What to do if you have Squatters in your Commercial Building

Squatting is when a person knowingly enters a building without permission as a trespasser and lives there, or intends to live there.

Since the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act came into force in 2012, residential squatting has become a criminal offence, meaning that squatters may be arrested and punished by a substantial fine and / or prison sentence. However, this law does not however apply to commercial properties, meaning that squatting at such premises remains a civil offence. A commercial property owner needs to obtain a court order to evict squatters from commercial property.

Before issuing court proceedings the landlord needs to have information about the occupation and it is useful to know how many squatters are on site and what parts of the building they are occupying. The landlord should also investigate whether the squatters have caused damage to the property – if so it may be possible to persuade the court to speed the process up. The landlord should contact its insurers and also make a call to the police so that they are aware of the situation (although the police are unlikely to make an arrest /removal). If travellers are in occupation it is also worth contacting the local authority.

When a trespasser claim is issued a hearing date is given and the sealed papers are then served on the squatters. In most cases the claim is issued against “persons unknown” and it is actually easier if the landlord does not know the names of the occupiers. A process server is usually best placed to serve the papers upon the squatters. There are specific rules relating to the service of the papers upon squatters and the time frame for doing so.

At the court hearing a possession order is obtained and then the county court bailiff or high court enforcement officer can evict the squatters.

With a significant number of commercial units remaining empty commercial property owners have become increasingly at risk of having squatters occupy their premises. Preventing occupation is essential. Here are some practical suggestions to discourage squatters;

·       Ensure unoccupied buildings are secured and alarmed promptly after the tenant vacates.

·       Check on the property regularly to see if there are any signs of attempted entry and provide regular security patrols if necessary.

·       Remove any articles of value internally and externally.

·       Check you have adequate insurance cover.

·       Turn off and disconnect utilities.

·       Consider letting the property on a temporary trading basis or on short-term agreements.

Posted on 12/05/2016 by Ortolan

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