How to protect your empty home from squatters

Squatting, or living on someone’s empty property without permission, is a growing risk for property owners. The Ministry of Justice estimates that some 20,000 people squat in unoccupied properties—up from 15,000 a decade ago. And there are nearly 1 million empty homes across the UK, over one-third of which have been vacant for more than six months, according to the charity Empty Homes. Many squatters cause damage to the homes and businesses they choose to live in. What can you do to protect your property?

Laws against squatting

In 2012, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act made squatting in residential properties illegal in England and Wales, with penalties of up to a £5,000 fine and six months in prison. Squatting in commercial properties, however, is not a criminal offence, and it is the property owner’s responsibility to remove squatters. For properties that are both residential and non-residential, such as a pub or shop with a flat above it, squatters can claim to be living only in the non-residential part of the building.

Squatting in Northern Ireland is not a criminal offence, though damage and theft are still punishable under criminal laws. In Scotland, however, squatting on private property was criminalised under the Trespass (Scotland) Act 1865. Property owners in Scotland have the right to evict a squatter from the premises without giving notice or applying for a court eviction order.

Keeping squatters away

Reduce your risk and prevent people from squatting on your property by following these recommendations:

  • Secure your premises
  • Remove means of ingress such as trees and scaffolding
  • Consider installing an intruder alarm and cameras
  • Ensure all doors and windows are locked
  • Inspect your property regularly
  • Shut off all services such as water and electricity
  • Remove fixtures such as toilets and kitchen units

Many squatters cause damage to the homes and businesses they choose to live in. Reduce your risk by keeping squatters off your property.

What to do if you find squatters

If you discover that squatters have been illegally residing in your property, you must try and evict them as soon as possible. The longer the squatters stay in your property, the harder it becomes to evict them. To evict squatters safely and legally from your property, the following guidelines usually apply:

Call the police immediately – The police will be able to determine if they are trespassing or squatting on your property. They can legally remove trespassers.

Serving an eviction notice – If the police determine that the people on your property are squatters, then you will have to serve them with an eviction notice which will need to be administered by the local authority.

Lawsuits – A lawsuit may follow if the squatters do not leave after being served their eviction notice. Unfortunately, this can be a lengthy and time-consuming process and usually followed up with an eviction court hearing.

Removal of squatters – If all goes to plan with the lawsuit, the squatters will have to move from your property. The police will also have legal rights to remove the squatters if they do not co-operate.

Not all scenarios will involve this lengthy process as some squatters my leave on their own accord when first confronted. Either way, it’s extremely important to follow your local authorities’ guidelines on how to evict un-wanted guests on your property, as taking matters into your own hands, could complicate the situation moving forward.