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Evicting squatters

The squatting situation in England and Wales is complicated and squatting is often legal (this is not a typing mistake, it says legal). Landlords must follow the correct legal procedure when evicting squatters.

A squatter is someone who occupies an empty or abandoned property without the owner's permission and often without his knowledge and without any legal right to do so. Genuine squatters cannot be moved without a court order.

Trespassers are not squatters and can be removed immediately by the police as long as you act quickly and whilst the evidence of forced entry (breaking and entry) is still present.

Obviously, the easiest solution to the squatter problem is make sure they don't squat in the first place – secure the building adequately, ask neighbours to keep an eye open and report immediately to the police any signs of break-in. A long-term deterrent which some people employ is to remove the plumbing and toilets. Try to give the impression that the building is occupied – leave curtains/blinds in place, put lights on timer switches, make regular visits to the property where possible or ask a neighbour/friend to do it for you.

However, if a genuine squatter has taken possession of a building, he or she has rights and cannot be evicted from premises without a court possession order (eviction order), unless he or she leaves voluntarily. The owner must also be able to prove he has the right to live in the property and that the squatter does not.

What to do if you believe squatters have occupied your property?

Step 1: Contact the police immediately – they may be able to take action without going through the courts. Try to be present when the police attend – they have been known to cause as much damage as the illegal occupants while in the process of eviction!

Step 2: If the police are unable to assist, immediately start legal proceedings for an Interim Possession Order (fast track eviction process) if you can meet all the requirements* - you must do this within 28 days of becoming aware of the squatters. The action should be started by using a "claim form" in the County Court where you can also get the necessary forms.

Step 3: Once you have started legal proceedings, you will be asked to undertake to the court

a) that you will allow the occupiers back onto the premises (with compensation) if the court later decides you were not entitled to an interim possession order;

b) that you will not let the premises or damage or dispose of them until the court makes its final decision by granting a full possession order.

If the court grants an interim possession order, the squatters will be required to leave within 24 hours and not return within 12 months. If the squatters refuse to leave, they are committing a criminal offence and risk being arrested by the police or court bailiff and may be subject to a fine and/or imprisonment.

* Requirements for the granting of an Interim Possession Order:

To obtain an Interim Possession Order, you will need to show the court that:

- the occupied property is a building; or
- part of a building, that is a self-contained room or flat within it; or
- the land ancillary to a building;
(The procedure does not apply to open land)

and that:

- you have an immediate right to possession of the premises being occupied;

- your right has existed for the whole of the time the premises have been occupied illegally;

- you are making your claim for possession within 28 days of the date on which you first knew your premises were being occupied without your consent;
(If your premises were occupied for a time before you became aware of it, the judge will consider whether you should have known about it sooner than you did)

- the defendants are not people who have been given a right to occupy the premises by a legal tenant or lessee; and

- you are only making a claim for possession against squatters for the recovery of the premises and not for damages.

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