What are Squatters?
Squatting is what happens when a person is occupying an empty or abandoned property which they personally do not own or rent. They are basically living in the property without the owner’s permission.
The owner usually has no knowledge that this is happening and they have not given any legal rights for the squatter to do this in their property. Sometimes you will find that there is just one squatter in an empty or derelict property, other times there may be a whole group together.
Squatters tend to be homeless people who have nowhere to live so occupying an empty or abandoned property seems to them, to be the best option.
Just being on another person’s property without their consent is not a criminal offence. However, if squatters commit any offences such as criminal damage or theft, their behaviour is punishable against them under the criminal law. The police can take action against them if this happens – even if the damage is minimal.
Empty council properties are usually:
- awaiting repair
- are to be re-decorated
- are waiting to be re-let to new tenants
Councils are keen to ensure that these properties stay empty and undamaged. This ensures that those on the waiting list have the opportunity to find a new home.
What to do if you discover a squatter
Normally, the first person to know that there are squatters living in a particular property would be the neighbours next door to the particular property. If you see somebody breaking into an empty or abandoned property, the first thing you should do is call the police. If you have a caretaker or a housing officer you should alert them also.
If you see any other suspicious behaviour or if you think someone is squatting in a property – you need to contact your local council.
The Law regarding the removal of squatters
The laws regarding squatting are quite complex. In some of the cases, the council may find it difficult to evict someone who is squatting, especially if they have been in the property for a long time.
A property where squatters have been living may take several months before it can be let out again. This is partly due to:
- The amount of time it takes to bring a court action forward to remove squatters
- Repairs needing to be carried out on the property after the squatters have been moved.
In some cases, squatters can be prosecuted for other offences; there is a risk that this could happen if the person refuses to leave after a court order is dealt, or if a new tenant asks them to leave and again this is refused. It is however illegal for a landlord to force their way into a property whilst someone is inside.
Eviction of squatters
Generally speaking the landlord does not even have to get a court order first where the removal of squatters is concerned. If a court order is needed then the landlord can apply for one at any time and the court will usually automatically give him/her the right to obtain their property back.
If a squatter refuses to leave after the court order is given, prosecution can occur. The landlord can also ask the bailiffs to physically remove a squatter from a property immediately with their belongings. The windows and doors of the property are usually then secured to stop the same issue occurring again.