Squatting in commercial properties – options for landlords

Squatting in residential buildings has been a criminal offence since 2012 but the number of people squatting is still rising with owners of commercial properties now at most risk.

According to a survey last year carried out by the BIFM and Orbis, 16 per cent of respondents reported an increase in commercial squatting with London property managers seeing the highest squatting rates.

If you’re one of the growing number of commercial property owners affected by squatters, or if the police are not using their powers to remove squatters from residential property, you have two options to recover possession:

1. Interim Possession Order (IPO)

This is usually used when a landowner requires urgent possession of a property. A claim is issued at Court which consists of an application for an IPO and a supporting witness statement. This must be issued within 28 days of the owner finding out that the property has been squatted.

Once issued, the claim and application must be served at the property within 24 hours. The squatters then must leave the property within 24 hours of being served with the IPO – failing to do so is a criminal offence.

There will then be a further hearing at which point the Court will decide whether the order should be made final. If it is, the squatters will have already left and therefore getting the final possession order is usually just a formality.

This option should however, be approached with caution as owners will generally have to give a number of promises (undertakings) to the Court. These include paying damages to the squatters if it’s determined they have a right to remain in the property.

2. Summary Possession Proceedings

A claim is usually issued against the anonymous person(s) and served at the property. There are specific time limits for service before the hearing – two clear days for non-residential property and five clear days for residential property.

A hearing will then take place when the Court will decide whether to make an Order for possession or not. The squatters will have an opportunity to put in a defence to the possession claim. If a defence with any merit does go in, the first hearing may be adjourned to a later date.

Once a possession order has been obtained, enforcement can be carried out by the Court bailiffs following a Warrant of Possession, or an application can be made to transfer to the High Court so that enforcement officers can carry out the eviction. This is generally fairly costly but is a lot quicker than waiting for the court bailiffs to list the eviction.

Which option is best for you?

If urgency is key then an IPO is likely to be faster. It does, however, mean that there will be two hearings to attend which will increase costs. There is also the risk of giving undertakings for damages.

If the land that has been squatted is not a building, an IPO may not be available as this option only applies to buildings and land adjacent to buildings.

There are pros and cons for both routes, so take legal advice as quickly as possible if a property you own has been squatted.

For further information, please contact Rebecca Brady, in our Housing Management team on 0207 065 1838.

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