Residents who are either private or commercial property tenants should be aware of their rights. Once they do, eviction is difficult and time-consuming. That’s why it is essential to know about squatters rights in England. Understanding these can help you prevent squatters from taking up residence without your consent.
What are Squatters?
Squatters are individuals who illegally reside on another person’s property with no legal right to do so. They establish this illegal right usually by living in an empty or abandoned building or piece of land for a certain amount of time (varies depending on the circumstances). If the rightful owner wants them removed, he will need to get eviction proceedings started against them through the courts. This makes it important for the squatter to be aware of their rights.
How did squatting get started?
The term “squat” came into use in the 1960s, when groups of young people began occupying buildings that were due for demolition or renovation. They wanted to counter the trend towards urban development by transforming old spaces into homes; many saw it as an act of defiance against conservative values and capitalism. Today, this type of squatting is illegal (in the UK).
What Are Squatters Rights?
Squatters’ rights vary depending on where you live in the UK, but there are some basic rights that allow them to stay at a property if they have resided there for 1-2 years, depending on what your tenancy agreement states and if you and/or your agent have not raised the issue with them. An individual gains squatter’s rights if they reside in a property for a certain amount of time (again, this is case-specific). Their legal rights vary depending on whether the piece of property is a residence or non-residential. In either case, their rights can become complicated and difficult to navigate.
In residential property, squatters can file a ‘statutory homelessness application’ with the local council. The local council must then determine whether or not the applicant is homeless (and provide them with some form of housing). This status applies if there are no tenancy agreements and/or the occupants have been given an eviction notice by their landowner. Once this has occurred, squatters can remain in the property for 6 months.
In non-residential properties, squatters enjoy greater rights. For example, if an individual has resided in a property for 10 years they can register it as their home by filing an application with the Secretary of State (this must be done within 12 months of starting residency). The owner then has 6 weeks to take action or forfeit their rights to the property. The owner must show that they intend to resume residency within 3 months of squatters moving in, otherwise they’ll lose any compensation claim.
What are Security Methods Preventing Squatters?
There are many different security methods that can be used to prevent squatters from entering a property or staying there for very long; these include:
- Building – boarding windows, doors and other entry points, installing CCTV cameras around the exterior of the building, installing anti-climb paint (especially on drainpipes) and more…
- Land – erecting fences around the boundary, motion-activated lighting and more…
- How to Prevent Squatters?
- There are several ways to prevent squatters from residing in your property, including:
- Moving into the property yourself
- Altering or changing locks after they have vacated the premises
- Security Signs – security signs act as an effective deterrent for would-be squatters. These include warning signs that indicate there are CCTV cameras on site, dogs at home, 24Hr armed guards , alarm systems etc.
The eviction procedure starts as soon as you have knowledge that someone is unlawfully residing in your home. The first step should always be taken by contacting the police and informing them of this. If they do not leave after being issued with a Notice of Seeking Possession (under section 7, Housing Act 1988), then a court order must be sought to evict squatters from the property within 14-28 days once they have been served with this notice. You can apply for an Interim Possession Order which would allow you to evict them immediately, but this won’t always be granted by the courts if the squatters have been residing at the property for longer than 1-2 years. If this is your first time having to deal with squatting, then it is advised that you seek legal advice before taking further action yourself.
Contact MEC for squatter advice and solutions in the UK
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