Nightmare situation – my tenants moved out and in the void period I’ve found that I have squatters in my property! How do I get them out quickly and with minimal hassle?
Ah, this can be a pain, but needn’t be a complete nightmare – there is a procedure to follow, and support available.
Much of the situation depends on whether your property is a residential rental, or a business let.
Squatting in a residential building is an illegal act, which is punishable by up to six months in prison, a £5,000 fine or both. If your property is a residential rental (we’ll assume it is!) there are some steps you can take to make a move to get your unwanted guests out without too much hassle.
If your property is an industrial premises, you may have a bit more of a battle on your hands, but don’t worry too much, it’s still do-able! Squatting in a commercial building isn’t actually a crime, so more and more commercial buildings are being targeted. However, squatters can commit other crimes whilst entering or living in your property (such as criminal damage whilst gaining entry/living in the property, not leaving the property when instructed to by a court, stealing from the property, theft of utilities, fly-tipping).
Regaining possession of your property from a legitimate tenant is not a quick process, however you’ll be pleased to know that if you have squatters in situ it can be significantly quicker! There are two options open to you. You can file an interim possession order (IPO), which requires you to submit a number of forms to your local court. The court will then issue you with an official possession document that you can serve on the squatters at your property. This must be served in the same way that you serve any possession document – the simplest way will be to serve the document in person at the property, make sure you have this witnessed and documented by an independent witness. Do take your personal safety into account as well, and if you have any concerns, notify the police.
Once this has been served, you will have to attend court where possession will be granted. At this stage, if the squatters have not left the property you can instruct the services of county court bailiffs or elevate the case to high court enforcement officers.
The other option is to request assistance from your local police force under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. This is a fairly little-used Act, so it is possible that your local police force may be unfamiliar with the process. Additionally, as housing is considered a civil matter, police forces may be reluctant to get involved, especially as there is a specific court process designed to remove squatters from premises, however, if the squatters are causing damage, noise and generally causing anti-social behaviour within the neighbourhood or you feel your personal safety is at risk by getting involved with serving notices, the police will certainly be able to assist.
We recently held a webinar along with colleagues at the National Landlords Association on this very topic, so given your situation, it may be worth a listen, just to familiarise yourself with the situation – after all, it’s not something that you can pre-empt!
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