Every now and again I get rung up by journalists or BBC researchers, wanting stories about the ‘enormous problem’ of squatters. It makes a good headline and you can do a nice ‘indignant of Tunbridge Wells’ article about how dreadful it all is.
Reluctantly I have to tell them that I hear very few stories of this nature, certainly none of the headline grabbing ones they are looking for (perhaps this is why they all pounced on the Suzy Butler case with such enthusiasm).
More recently we have had the government publishing a guide for dealing with squatters in your home which gives brief guidance on homeowners rights.
Both the journalistic approach and indeed the government’s pdf, include a certain amount of scarmongering. The government’s pdf for example refers to coming back from walking the dog to find squatters in your home. However, this type of situation is in reality highly unlikely.
What most squatters do
Anyone unfortunate enough to be homeless and looking for somewhere to squat is not going to try somewhere which is being lived in. In fact that is probably the last place they would choose. They will be wanting somewhere they can stay long term and will not want any hassle with (for example) outraged returning dog walkers.
The standard advice for would be squatters is to watch and research a property carefully before moving in, to make sure that it is uninhabited. Ideally they want somewhere which has been abandoned and left unused for a long time.
These properties are often in poor condition, and sometimes squatters can be a good thing for a land owner. The property is at least being looked after and maintained. Some land owners have been known to reach agreement with squatters to allow them to stay.
But often of course they are unwelcome.
What to do if you get squatters
If the property is your home where you are living now, the answer is easy. Go to the Police. You will be a ‘displaced residential occupier’ and the Police have a duty to help you gain entry. They should be able to get you back in within a day or so, if not immediately.
The police are not known, of course, for their helpfulness in dealing with ‘civil matters‘, so you may need to refer them to Part II of the Criminal Law Act 1977. However you do have the right to recover possession, and s6(1) of the Criminal Law Act which normally protects squatters will not apply to you.
If the police can’t or won’t help
Here you will need to get a court order for possession. This can be expensive if you use solicitors (fees tend to be in the region of £1,000 +), which is one reason why land owners sometimes take no action. However the procedure itself is not very difficult.
In fact I have written a do it yourself evicting squatters kit which you can buy and which will give you all you need to know to get your order.
If it is imperative that you get possession within a few days, then my kit won’t help you. You will need to use a special procedure to get what is called an interim possession order first. My kit does not cover this as this procedure is more complex and I think it is better to deal with the eviction via one hearing rather than two. However in most cases land owners can afford to wait a couple of weeks and don’t need the interim order.
Provided you can make out your case at the court hearing (and my kit shows you how to do this), the Judge has no option but to grant an order for possession. This will always be a ‘forthwith’ order, ie you can instruct the bailiffs immediately (although how long it will take them to actually enforce the order will depend on how busy they are).
You should expect to get the squatters out within about 4-5 weeks from start to finish. It can take longer, although I have been known to do it in under three weeks. It really depends on how quickly the court will deal with things for you.
If it is land that the squatters are occupying
Often travellers will camp on fields or in woodland or other land illegally (I once did an eviction of travellers from a car park). Here my kit will be effective, and travellers know the score, and will invariably leave in advance of the bailiffs.
However if squatters are camping on land you also have the option of using a firm of certificated bailiffs who can evict without a court order. Two firms who will do this are Constant and Co and Sherwins.
But they have to be squatters
To use any of the procedures set out in this post, the occupiers must be squatters, ie persons who entered the land or property as trespassers.
It is worth mentioning here (again) that tenants who stay on after the end of their fixed term are not squatters, and you will need to use the normal eviction procedures for tenants if you want them to leave.