A Tenant’s Guide To Squatting Rights In The UK: Knowing Your Legal Position
Squatting, the act of living in an unoccupied residential property without the owner’s consent, remains an issue affecting landlords and Property Guardians in the UK. While no legal ‘squatting rights UK’ exist, complex eviction processes still incentivise some to attempt gaining possession of empty homes. This article clarifies the legal context of squatting, the protections and avenues available to landlords, and steps tenants should take if squatting issues arise.
Squatting refers to occupying and living in a vacant residential building without the legal permission of the owner. This is usually done by forcibly gaining entrance to unsecured empty properties. Squatters may reside in the property continuously or intermittently. Some may even attempt to assume ownership through adverse possession claims if the squatting remains unchallenged long-term.
Squatting should not be confused with more legitimate housing arrangements such as Property Guardianships. Guardians temporarily live in empty buildings with owner consent to provide security and avoid properties falling derelict. This is not squatting.
Squatting Law in the UK
Squatting itself is largely illegal in the UK. Under the 2012 Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act it is a criminal offence to squat in residential buildings in England and Wales. Those convicted face fines and even jail time.
However, due to rights protecting occupiers from illegal eviction, it remains a complex civil process for property owners to remove squatters. Valid court orders are required which can prolong the process.
Additionally, some buildings like disused commercial properties still permit squatting under certain circumstances, provided entry was not forced. Here, owners must pursue civil eviction and recovery.
Reasons for Squatting Emergence
Factors that can lead to squatting issues include:
- Prolonged emptiness – Properties left vacant and poorly secured are prime targets.
- Quick evictions – Where landlords abruptly evict lawful tenants, squatters may capitalise before new tenants are found.
- Renovation delays – Lengthy refurbishment projects can leave properties vulnerable to squatting.
- Financial difficulties – Issues paying the rent causes some prior tenants to remain illegally.
- Advertising – Visible marketing of vacant possession may attract opportunistic squatters.
- Monitoring failures – Lack of regular inspections enables squatting situations to take hold.
- Ownership confusion – Unclear property ownership and responsibilities assist squatters.
Maintaining security and active usage of properties inhibits squatting risks.
Protecting Property from Squatters
Landlords can take preventative measures by:
- Conducting regular inspections – Checking for signs of forced entry and occupation.
- Completing fast turnarounds – Minimising voids between tenancies where possible.
- Using guardians – These provide a protective transitional presence between lets.
- Improving physical security – Ensure locks, doors, gates and fences deter illegal access.
- Displaying warning signs – ‘No trespassing’ and ‘Monitored security’ signage puts off would-be squatters.
- Registering the property – Official registration clarifies legal ownership making squatting harder to justify.
- Removing valuables – Empty properties should not store items that attract thieves unable or unwilling to squat long-term.
- Taking photographs – For evidence and detection of damage/rearrangement if squatting occurs.
Proactive mitigation deters squatting before situations escalate.
Repossessing Squatted Properties
If squatters do gain illegal access, strict processes exist for repossession:
- Gather evidence – Photograph any damage or changes indicating occupation.
- Seek legal advice – Specialist property solicitors ensure the law is followed exactly.
- Request eviction – Formally demand the squatters vacate the property immediately.
- Seek court order – Apply for an Interim Possession Order from the County Court.
- Involve police – Request police are on standby when enforcing the court order.
- Change locks – Prevent re-entry once squatters are removed.
- Record incidents – Report any confrontational behaviour to police to support potential prosecutions.
- Repair damage – Restore the property condition through maintenance.
- Review security – Identify remedy measures to prevent repeat occurrences.
Following due legal process ensures squatters are removed safely and correctly.
Protection for Vulnerable Squatters
In limited circumstances, extra protections apply:
- Since September 2012, squatting residential buildings has been illegal, overruling previous allowances.
- However, where squatters can demonstrate ten continuous years of undisputed residency, they may lodge adverse possession claims. Each case is judged on its merits.
- For squatters occupying commercial premises instead, or residing before September 2012, more grounds for delaying eviction may exist temporarily where health and welfare factors like homelessness are pertinent.
- However, rights are limited. Landlords should seek legal counsel to ensure appropriate procedures are adhered to while managing any vulnerability issues through social service contacts.
The onus remains on protecting landlords’ property rights. Welfare agencies can assist squatters once vacated.
Seeking Damages from Squatters
Landlords can pursue financial remedies by:
- Quantifying losses – Calculation of rental income losses and property remediation costs attributable to squatting.
- Using evidence – Itemisation of damage, forced entries, stolen items etc strengthens claims.
- Compiling documentation – Collecting police reports, repair invoices, witness statements etc to demonstrate losses.
- Insurance claims – Notify insurers of malicious damage and theft claims.
- Civil action – A lawsuit can demand squatters repay all landlord costs if identifiable.
- Prosecution – Where criminal offences like trespass or criminal damage occurred, this may deliver convictions and fines.
Though compensation is hard to secure in practice, documenting the actions helps in applying future sanctions like injunctions.
Seeking Rent from Squatters
Attempting to extract ‘rent’ from squatters risks implying legal consent for their occupancy. However, landlords may recover costs through:
- Court orders – Applying for maintenance contribution orders during eviction proceedings.
- Damages claims – Quantified requests repaying fair rent levels as part of civil proceedings.
- Secondary legislation – Section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 provides scope to levy squatters for costs like utilities.
Landlords should avoid informal agreements or communication indicating squatters have rent payment obligations or tenancy rights. All remedies must follow formal legal processes.
If squatters attempt occupying your rented property, as a tenant you should:
- Not compromise safety – Do not take direct action; report issues promptly to your landlord or agent.
- Inform landlords – Alert them immediately if you suspect a break-in or encounter strangers onsite.
- Call the police – If feeling threatened by confrontations with squatters directly.
- Photograph evidence – Capture images of damage or changes to the property to assist the landlord’s case.
- Cooperate fully – Provide witness statements and assist landlord legal representatives if required.
- Arrange repairs – Only use approved contractors to fix any damages. Save invoices to evidence costs.
- Increase security – Improve locks and alarms to strengthen protection after vacant possession is regained.
Early intervention and lawful cooperation aids swift resolutions that protect your tenancy.
In summary, while squatting residential properties is largely illegal in the UK context, complex eviction processes mean landlords must take care to securely repossess squatted properties through formal legal procedures. With prevention better than cure, vigilance and fast action against emerging squatting risks is key to protecting landlords’ property rights and minimising disruption. For tenants, cooperating with landlord directions and not directly engaging squatters will ensure your own occupancy rights remain protected if issues do occur. Ultimately, united vigilance between landlords and tenants is vital to deterring unlawful occupation.