Whilst the life of residential property owners was made much better with the new laws on squatters in 2012, no such protection has been given to commercial landlords. Section 144 of The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 made it illegal for squatters to occupy residential property and, importantly, if you are a property owner who suffers this problem, your first and hopefully only point of call will be the police who have power to arrest trespassers.
The change in the law does not apply to commercial property and the procedure is very different and detailed for dealing with squatters in this situation. A claim needs to be submitted to the County Court who will issue proceedings and fix a hearing date. The property owner (claimant) will be required to serve proceedings on the squatters at least two clear working days before the hearing.
If the court is satisfied that the claim has merits; that procedures have been complied with; and that there is no defence to the claim, the court will usually order the squatters to vacate immediately.
To enforce the court order, you can either instruct the County Court Bailiff or ask for the case to be transferred up to the High Court for enforcement by bailiffs. The first option is less expensive but it may take several weeks to appoint a date for eviction or to complete the eviction. The High Court option is normally quicker and once the High Court has authorised enforcement, the bailiffs can carry out the eviction 24 to 72 hours after they receive instructions.
For an even quicker eviction, you may want to consider applying for an interim possession order but this comes with both advantages and disadvantages.
The main advantage is that the court can order the possession on an interim basis immediately which is enforced by the police rather than going through the court.
The main disadvantage is that the order is only temporary so you will need to attend another hearing to make the order final. You will also be required to give promises to the court that you would, if necessary, pay damages to the squatters and reinstate them into the premises, if the court decides subsequently that the order should not have been made. The squatters also have the opportunity to apply to the court to set aside the interim possession order.
As an interim possession order gets results, the costs are likely to be higher. In a serious squatters case where action is required immediately, you will need to weigh up all the pros and cons before applying for an interim possession order.
The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.