Squatters are increasingly moving into commercial premises due to the recent criminalisation of squatting in residential properties. Landowners should be aware that they may owe squatters a duty against injury incurred while their buildings are under occupation.
Vacant commercial buildings are often in a dilapidated state and may be unsafe for occupation. An owner of an occupied building will owe a duty to squatters in respect of the risk of injury “by reason of any danger due to the state of the premises or to things done or omitted to be done on them”. This duty could arise if all of the following conditions are met:
- The owner is aware of the danger or has reasonable grounds to believe that it exists;
- The owner knows or has reasonable grounds to believe that the trespasser is in or may come within the vicinity of the danger; and
- The risk is one against which, in all the circumstances of the case, the owner may reasonably be expected to offer the trespasser protection.
If you own a vacant building that may cause danger to someone who enters, you should take steps to erect warning signs and ensure that potential squatters are fully aware they are entering a building that may be unsafe.