Landlords are often faced with the concern that their properties will be targeted by squatters when they are left unoccupied for a period of time.
Up until April this year, anyone squatting in residential property could only be removed using the civil courts. The police would not get involved as squatting was a civil offence. Using the civil courts to evict the squatters may take a landlord several weeks, and often lead landlords to become frustrated.
Squatting in residential property became a criminal offence on 1 May 2012 when the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act came into force. Anyone found squatting in a residential property can be prosecuted and may receive either a six month prison sentence or a £5,000 fine. This now means that landlords can inform the police that squatters are occupying a property and the police have the powers to arrest and prosecute them.
It remains to be seen whether criminalising squatting will act as a deterrent to squatting generally. Landlords with mixed portfolios of residential and commercial premises have raised concerns that because squatters in commercial premises will not face the same penalties this could lead to a rise in squatting in commercial premises. Landlords who find squatters in commercial premises must continue to use the civil courts to evict them.
Any landlord with squatters in their properties should obtain legal advice before evicting squatters, particularly when commercial property is involved.
Stephensons have an experienced property litigation team who can advise landlords on evicting squatters.
By associate solicitor and landlord specialist, Louise Hebborn