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Squatters in a Rental Property

What is Squatting?

Squatting is the illegal residential occupation of a piece of land or a building by an individual.  It normally involves the act of trespass.  Thankfully, despite the frequent headlines in the press featuring high profile cases it is a relatively rare occurrence.

How many squatters in the UK?

The number of people squatting in the UK is difficult to quantify accurately.  A recent entry in Wikipedia  based on government figures estimated that there were 20,000 squatters currently in the UK.  However, considering that there maybe as many as 650,000 empty properties squatting clearly is far from a widespread practice.  This is in no doubt due to the associated dangers of the practice.  Squatters often have to endure poor and even dangerous conditions resulting from lack of basic amenities.  They also face constant threats of eviction by the owner.

Is squatting illegal?

The legalities of squatting was until fairly recently a grey area.  Up until the arrival of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 squatting itself was not a criminal act.  This legislation introduced additional controls which stopped short of criminalizing the practice did mean that where squatting involved forced or violent entry then it may have been considered an illegal act.

Since 1977 squatters have enjoyed what were known as ‘squatters rights’.  These resulted from the legislation Protection From Eviction Act 1977 which sought to protect tenants from losing their homes without the involvement of the courts.  It was brought into being to stop landlords using violence or the threat of violence to evict their tenants.  However, the unintended consequences of this legislation was that it provided an extra layer of protection for squatters occupying a building without the express consent of the owner or landlord.  In some peoples opinion this legislation tipped the balance of power too far in favour of squatters and away from the legitimate owner of the land.

The law has now changes for residential property in that from the 1st of September 2012 the act of squatting was made a criminal offence punishable by either a fine of up to £5,000 or imprisonment of up to 51 weeks or both.  This legislation only applies to residential property and the rules concerning other types of commercial property remain the same.

How do I get rid of squatters?

If a landlord is unlucky enough to end up with squatters then they need to be able to remove them legally.  The first thing to note is that where there was a tenancy at the outset then even where the tenant has stopped paying their rent the tenant is not squatting.  This is because the landlord originally allowed the tenant to occupy the building.  Therefore, the only way a landlord can evict their tenant legally is to go through the courts to obtain possession with a possession order.

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