Squatting has always been a contentious subject for discussion, whether you have been the unfortunate victim of squatters taking up residence in your house or whether you have given support to a client, colleague or friend dealing with the legal process of evicting squatters.
In this post, I look at the current legal process and gives tips on how to avoid squatters getting into your premises.
The long arm of the law
The average man on the street will be aware that since autumn last year, squatting in a residential property became a criminal offence punishable by up to six months in prison and/or a fine of up to £5,000.
Residential property owners are undoubtedly now in a much better position regarding squatters, as the police can arrest and prosecute any offender. However, for commercial property owners the situation remains much the same and there has been a reported increase in the number of squatters breaking into business premises.
There is concern that savvy squatters are increasingly targeting empty pubs, warehouses, offices and high profile buildings as a way of escaping criminality. The national press has reported changes in squatters’ tactics, with a surge in the number of squatters in commercial property since the end of 2012.
There are allegedly “squatters’ rights” organisations offering up legal warning notices, which can be downloaded from their websites, stating that non-residential properties are not caught by the new law and encouraging squatters to target commercial sites.
Avoiding squatters in business premises
There are currently no commitments to extend the law to encompass commercial buildings. All that we can do is advise clients to take the following steps:-
- Ensure vacant property is as secure as much possible using CCTV cameras, alarms, locks and security guards.
- Inspect the property internally and externally on a very regular basis.
- Remove any items of value, if at all possible.
- Turn off electricity, gas and water supplies if the building is going to be unused for some time.
- Get in contact with BDB immediately and take legal advice in the event that your commercial premises are invaded by squatters or the threat of such invasion becomes apparent.