Trespassers or 'squatters' are becoming increasingly prevalent within temporarily vacant commercial premises in city centres.

We have recently assisted clients in enforcing the removal of organised groups of squatters from properties within Manchester City Centre.

Some groups are actively looking for such premises to occupy as squatters. This can present a major problem for property owners, as they can hinder proposed development, thwart a letting to a bona fide tenant and often the property can be left in a poor state once possession is obtained.

The problem of squatting is compounded by the fact that the police are generally reluctant to intervene as trespassers in a non-residential context fall under the remit of civil law (unless the police specifically observe the trespassers committing a criminal act, which is rare).

What action should you take if you become aware that trespassers are occupying your property?

If you become aware that trespassers have gained entry to your property and remain in occupation, the only way to ensure that they vacate (if they will not leave peacefully) is to make an urgent application to court for a possession order.

There are specific steps governed by the court rules that must be complied with to obtain a possession order, particularly as regards service of the proceedings and the periods of notice that must be given to the trespassers prior to a court hearing. The court may be reluctant to grant the order if the requisite procedural steps have not been complied with.

How long does it take to enforce the removal of trespassers?

If the court procedure is followed promptly and accurately, an order can usually be obtained within 7-10 days of the proceedings being issued (depending on the court's timetable).

If the trespassers fail to vacate peacefully upon the presentation of a possession order, you can (provided you have the court's authority to do so) enlist the services of court bailiffs or high court enforcement officers who will enforce their removal, with the assistance of the police if there's a risk that the trespassers will turn violent.

Prompt and efficient action is imperative to ensure that the investment value of your property is preserved and to limit any damage that may be caused to the property as a consequence of the trespassers' occupation.

To ensure that the procedure prescribed by the court rules is adhered to, and that vacant possession is secured at the earliest opportunity, it is recommended that you seek specialist advice before starting proceedings.