No landlord wants to discover squatters in their property but if it happens, it’s important to act quickly and legally. Here, we take a look at squatters rights, how to evict them, and ways to prevent squatters from entering your property in the first place.
We’ve broken the article down into the following sections so you can quickly find the information you need:
- What is a squatter?
- Is squatting illegal and can the police evict squatters?
- Squatters’ rights
- How to evict squatters
- Keeping squatters out
- How can landlord insurance help?
A squatter is someone who enters a property and lives in it without permission. Squatting is also formally known as ‘adverse possession’.
There’s often some confusion about who can be called a squatter. For example, some people consider squatters to include tenants who owe rent or stay on after being given notice to leave.
However, the description provided by GOV.UK states that anyone who originally had permission to enter the property, is not a squatter. By that definition, tenants who are behind in their rent are (technically) not squatters.
What’s the difference between a squatter and a trespasser?
In reality, there’s actually very little difference. A squatter is fundamentally a trespasser as they have no right to be on your property.
This depends on where the squatters are living.
Squatting in a residential building (like a house or flat) is illegal and the police can use force to enter a property and remove any trespassers. Anyone guilty of squatting can also face up to six months in prison and a £5,000 fine.
Nevertheless, squatting in a commercial property (or any other non-residential property) is not illegal, but it is a crime to damage the building or land. This includes theft, fly-tipping and any damage caused by entering the property or whilst in it. It’s also a crime if squatters stay in the property even after they’ve been told to leave by a court.
Can the police evict squatters?
Squatting in a residential building is a criminal offence and the police can arrest anyone found squatting. Also, while squatting in a commercial property is not illegal, police can also arrest anyone that causes damage.
If someone had permission to be on your property, they can’t be arrested – for example, a tenant who stopped paying rent. If you do have tenants that refuse to leave, you can issue a Section 21 notice and follow the standard eviction process or apply for a standard possession order.
Squatters do have rights, but they only apply if squatters have been in a property for a considerable amount of time.
Under the current legislation, squatters can apply to become the registered owner of property if they’ve lived there continuously for ten years. This only applies to properties that are registered with HM Land Registry. If the property isn’t registered, squatters need to have been there for 12 years instead.
It’s well worth knowing that this right can only be exercised if squatters never had permission to be on the property. So, tenants that refuse to leave cannot make a claim for possession.
Why do squatters have rights?
Squatters only have rights to possession if they’ve been in a property for a decade or more. Even then, there is no guarantee that they will be granted possession even if they apply for it.
If you find squatters in your property, it’s absolutely crucial that you abide by the law and don’t try to remove them yourself. Instead, you should:
Contact the police
Squatting in residential property is a crime so you should call the police in the first instance. It’s also a crime to damage non-residential buildings so if squatters have forced entry into a commercial premises, you should also call the police.
Apply for an interim possession order (IPO) or claim for possession
An interim possession order (IPO) is the fastest way of evicting squatters from your property if the police are unable to prioritise your call. But you can only apply for an IPO if it’s been 28 days or fewer since you first discovered the squatters. You can apply for one and submit it online using the N130 form at GOV.UK.
The IPO should be confirmed within a few days along with documents you’ll need to give to the squatters (you should do this within 48 hours of receiving the paperwork). Under the terms of the IPO, squatters must leave your property within 24 hours and stay away for 12 months.
If it’s been more than 28 days since you discovered the squatters, you’ll need to make a claim for possession instead.
Claim final possession
To finally get your property back, you’ll need to apply for what’s called ‘final possession’. Details can be found in your IPO application; you can also apply for this online.
As with most things, it’s better to prevent the problem from occurring in the first place. Here are some tips and ideas to help you deter squatters:
- Keep your property as secure as possible – property security is key, keep windows and doors locked and fencing intact.
- Make your property look lived in – you could put lamps on timers, ensure post is collected and bins put away.
- Minimise the time your property is empty – An unoccupied properties are most vulnerable, if new tenants aren’t ready to move in, try to make the property look lived in.
- Visit your property – if you live close by, visit your property to check for issues and potential security risks.
Landlord insurance won’t keep squatters out of your property, but it can help you deal with the consequences.
At Alan Boswell, we understand how important it is to protect your investment which is why you can rely on us to provide award-winning, comprehensive cover. Our landlord services include unoccupied property insurance which ensures your property is covered in between tenants or whilst it’s empty during renovations.
Without appropriate insurance, some landlord policies won’t compensate you for damage that occurs if your property’s empty for a certain number of days. Similarly, we also offer legal expenses to cover the cost of court and eviction costs, and rent guarantee that can make up for defaulting tenants.
To find out more about how we can help and the services we offer, head to our landlord hub or speak to an expert member of the team on 01603 216399.