Commercial Property:

What can property owners and landlords do to remove squatters legally from a commercial property?

Here’s some advice from Simon Broadbent, CEO of Secure Empty Property.

Commercial properties have been put at more risk, says Mr Broadbent, from squatters since 2012. This situation has arisen since the law making squatting in residential properties a criminal offence was put into effect.

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Now, while residential property owners are able to legally keep squatters out of their buildings, commercial property owners have had to deal with an influx of unauthorised occupiers that they cannot as easily get rid of.

Currently, squatting in non-residential buildings is still a civil law matter rather than a criminal one, which means that the property owner has to go to court in order to have the issue resolved.

Obtaining a summary possession order costs £175, to just issue the application, and landlords can expect to take back possession of the property anything from 10 days to four weeks. This timescale takes into account court hearings and bailiff warning and enforcement, although if there is risk of damage to the property this process can be conducted via the High Court, which is much quicker.

If you’re looking for a quicker turnaround, then you can obtain an Interim Possession Order, but it can only be used within 28 days of you becoming aware of the squatters occupying your property.

An IPO can be more complex as it is only an interim measure while waiting for a hearing, and the application may even be overturned following the hearing. It is also reliant on specific timescales and other technicalities, which can derail the entire application and process if not followed to the letter. It is also a more expensive procedure for a result that is only “potentially” faster than a summary possession order.

In theory the police can remove unauthorised occupiers if they have committed criminal damage, for instance by forcibly breaking into the property or damaging the inside in some way. While squatting in the property is not a crime, damaging it is. The police can also take action if the unauthorised occupants have stolen from the property, used any of the utilities without permission, dumping waste otherwise known as fly-tipping, and of course ignoring court notices to leave if your court order goes through. However, often the police are reluctant to act before a court order is issued.

In order to avoid damage to your property by squatters breaking in, and in order to avoid costly legal fees in court applications and hiring a lawyer, Mr Broadbent recommends taking preventative measures.

  • Investing in protecting your commercial property from being entered, either by force or through lack of security, can save you money and grief later on down the line.
  • Boarding up properties to prevent entry or access with security doors and screens, alarms and CCTV cameras, and even manned security.

Secure Empty Property Chief Executive Simon Broadbent says, “Squatting is a real headache for landlords. Not just the cost of their eviction but the damage they cause whilst in occupation and the hold-up to the owners plans for re-development or disposal. We urge property managers to mitigate these risks before they happen”.

Secure Empty Property was set up in 2012 by its Chief Executive Simon Broadbent, who has more than 25 years’ experience in the industry. https://www.secureemptyproperty.com

Squatting is when someone deliberately enters property without permission and lives there, or intends to live there. This is sometimes known as ‘adverse possession’.

Squatting in residential buildings (like a house or flat) is illegal and a criminal offence. It can lead to 6 months in prison, a £5,000 fine or both.

Anyone who originally enters a property with the permission of the landlord is not a squatter. For example, when tenants fall behind with rent payments they are not squatting if you continue to live there.

Although squatting in non-residential (commercial) property or land isn’t in itself a crime, it is a crime to break-in or cause damage to the property.

Squatting and the law

©LandlordZONE® – legal content applies primarily to England and is not a definitive statement of the law, always seek professional advice.

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