The squatters are trespassers, not former tenants, sub-tenants or licensees
- The landlord is not making a claim for damages caused by the squatters
After being served with an IPO, squatters can be sent to prison if they do not leave the property within 24 hours, and then stay away from the property for 12 months.
- Claim for Possession: If all of the above has failed to remove squatters, landlords can make a Claim for Possession. This will require a court hearing, and the landlord must provide evidence of ownership and the attempts to remove the squatters. If you are successful, you will be granted an Order for Possession. Claims of this nature cost £355.
- Warrant of Possession: If the Order for Possession is made but the squatters still do not leave, you can enforce the order by requesting a Warrant of Possession. This is a legal document issued by a court that allows the landlord to use bailiffs to remove the tenant or squatter from the property.
The Warrant of Possession gives the landlord the legal right to re-enter the property and take possession, as well as to change the locks and secure the property. The bailiffs will serve a notice of eviction to the squatter, giving them a final opportunity to leave before they are removed from the premises.
It is important to note that this process can be lengthy and sometimes confusing. Regaining possession of a property can take time and involves following the correct legal procedures to avoid any legal pitfalls along the way. It is always wise getting advice from an expert landlord solicitor before taking any drastic steps.
How Can Percy Hughes & Roberts Help?
Removing squatters who have unlawfully occupied your vacant property can be one of the most difficult challenges for landlords. The team of expert landlord solicitors at Percy Hughes & Roberts can provide you with all the necessary information and guidance you need to legally evict squatters from your property.
We are based in Birkenhead and have been delivering the highest quality legal services for clients across the Wirral, Merseyside and the North West for more than 100 years.
Our landlord solicitors can help you with a range of issues relating to landlords and tenants and represent numerous residential landlords in the North West. For more information on our landlord services, do not hesitate to contact our expert solicitors today. Call us on 0151 666 9090, or send us your query by email by filling in our online contact form.