Squatters rights and how to remove them from an unoccupied property

Discovering that squatters have moved into your unoccupied property, can be devastating news. Squatters can cause significant damage to your property, internally and externally, and removing them legally and safely, can be a costly and drawn-out process.

So do squatters have rights, and how can you remove them from your unoccupied property?

What the law says

Section 6 of the Criminal Law Act 1977 was implemented to prevent landlords from forcibly evicting tenants. It therefore became a crime in most circumstances, for a landlord to forcibly enter a building occupied by squatters, if the squatters where physically present to object to the landlord’s entry.

Since 1st September 2012, squatting or claiming ‘squatter rights’ in a residential building, without the permission of the property owner, is in fact illegal.

However, squatting in a vacant non-residential building, is not usually a crime. The police cannot necessarily remove squatters from commercial buildings for simply being there, but they can remove them if they have committed other crimes whilst there.

Keeping squatters away

Reduce the risk to your unoccupied property and prevent people from squatting by following these recommendations:

  • Remove any trees and scaffolding near the property that could make entry easier.
  • Keep the property internally and externally as clean and tidy as possible. The more occupied a property looks, the less likely squatters will want to move in.
  • Ensure all entry points such as doors, windows and skylights are locked using British standard locks. Consider installing security fencing and metal panelling.
  • Install CCTV cameras and a security system that can be checked remotely.
  • Flood lights directed at entry points and blind spots will leave less space for squatters to hide.
  • Inspect your property regularly but at different times.
  • Shut off all services such as water and electricity.
  • Remove fixtures such as toilets and kitchen units.

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, due to squatters rights. 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. Police have the authority to 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 your 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 is 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 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 is 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.