Protecting Your Property: Proven Tips And Techniques For UK Homeowners
As a homeowner in the UK, you have certain rights and responsibilities when it comes to protecting your property. While homeownership comes with many benefits, it also brings potential risks that you must stay vigilant against. One such risk is the possibility of squatters attempting to take up residence in your home while you are away.
Squatting is when someone occupies an unoccupied or abandoned building or land without the owner’s permission. Squatters often target properties that appear vacant as an opportunity for free housing. As a homeowner, you must safeguard your home against squatters to avoid lengthy and costly evictions.
In this guide, we will provide practical tips and legal insights to help UK homeowners prevent squatting and protect their property investment.
Understanding Squatters’ Rights In The UK
Before we dive into defensive strategies, it’s important to understand squatters’ legal rights in the UK. Two main laws govern squatting:
- Criminal Law Act 1977 – Made trespass a civil offence rather than a criminal offence. This means that squatting itself is not a criminal act.
- Section 144 Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 – Made squatting in residential buildings a criminal offence in England and Wales. Squatting in commercial properties is still treated as a civil matter.
While squatting in residential buildings is illegal, squatters do have certain squatting rights even in civil squatting cases. Police cannot immediately remove squatters from a property without a court order. Homeowners must follow proper eviction protocols, which can be lengthy.
This highlights why prevention is so key. The harder you make it for squatters to gain access in the first place, the better protected your property will be.
Securing Your Property Before Traveling Or Leaving It Vacant
One of the best ways to prevent squatting is to secure your home if it will be vacant for an extended period. Here are some tips to make your home a far less attractive target:
Use Timing Strategically
- Avoid having your home appear empty for long stretches. Have mail held, grass cut, lights on timers, etc.
- If travelling, ask neighbours to park cars in your driveway, put bins out on trash day, etc.
- Make renovations or repairs before leaving so it looks occupied.
Lock Up Tight
- Change the locks right before leaving. Ensure all doors and windows have sturdy, high-quality locks.
- Install an alarm system, security cameras, motion sensor lights, etc. Post signs advertising the security measures.
- Block access points like dog doors, gates, cellar doors, and hide keys.
- Tell neighbours how long you’ll be gone and ask them to watch for suspicious activity.
- Make sure they have your contact info and the contact info of a housesitter or property manager.
- Ask them to vary parking, mow the lawn occasionally, collect mail, etc.
Taking these precautions can make it extremely difficult for potential squatters to get into your home undetected.
Protecting A Rental Property From Squatters
As a landlord, securing your unoccupied rental home is equally important. Follow these best practices:
- Change the locks after each tenant moves out.
- Make repairs and renovations promptly before advertising for new tenants.
- Use a reputable letting agency to minimise voids between tenancies.
- Hire a property management company to regularly check on the property if it will be vacant for longer periods.
- Install security measures like alarms and surveillance cameras.
- Register the property on the Private Rented Sector Empty Homes online register. This allows police to quickly verify the property status.
- Post “No Trespassing” signs with 24-hour contact information for the property manager.
Take steps to prevent mail from piling up and lawns becoming overgrown, as these are giveaways that a property is not occupied.
Deterring Squatters From Entering Your Property
If squatters have already gained entry to your property, swift action is required to have the best chance of evicting them quickly. Here are some tactics to try:
Remove Access Opportunities
- Change all locks immediately. At least you can contain them to only the areas already accessed.
- Board up and lock windows and other entry points. Remove ladders, tools, or objects squatters could use to re-enter.
- Install an alarm system, if don’t already have one.
Monitor the Property
- Install security cameras both inside and outside to document squatters’ activity and identify them.
- Hire a security service to patrol the property.
Post No Trespassing Signs
- Post visible “No Trespassing” signs around the property.
- Signs should cite relevant legal statutes, like Section 144, and state that trespassers will be prosecuted.
- Include 24-hour contact information for the owner or property manager.
- Cancel any active utility accounts so the property has no heat, water, or electricity. Lack of amenities may drive squatters out faster.
- However, consult a solicitor first, as cutting off certain utilities may not be legal if tenants have established residency.
Seek Legal Eviction
- Hire a solicitor to begin formal eviction proceedings immediately. The faster this process is initiated, the better.
- You may be able to pursue an Interim Possession Order, which can expedite the eviction timeline in some cases.
