From Occupation To Ouster: A Comprehensive Approach To Squat Eviction In The UK

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Finding your residential or commercial property occupied by squatters can be an infuriating and stressful experience for any owner. Squatters may attempt to claim legal rights to remain on your premises indefinitely if you do not take prompt, lawful action to remove them. Successfully evicting unwelcome squatters requires strategic coordination of legal authorities, documentation, and physical property security measures.

This guide will examine the squat eviction process from initial discovery to the final removal of unlawful occupants. We will outline practical steps and legal protocols UK property owners should utilise to reclaim their properties and eject unwanted squatters through lawful procedures. With the appropriate knowledge and preparation, owners can undertake successful evictions while minimising the occupation period.

Understanding Squatters’ Legal Rights

Before initiating any eviction, owners should understand squatters’ current legal rights to avoid missteps. The two main UK laws governing squatter rights are:

  • Criminal Law Act 1977 – Made trespass a civil offence rather than criminal, so squatting itself is not illegal.
  • Section 144 Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 – Made squatting in residential buildings a criminal offence in England and Wales. Commercial property squatting remains a civil issue.

In residential squatting cases, squatters can be immediately removed and arrested by police upon discovery. However, evicting squatters from commercial properties is more complex due to their civil protections. Owners cannot simply force them out and must adhere to formal civil procedures.

Even in civil cases, owners should not attempt to physically eject squatters or cut off utilities without court orders. Doing so can impede eviction legal proceedings. It is crucial to follow lawful protocols.

Securing the Property Upon Discovery of Squatters

After discovering squatters, the priority is containing them to already accessed areas of the property by:

  • Changing all lock codes and keys.
  • Blockading or boarding up windows, doors, and other entry points. Remove ladders, tools, etc.
  • Posting “No Trespassing” signage with contact information.
  • Installing security surveillance systems and external lights.
  • Hiring security guards to monitor the premises 24/7 if affordable.

Physically securing the property establishes boundaries while gathering evidence against the squatters.

Documenting Evidence

Thoroughly documenting evidence of the squatters’ presence and unlawful activities is paramount for eventual legal removal. Helpful documentation methods include:

  • Photographing and video recording the squatters and disruption inside and outside the property.
  • Keeping a written log of incidents like trespassing, vandalism, noise disturbances, aggressive behaviour, illegal activities, etc.
  • Obtaining squatters’ names and personal details if possible. Note the names they use to refer to each other.
  • Making copies of any notices or placards the squatters post about their “rights.”
  • Keeping copies of all correspondence sent to the squatters.

Comprehensively documenting the squatters’ presence strengthens the eviction case.

Issuing Notices of Immediate Eviction

After securing the property and gathering evidence, a formal written notice should be issued informing the squatters they are trespassing and must vacate immediately. Notices should:

  • Be addressed to each squatter or all unknown occupants.
  • State they are trespassing on private property and are not lawful tenants.
  • Cite relevant laws such as Section 144.
  • Demand they immediately vacate the property with all belongings.
  • State they face civil or criminal prosecution if they do not comply.
  • Provide owner contact information and the date issued.

Notices can be posted on the property and copies sent via registered mail. This establishes important legal documentation.

Filing a Claim for Possession

The next vital step is initiating legal action to gain a court order for eviction through a claim for possession. To file the claim:

  • Instruct a solicitor – Eviction law is complex, so professional legal assistance is highly recommended. Lawyers can ensure proper procedures.
  • Submit claim forms – The solicitor will complete the appropriate claim forms and file them with the county court housing division along with the fee.
  • Notify squatters – Copies of the claim paperwork must be sent to each named squatter via post. Any unknown occupants can be addressed as “persons unknown.”
  • Attend court hearing – If squatters challenge the claim, a court hearing will be scheduled. The owner or solicitor must demonstrate the squatters have no legal right to occupy the property.

Filing the proper legal claim is the only pathway to obtaining a court-ordered eviction if squatters refuse to leave voluntarily.

Understanding the Court Eviction Process Timeline

Unfortunately, obtaining a possession order can take weeks or months depending on several factors:

  • Squatters contesting claim – The process significantly lengthens if squatters attempt to appeal the claim, defer hearing dates, or file their counterclaim.
  • Seeking injunction – Property owners sometimes seek an injunction for earlier removal, but these are rarely granted.
  • Wait for court date – Heavy caseloads mean court dates are often scheduled several weeks out.
  • Serving notices – There must be sufficient time between serving notices and hearings.
  • Enforcing order – After obtaining a possession order, there is a set period before enforcement, such as 14 days.

