Squatters pose a huge threat to owners of empty commercial property across the UK, with unauthorised occupants causing damage to thousands of buildings across the country each year. Although the exact numbers of squatters in the UK isn’t officially recorded, 10 years ago estimated there could be as many as 50,000 individuals* squatting in the UK. Today, in a post Covid world, with the loaming cost of living crisis, that figure is expected to be significantly higher.
The damage squatters can inflict on a property is substantial, stripping buildings of fixtures and assets, fly tipping, disrupting local communities and attract other forms of anti-social behaviour.
The clean up cost can run into tens of thousand of pounds, repairing the damage, cleaning up the property and mitigating any reputational damage caused – and that is before you take into account the legal costs of removing the squatters.
The law around squatting
Squatting is the act of deliberately entering a property, without permission of the owner, with the intention of living in it. Despite squatting in a residential property becoming illegal in 2012, it is still legal to squat in a commercial buildings in the UK.
Squatting in a commercial property is actually classed as a civil offence, so unless criminal activity has taken place such as vandalism, anti-social behaviour, stealing or breaking and entering, the police will not be able to get involved.
Squatters, or a succession of squatters can claim to become the registered owners of a property if they have occupied a property, without the owners permission for more than 10 years.
can squatters be evicted?
Evicting squatters is the responsibility of the property owner and failure to act quickly can result in a lengthy, not to mention very expensive, court process.
Under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994, property owners can legally remove squatters by applying for an Interim Possession Order (IPO), but applications for an IPO must be made within 28 days of the owner finding out that the property has been taken over.
Once the IPO has been issued by the court and served to the squatters, they must vacate the premises within 24 hours and not return for 12 months. However, squatters are often very well informed about their legal position, and the process to remove them is often not that straightforward.
the true cost of eviction
If squatters invade commercial premises, the legal fees for eviction normally start at around £5000, but owners will also be left responsible for the clean-up bill, which can be a significantly more. Repairing damage, rubbish clearance, changing locks and making the property secure again can dramatically increase the cost to owners and this is before you take into account reputational damage and loss of rent throughout the whole process.
protecting your empty property
Squatters pose a real risk to owners of vacant property and prevention, by ensuring the property remains secure and visibly in use, is the best form of protection. Owners can install CCTV or even appoint security guards to help, but by far the most effective deterrent against squatters are Property Guardians.
Property Guardians protect property through occupation, providing a cost-effective way to keep buildings safe and secure 24/7. They act as a strong and visible deterrent, caring for and maintaining the property, whilst bringing peace of mind to owners and the wider community. Guardians are often provided free of charge and in many cases actually provide owners with a revenue stream.
To find out more about how guardianship could help secure your property against squatters and other vacant risks, we invite you to contact us to arrange an informal chat.