SQUATTERS TRYING TO OCCUPY YOUR LAND – THE REMEDIES
In 2012 a law was passed making it a criminal offence to squat in a residential building. Trespassing in a person’s home with the intention to live in the building now carries a maximum prison sentence of 6 months or a £5000 fine.
As a result of this it is likely that there will be more squatters choosing Commercial premises to occupy where the same sanctions do not apply and the matter remains one which has to either be dealt with by the commercial owners evicting the occupiers themselves or by taking proceedings in court to obtain possession. This can be expensive and onerous for a business.
Great caution must be used where you are the victim of squatters particularly if you choose to physically evict someone who is an unauthorised occupier. Although everyone is entitled to use reasonable force to remove a person The Criminal Law Act 1977 makes it a criminal offence to use or threaten violence against persons or property or to enter property occupied by a person who is opposed to that entry.
Even though the individual opposing the entry is a trespasser and the person seeking entry is the lawful owner, the prohibition still applies. Commercial owners must therefore be extremely careful before they take matters into their own hands.
Accordingly, issuing proceedings for possession is by far the safest option. By obtaining a court order for possession and a warrant for possession a Court Bailiff can then be instructed to enforce the possession and will secure the site from future trespassers.
A court order takes about 10-14 days from the issue of the claim to the hearing. Although the unauthorised occupiers will have an opportunity to raise a defence, in practice they rarely do so. If however a credible defence is made, the matter will be postponed for some time in order to have a full hearing of all the facts. These proceedings will inevitably involve substantial legal fees and delays which can cause considerable detriment to your business interests.
Unauthorised occupiers may use the Human Rights Act to justify remaining in the property. Examples of the sort of defence raised in the past are the right to freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly. The UK courts are not hugely sympathetic to these arguments but appeals to the European courts can result in some perverse outcomes.
Accordingly prevention is better than cure. It is vital that commercial owners take steps to prevent this issue arising in the first place such as;
- Identify sites at risk and where possible make sure you secure them or appoint a security guard to monitor them
- Make sure that gates and boundary fences are well maintained.
- Check the title deeds to the property and make sure that they are in the correct name of your Company and where land is unregistered, consider voluntary registration.
- If title deeds are lost consider applying for registration as the owner as soon as possible. Proving ownership of the land in question is essential in any action against the trespassers.
This can be a very harrowing and expensive problem to deal with and specialist legal assistance is always recommended in order to expedite a resolution to these problems.
Please Note: This document is for general information only. It is not legal advice and should not be acted or relied on as being so. It does not create a solicitor-client relationship between Temple Legal Solutions Ltd and any other person. Legal advice should be taken before applying any information in this document to any facts and circumstance.
If you contact Temple Legal Solutions or call 01483 514814 to make an initial enquiry, you will then referred to an appropriate, experienced law firm.