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What are the Laws on Squatters?

By: Louise Smith, barrister - Updated: 20 Nov 2020 | comments*Discuss
Squatters Trespassers Criminal Civil

Under current English laws squatting is not a criminal offence. In most cases where squatters take over a property the owner, or the person entitled to occupy the property, will have to issue civil proceedings for repossession.

(Squatting is a criminal offence in Scotland. The article below provides an overview of the laws on squatting in England and Wales.)

The Laws on Squatters

Although squatting itself is not currently a criminal offence, squatters may still have acted unlawfully and therefore be liable to be arrested. This could be the case where they break into a property to occupy it, cause damage to a property or use utilities at a property without permission. Squatters could also be guilty of a criminal offence if they occupy a property which is currently, or about to be, lived in.

Starting a Repossession Case Against Squatters

Special rules apply to repossession claims against squatters and it should be possible to get a repossession order relatively quickly – sometimes within a matter of days.

In legal terms squatters are known as trespassers. To start a repossession case against trespassers a Claim Form, Particulars of Claim and evidence must all be filed at court. The Particulars of Claim and evidence must confirm:

  • that the claimant has the right to immediate possession of the property;
  • how the claimant became aware of the trespassers;
  • that the trespassers entered the property without permission.
If, as is likely, the claimant does not know the names of the trespassers the defendants will be named as “Persons Unknown”.

The claimant will need several copies of the court documents. The court and claimant will each keep one and the claimant will need as many additional copies as are required to give the trespassers effective notice of the repossession case.

As soon as the court issues the repossession case they will provide the time and date for the hearing. The amount of notice which must be given to the squatters depends on the type of property. If the property is purely commercial the trespassers need only be given 2 days' notice of the possession hearing. If the property is residential, or partly residential, they must be given 5 days' notice.

Serving Court Papers on Squatters

Notice is given by “serving” the documents on the squatters. An attempt may be made to hand the documents directly to them. Whether or not this is possible, copies of the court documents should also be affixed to parts of the property (usually including the front door) where they are likely to be seen and a further copy should be inserted through the letterbox (if it has not been blocked) in a transparent envelope addressed to “the occupiers”.

The Hearing of a Repossession Claim Against SquattersSquatters should not have a defence to a valid possession claim. If all procedural requirements are complied with, the court should make an immediate possession order. In practice, the only reason why a judge should refuse to make a repossession order is if the claimant has not followed the rules or the judge is not satisfied that the occupiers actually are trespassers.

Interim Possession Orders and Squatters

If the claimant does not want to wait until the repossession hearing it may be possible to apply for an interim possession order. An application for an interim possession order may be made if the only claim is for possession against trespassers and the application is made within 28 days of the date when the claimant first found out that the trespassers had entered the property. The application must be supported by written evidence provided by the claimant and must be served on the trespassers within 24 hours of the application being issued.

Hearing and Enforcement of Interim Possession OrdersThe hearing of an interim possession order may take place in the absence of the occupiers. To obtain an interim possession order the claimant is likely to have to provide certain undertakings to the court which will take effect if the court subsequently decides that the claimant was not entitled to an interim possession order. These could include an undertaking that the occupiers will be allowed back into the property and that the claimant will pay them damages.

If an interim possession order is granted by the court it will require the occupiers to leave the property within 24 hours of the order being served on them. The court will set a time for a final repossession hearing, when the occupiers may attend and put forward any defence they wish to raise to the repossession claim. An interim possession order must be served on the occupiers within 48 hours of it being sealed by the court. Failure to vacate the property within 24 hours will be a criminal offence.

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[Add a Comment]
Carol - 4-Oct-12 @ 10:42 AM, Key point here Carol, squatting commercial properties is still legal, so many buildings to choose from still - Squat the World !
Gina - 20-Nov-20 @ 7:31 PM
I stay in a RV behind my parents house and the nabor is threatening me to move and I'm not blocking any road ways can he do that
Pardee - 29-Sep-20 @ 10:11 PM
@hazardous. You can remove any branches etc that grow into your garden though. Do not allow them to grow on your side.
ProblemNeighbours - 25-Mar-15 @ 2:00 PM
Robinia in neighbour's garden has dead, diseased plus dangerous branches which are overhanging my rear-garden. On several occasions 'large-chunks' of dead-branches have landed in my garden and neighbour Laughed when I told her about the Near-Misses & quipped "Well IT MISSED YOU - DIDN'T IT!!" Said Robinia has 'SUCKERED' ALL ACROSS rear garden & right-up to my Bedroom window. Seem to be getting NOWHERE FAST(As it's three years or more since 'IT' was brought to her attention and 'IT' IS STILL VERY DANGEROUS !)
hazardous 1 - 23-Mar-15 @ 2:07 AM
I have got terrible problems with a farmer and the council.The situation is that I bought a house at auction and I outbid a person who is a former councillor and business partner of the farmer. The property that I boughthad been seized by the Duchies bailiffs as the deceased owner was intestate and had no close relatives. I had a mortgage with a hidebound building society who would not allow me to look at the deeds until the very last penny was paid.Next to my house was extra land which I now know "always went with the house" but before I had got hold of my deeds a farmer bulldozed the gate to this plot and claimed it.I challenged him to show me his deeds but what he did was to arrange a clay shoot when I was on a sleep-day after working a night shift.In spite of him having over fifty acres the guns were set up just a few metres away from my house.It was bang, bang, bang, for most of the day.I have also had shotgun pellets fired into my garden.The farmer then let a person who owned cockerels to use the land as an allotment. (The cockerels would crow constantly) Later the farm put several granite lintels into a lay-by where I used to park so I know beyond reasonable doubt who did that. (They had to remove them because it is illegal to store building materials on the public highway) The tyre puncturing and the smashing of car windows I cannot prove but there’s no smoke without fire.It looks as if they want me to move so that they can make the land-grab a fait-accompli. Let us call the bad farm Farm B.Going through my deeds shows that the land that my house is built on AND the extra plot came from another farm which I will call Farm A. The land never ever belonged to farm B.It is a horrible situation that blights my house. As well as the tyre puncturing and vandalism there have been cat-calls to the Environment Agency and the council.Long experience shows that in this area one method of getting another's property is to get the victim involved in ruinous litigation with the council.This only costs the perpetrator the cost of a few phone calls.In one case a victim of such a stunt was lumbered with a legal bill of £70,000 and went bankrupt.In this manner his enemies got his land at a knockdown price.
Davey - 2-Jan-15 @ 12:38 AM
What if you discover squatters/trespassers unknown to you in your home who claim to the police that they are renting from some person (unknown to you who broke into your home to gain access). The police find after further investigation.That the squatters have no authentic contact details of the person they are renting from and therefore untraceable by the police? You have shared ownership 50/50 with a housing association who insist that this is a police matter and and offer no assistance? This my situation at the moment, I know nothing about the Law and cannot find a solicitor who has the capacity to deal with my case even though I am prepared to use my savings. It seems I have to try evicting them from my home myself without legal help.
Liz - 1-Dec-12 @ 1:55 PM
Of course, as of the start of this month the laws have changed and squatting has become a criminal offence – indeed, someone has already been found guilty of it. That changes everything in this article, because squatters no longer have any rights if they’re in a residential property and can be arrested and even jailed.
Carol - 4-Oct-12 @ 10:42 AM
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