Squatting is when someone occupies an empty or abandoned property without the permission of the owner – often without his knowledge and without any legal right to do so. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 criminalised violent or forced entry by unauthorised occupiers. A squatter is someone who has no legal ownership, tenancy or lease agreement and cannot be evicted from a property without the proper court order.
Fly-traders, travellers and squatters in commercial and residential premises and on vacant land have become a huge problem for landlords, property agents and local authorities – witness the ongoing and costly proceedings at Dale Farm, Basildon.
Dispute Resolution Solicitor Michelle Hayter, specialises in disputes over property. She says “If you find squatters occupying your property you should inform the police and attend the property when they visit. You should never use force to try and evict squatters, as this could find you accused of a criminal act under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 – polite reasoning is acceptable – if they won’t leave you will have to apply to the court.”
The legal process has been considerably speeded up by the Interim Possession Order, which is a fast track procedure that lets landlords apply to the court for repossesssion of their property. A landlord must apply within 28 days of finding out that squatters are living in his property. You will have to give the squatters five days’ notice and serve the hearing notices on them within 24 hours, or fix it to the front door of the house. The interim order is made permanent after a court hearing.
If you are experiencing problems with your property or land, call 01202 499255 to speak to Michelle or a member of our Dispute Resolution Team.