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Squatters: safeguarding your property

Squatters rights

Definition of Squatters Rights:

Squatters rights arise when a residential building is occupied by individuals without legal ownership, commonly known as squatters, for an uninterrupted duration of 10 years. During this time, if the squatters have assumed the role of “owners” and exercised control over the property, they may acquire a legal right to ownership over the long term.

If the property occupied by squatters is not registered with the HM Land Registry, the timeframe for adverse possession extends to 12 years.

It is important to note that the squatters’ rights process remains applicable even if multiple individuals have successively occupied the property throughout the 10 (or 12) year period. It is not mandatory for the same person to have resided in the property for the entire duration.

However, in order to register as the new owner of a property, squatters must provide evidence of responsible actions in their capacity as occupants. This could include activities such as paying utility bills or effective property maintenance over an extended period.

What is squatting?

Squatting refers to the act of individuals, either individually or as a group, establishing residence in an unoccupied building without obtaining permission from the property owners for a specific duration.

Once this required period of time, as defined by the law, has elapsed, the occupants may assert their ownership rights over the property. However, it is essential for them to fulfill specific legal criteria before doing so.

A squat is essentially a property where individuals, commonly referred to as squatters, dwell without obtaining consent from the rightful owner.

Squatting has been observed in residential and non-residential properties throughout history.

One of the primary reasons behind squatting is the issue of homelessness. This can be attributed to exorbitant rental costs, eviction from a previous property, or repossession entered the property for various reasons.

In other instances, squatting may serve as a direct expression of social or political protest or even for recreational purposes.

It is important to note that despite the significant housing shortage in the UK, numerous owners possess vacant properties and may choose not to sell or renovate them.

Is it against the law to squat?

Squatting in a residential property is indeed considered a violation of the law. Occupying non-residential property, buildings or complexes without legal authorization is classified as a criminal offense and can lead to imprisonment for a period of up to six months. Additionally, squatters may be subjected to a fine of up to £5,000. Depending on the circumstances, both penalties may be imposed.

It is important to note that if a squatter initially entered a property with the owner’s consent, they cannot be arrested on the grounds of the criminal offence of trespassing. This situation may arise if the squatter was previously a tenant and remained after the tenancy agreement expired.

Regarding unoccupied non-residential or commercial properties, squatting is not technically illegal. However, if squatters engage in criminal activities such as vandalism they may face police intervention.

How can squatters legally take ownership of properties?

In order for a squatter to claim ownership of a property, they will need to fill in an ADV1 form. They must also sign a “statement of truth” and send the documents to HM Land Registry.

The Land Registry will give notice to the owner of any buildings for example for which a squatter has made a claim of adverse possession.

The owner of that property may move to reject the claim and reclaim ownership of empty property. They may also evict the squatter with an “IPO” within 65 days.

If this doesn’t happen, squatters can apply again after 2 years if:
  • The owner has not made any effort to remove the squatter
  • The property has not been reclaimed
  • The squatter remains in possession of the property.

HM Land Registry will usually then register the squatter as the owner of the property.

If the building is not registered, the squatter must first apply to register the property with HM Land Registry. They may apply to take over as its registered owner by attaching their “statement of truth” to the registration form.

It is important to reiterate here that “squatting” or “adverse possession” refers to occupying property without permission.

If the resident received the owner’s permission within the required 10 years (or 12 years if the property is not registered), the act does not count as valid squatting. As a result, those involved may not claim possession of the property.

Can I get rid of squatters ?

Addressing the issue of squatters can be a distressing experience for property regularly, as they often exhibit a sense of entitlement and resistance. Some owners opt to sell their property through auctions or private property-buying companies to avoid the associated stress and difficulties. However, it’s important to note that, if dealt with promptly, the law generally supports property owners in such situations.

If you discover that individuals or a group have unlawfully occupied your property, contacting the police should be your first course of action. They will likely advise you to serve a formal eviction notice. In many cases, the threat of legal action prompts squatters to vacate the premises. If this doesn’t resolve the situation, seeking an IPO may be the next suitable step.

Things to do to avoid squatters:

  1. Ensure the house is secure and difficult to access.
  2. Regularly inspect your property to detect any unauthorized occupation.
  3. Consider utilising a “property guardian” service, which involves placing responsible occupants to deter squatters.
  4. Install CCTV cameras, floodlights, or employ monitoring security if the size of the property justifies such measures.
  5. Inform the local police station about the property’s vacant status.
  6. Disconnect all gas, electricity, and water services.

By employing a combination of legal recourse and proactive measures, you can better protect your property from potential squatters and minimize the risk of criminal damage and unauthorized occupation.

Interim Possession Order

An IPO, is a legal mechanism provided by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994 that allows the owners to remove squatters from their premises.

This order enables the owner to evict squatters temporarily until a court hearing takes place. If the court determines that the squatter is an illegal trespasser, the eviction becomes permanent.

Under an IPO, squatters are required to vacate the property within 24 hours. Failure to comply may result in their arrest by the police and potential legal consequences. Additionally, returning to the property within one year of the IPO eviction is considered a criminal offense.

In cases where the squatter was a previous tenant, the eviction process may vary slightly. Squatters who remain in a property after their tenancy ends may be subject to a “standard” or “accelerated possession order.” The owner may choose the appropriate option based on their intention to receive rent from the tenant or solely seek eviction.

If you wish to contest or challenge a possession order, you can complete a defense form or provide a written statement outlining your circumstances within 14 days of receiving the order. A court hearing will typically be scheduled for a standard possession order, where you can present evidence supporting your objection to court order.

The court will then make a decision regarding the eviction, which may include granting an outright possession order, dismissing the order, or requesting additional information and a subsequent hearing.

It is crucial to seek legal advice and assistance promptly upon receiving a possession order to ensure proper guidance and representation throughout the process.

Can I sell a house with squatters?

In the United Kingdom, selling a property with squatters can be a complex process due to the legal considerations involved. Squatters are individuals who occupy a property without legal permission. While it is not illegal to sell a property with squatters, the presence of squatters can complicate the sale and potentially affect the property’s value.

To sell a property with squatters in the UK, you will typically need to follow the legal eviction process to regain possession of the property. This process involves serving notice to the squatters, obtaining a possession order from the court, and potentially involving bailiffs to remove the squatters from the property.

It’s important to consult with a qualified legal professional or a property expert who specialises in UK law to ensure that you navigate the process correctly and comply with all the necessary legal requirements. They can provide you with specific advice based on the laws and regulations in your jurisdiction within the United Kingdom.

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About the author

Klara is a property expert. She knows everything there is to know about the property market, and she's always happy to share her tips, tricks, and advice with others who are looking to sell. Klara has been in the business for many years, and her experience makes her one of the most trusted sources of information in this field. When it comes to the housing market, Klara knows what she's talking about!