The complex legal system coupled with squatters’ delay tactics can prolong evictions. However, owners maintaining persistence eventually get possession orders enforced.

Using Interim Possession Orders to Expedite Removal

One faster method some property owners pursue is seeking an interim possession order (IPO), which can drastically shorten the eviction timeline in certain situations:

  • Criteria – An IPO typically requires urgent needs of the property, like an impending sale, contracted tenants, or scheduled renovations.
  • Application – Make the emergency circumstances clear in the IPO application to the court. Offer supporting evidence like sales contracts.
  • Timeline – If granted, an IPO can set a hearing in as little as a few days with immediate enforcement afterwards.
  • Squatters’ rights – IPOs provide less time for squatters to appeal and delay proceedings.

Pursuing an IPO is advisable for owners who meet the criteria and need quicker resolutions, such as vacant property sales being held up by squatters.

Ensuring Safety During Eviction Enforcement

Once a possession order is secured, the final step is enforcement requiring the physical removal of the squatters. Safety measures during enforcement include:

  • Schedule a time when law enforcement officers can be present. Their presence often compels rapid, peaceful cooperation from squatters.
  • Have locksmiths on standby to immediately change locks and secure entry points after removal.
  • Use a reputable eviction service to undertake the removal process professionally and securely.
  • Blockade the property before and after enforcement in case any squatters attempt to return or re-enter.
  • Take all possible safety precautions. Squatters being forcibly removed may become hostile, violent, or threatening.

With proper physical and legal precautions, the enforcement process can successfully transition a property from unlawful occupation back to rightful possession.

Avoiding Actions That Can Impede Eviction

When displacing squatters, property owners should be aware of certain actions that can impede or delay the eviction process. Avoid:

  • Attempting “self-help” evictions through shutting off utilities or physically removing squatters without court orders.
  • Disposing of any squatters’ left behind personal property, as this could constitute an illegal eviction.
  • Making needless contact with squatters outside of issuing formal notices, which could be misconstrued.
  • Damaging or taking squatters’ property as “leverage” to force them out earlier.
  • Using threatening language or behaviour toward squatters.

Squatters may be unlawful occupants, but they still maintain certain legal rights during eviction proceedings. Keeping all owner actions within legal bounds is essential.

Seeking Compensation for Property Damage

Many owners rightfully wish to pursue financial compensation for damages and legal costs after finally regaining possession and finding their properties vandalised or uninhabitable. Possible options include:

  • Repair and cleaning costs – Document all repair expenses and labour costs to restore the property to its original state. These can potentially be recovered.
  • Loss of income – Any provable loss of rental income during the occupation can potentially be sought. Keep detailed records.
  • Legal fees – Solicitors can advise if recovering any legal costs from squatters may be possible after the eviction.
  • Criminal restitution – For properties in England and Wales, criminal charges brought against squatters sometimes include a court order for damages repayment.

Though compensation is not guaranteed, it is worth exploring with legal counsel after the eviction. Documentation is key.

Preventing Repeat Squatting Incidents

Above all, property owners who endure the eviction process should take preventative measures to avoid repeat squatting. Suggested deterrents include:

  • Utilise property guardians to keep the building lawfully occupied if left vacant.
  • Install security systems – alarms, cameras, lights, and perimeter fencing.
  • Keep the property well-maintained with frequently mowed and rubbish-free grounds.
  • Immediately repair any damages or structural issues that could enable entry.
  • Post warning signs that trespassing is prohibited and will be prosecuted.

With proactive measures and ongoing vigilance, repeat squatting incidents can be avoided after reclaiming possession.

Conclusion

Navigating lawful squatter eviction requires meticulous attention to physical property security, legal protocols, and documentation. While the lengthy process can be frustrating, knowledge of squatters’ rights, court procedures, and enforcement laws allows property owners to successfully coordinate an eviction. Keeping the focus on each strategic step, from initial notices through final removal, is key to legally transferring a property from unlawful occupation back to rightful ownership. With determination and the right legal support, UK property owners have powerful protections to reclaim their premises.

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