- If squatters leave behind personal items, do not dispose of them. This can impede the eviction process or lead to theft charges.
Using Legal Deterrents To Prevent Squatting
There are also some legal tactics you can employ to dissuade potential squatters from targeting your property:
Register Your Property
- Register empty commercial buildings on the Private Rented Sector empty homes online register. Police can quickly look up addresses to confirm if a property is vacant or occupied.
Post Warning Signs
- Place visible “No Trespassing” signs that cite relevant legal statutes around the property’s perimeter.
- You can also post signs stating that trespassers will be prosecuted.
Issue Legal Warnings
- If you encounter someone on your property, issue a verbal or written cease and desist order.
- Warn them that they are trespassing and will be reported to the police if they do not immediately vacate the premises.
- Follow up with a solicitor’s letter reiterating they face civil or criminal charges for trespassing if they return.
Register With Prevention Schemes
- Join the National Anti-Squatting Network Register. They issue written warnings on your behalf to deter squatters.
- Consider services like SmartWater or CMD, which use property marking and monitoring to prevent squatting.
Taking legal preventative measures can convince squatters to avoid properties where they face a high risk of prosecution.
Using Property Guardians To Protect Empty Buildings
For commercial properties or blocks of flats that will be vacant for extended periods, consider hiring property guardians. Guardians legally live in a property as temporary tenants, keeping it occupied and secure. Benefits of using property guardians include:
- Decreased squatting risk – The constant occupation deters squatters from accessing vacant properties.
- Cost savings – Guardians pay affordable licence fees that are typically less than security costs. No business rates are charged while guardian-occupied.
- Property monitoring – Guardians report maintenance issues, damages, trespassers, etc.
- Flexible arrangements – Most guardian companies only require 28-60 days’ notice to vacate when the owner needs the property returned.
Be sure to use a reputable guardian company that vets guardians, handles all contracts, and assumes liability for the occupation. This prevents a guardian themselves from becoming a squatter.
Deterring Squatters Through Property Renovation And Maintenance
Dilapidated, rundown properties are prime squatting targets. Improving the exterior condition of your property can make it much less appealing to squatters looking for an easy place to gain entry.
Maintain the Grounds
- Keep lawns mowed, leaves raked, gardens tidy, and trash cans put away. Overgrown grounds scream neglect.
- Remove the ladder, tools, debris, or anything that could be used to gain entry.
- Board up or repair any exterior sheds, garages, or outbuildings.
Improve Exterior Appearance
- Make repairs to exterior walls, roofs, porches, and foundations promptly to prevent a derelict appearance.
- Give facades a fresh coat of paint. Bright colours make a property appear occupied.
- Ensure windows and doors are in good working order. Replace any broken panes.
- Pressure wash dingy surfaces like driveways and walkways.
Install Security Features
- Post visible alarm system and surveillance signage.
- Motion-activated lighting around the property’s perimeter can also deter trespassers.
Well-maintained, secure properties signal vigilant owners, driving squatters away.
What To Do if You Are The Victim Of Squatting
If squatters do successfully occupy your home, act swiftly:
- Do not attempt to remove them yourself – This could lead to violence or criminal charges.
- Gather evidence – Take photos and video footage documenting the squatters and disruption.
- Call the police – Reporting the incident creates a paper trail. However, police may not be able to immediately remove squatters.
- Hire a solicitor – Legally evicting squatters yourself can be complex. Seek professional assistance.
- Know your rights – Squatters do have some legal protections, so be sure the eviction process follows proper protocols.
- Secure your property – Lock all entry points, install security systems, and disable utilities if advised legally.
- Mitigate damages – Document any vandalism or theft for insurance claims. Have remediation costs ready for possible legal damages.
- Be patient – Unfortunately, evicting squatters often takes weeks or months. But you do have legal recourse.
No homeowner wants the violation and frustration of squatting. With proper vigilance, preventative action, and legal support when needed, you can protect your property investment from this risk.
Squatting is a complex issue requiring homeowner diligence and quick response if it occurs. Safeguarding empty properties, deterring trespassers, and understanding legal protocols are key to defending your property rights. With the right security tactics and legal knowledge, UK homeowners can take proactive steps to prevent squatting and remove squatters promptly if they do gain access. Protecting your home protects your most valuable asset and investment.