We understand the past 18+ months have been tricky, and therefore many commercial landlords have found themselves with vacant buildings whilst the search for new tenants is underway.
What exactly is squatting?
Squatting is when a person or group of people enter a building without the consent of the landlord or owner and reside at the property. Whilst squatting is illegal if the building is residential and perpetrators can face six months imprisonment and a £5,000 fine, squatting in commercial premises is quite the opposite. Under UK legislation introduced in 2012, commercial landlords do not enjoy the same protection as residential landlords in the same situation. Therefore we recommend initiating a security company or similar to protect your premises.
Is there a workaround with commercial properties?
Whilst squatting in a commercial property is not a crime, you can report your unwanted intruders if they have broken into your building as they have committed an offence, but if you leave windows or doors open, a squatter can claim they walked in, in which case you’re going to begin a pretty lengthy court process to remove them from your premises.
Does the method of entry impact the squatters rights?
If the building is designated as commercial and not designed for residential use. Squatters can legally reside in all kinds of commercial property, including vacant school buildings, office blocks and disused factories. If squatters admit they have broken into a commercial building, they have committed an offence, but if windows or doors are left open, squatters can claim they walked in. In this case, owners will have to go through an expensive and somewhat lengthy court process.
what’s the process to remove squatters?
Since you can’t forcibly remove the squatters, your only option is to seek legal advice and go through the court process.
If the squatters have been in place for less than 28 days
You must act quickly, and if it’s been less than 28 days, you can file for an Interim Possession Order (IPO) with your local county court and once submitted, you should receive confirmation within 48 hours along with documentation to give to the squatters. Once issued with an IPO, squatters can be served with a prison sentence if they fail to leave within 24 hours or renter within 12 months. Don’t forget you’ll need to make a final claim of possession during your IPO application.
What if it’s been more than 28 days?
The situation becomes more complicated where more than 28 days have passed since you became aware of the squatters. You can still apply for an Interim Possession Order; however, the squatters will be invited to a hearing and allowed to state whether they believe they are entitled to occupy the property. In reality, squatters rarely attend, and if the court is satisfied with your entitlement to the property, they will grant a Summary Possession Order (SPO).
once you've gained possession of the property
Once you have gained possession of the property, you should change the locks and ensure the property is secure. To discuss your specific concerns with our team and get your property back, contact us today.
What’s the long term risk of having squatters?
While the short to medium-term situation for commercial landlords are pretty dire (loss of money and time, property damage, and a whole lot of hassle), squatters pose a long-term risk in terms of severely devaluing your asset—not only will your property be impossible to rent or sell with squatters in situ, but it’s safe to say that squatters won’t be looking after the property or doing any maintenance! Wear and tear and other damages caused to the property could significantly reduce its value over time.
In the case of fire (arson or accidental), you will have difficulty getting insurance to payout. Your policy may have lapsed after a few weeks of your property being vacated, and even if you have vacant property insurance, your policy is unlikely to cover use by illegal occupation.
Contact the team today via firstname.lastname@example.org, and we can arrange to secure your property against squatting and other threats.