Unfortunately, many people across the country don’t have a permanent place of residence. As a result, it’s quite common for those who have no legal home to take matters into their own hands by finding alternative housing. For some, that is squatting.
But what does this mean, what are your rights as the owner of the property in question, and how do you deal with this tricky situation in line with the law? Continue reading for all the answers.
What is a Squatter?
The term ‘squatter’ is given to those who occupy an unused or abandoned property to use as their own. Squatting in a residential property is illegal and, if caught, can be met with hefty fines or even imprisonment in some cases.
Although squatting in non-residential properties is not a criminal offence, any damage made to the property can result in prosecution. Despite the dangers, there are still plenty of people across the UK that fall into the category of squatters.
What Are Squatters’ Rights?
Squatters are entitled to a certain number of rights. As a result there is a Court process that needs to be followed before they can be evicted.
In exceptional circumstances, some squatters are even entitled to claim ownership of the property they reside at, by claiming what is termed adverse possession. To do this they must if they meet the following criteria:
- The squatter or collection of squatters have resided in the property for 10 years, or 12 years if the property isn’t registered with the land registry.
- The squatter or previous squatter has acted as the owners of the property for the entire 10 years.
- The property was not initially rented or given to the squatter.
Even if these criteria are met, there is still an application process that needs going through. If the land in question is be registered a HM Land Registry, an adverse possession form must be completed and filed at the Registry.
The true owner of the property then has 65 days to object to the application, which will result in the application being rejected. The squatters are then unable to reapply for the next 2 years, providing the owner doesn’t try to remove them in the meantime.
It should be noted that if the application is made after 12 years the original owner will be in difficulties successfully opposing any application for adverse possession in the Courts. More often than not, applications are rejected as the value of property, even if unused for an extended period of time is too great to simply pass off.
How to Get Rid of Squatters
It is very dangerous to simply throw the squatters out of the property and change the locks, as this could be illegal.
If the owner of the property has only learned of the squatters’ occupation within the last 28 days he can apply for an interim possession order (IPO), which is a relatively straight forward application to the Court. Alternatively he could issue a claim for possession.
Having been served with an IPO, all squatters must vacate the premises within 24 hours and stay away for at least 12 months.
If you have applied for an IPO within 28 days of knowledge of the squatters’ occupation you have to apply for a possession order in the courts instead, which is more time onerous and expensive.
It is essential that Court procedures are followed, as taking matters into one’s own hands – trying to remove the squatters yourself – could be illegal. Using force could be grounds for prosecution. You might also face a damages claim from the squatter.
How Can Howells Help with Squatters?
Understanding property law can be difficult. Knowing your rights on both side of the argument is important should you find yourself in a legal battle.
Howells has team with a wide experience of property law to help those that need expert advice. If you are one of these people, get in touch today.