How do I deal with squatters?
You might never have to deal with squatters – but knowing how to deal with them is important, just in case!
It’s hard to say how many squatters there are in the UK, but in 2010 the government estimated there were about 200,000 in the UK at any one time. Given that there are a little over 4.4million households in the private rental sector, it’s unlikely that you will encounter squatters.
But no one has a crystal ball, so it’s best to familiarise yourself with the laws around squatting and how you can deal with it.
What is squatting?
The UK government defines squatting (also known as ‘adverse possession’) as someone deliberately entering the property without permission with the intention of living there. Therefore, a tenant who stops paying the rent is not defined as a squatter because they originally had your permission to be there.
Squatting in a residential property is illegal and can result in a prison sentence of up to 6 months or a £5,000 fine (sometimes both). However, it is technically not a crime to squat in a non-residential building or on non-residential land, but it is usually a crime if you do not leave when asked to by the owner, the police, the council or a repossession order. It is also a crime to damage that property in any way.
How can landlords protect themselves against squatters?
You are probably more likely to encounter tenants who don’t pay their rent than squatters, but you do still want to protect your property.
You will be at more risk if your property is empty and it could be empty for multiple reasons:
- Between tenants. There could be a short gap between your previous tenants moving out and your new tenants moving in
- Unable to find tenants. For some reason, you may not have found tenants to replace your previous ones yet and are still looking for them
- Building work. You may be taking the opportunity to do some essential work on the property before you get new tenants in
Any of these times make your property more vulnerable to break-ins, vandalism and squatters. But there are things you can do to protect yourself:
- Regular checks. If your property is sitting empty, pop by as often as you can to make sure that all is well. It’s good practice to make sure the place is in as good condition as possible, that no cracks or leaks are getting worse while no one is there to notice it. But it also means you’re keeping an eye on the place and will stop any forced entry
- Install security. It should go without saying, but make sure that everything is securely locked up after any visit – the windows and the doors should all be fastened so that they can’t be used for easy entry. It’s also a good idea to install an alarm, to be on the safe side as you can’t be there at all times. You might also consider CCTV, but your next tenants might not be pleased to have that!
- Make sure your builders are taking security seriously. If you’re having works done, people will be in and out throughout the day, so make sure that they’re being as secure as they can be, so that no one can take advantage of easy access
You also need to consider insurance, check to make sure your Buildings Insurance policy covers you in the event of any break ins or vandalism.
What do I do if I have squatters?
If you’ve done all you can to protect your property from squatters, but you still find that your property has become a squat, you need to get an interim possession order (IPO) or make a claim for possession.
An IPO can only be applied for if it’s been 28 days or less since you find out that your property is being used as a squat (that’s where those regular checks we suggested come in handy!). You will need to fill in an application for an IPO and send it to your local county court.
You will usually receive confirmation of the IPO within a few days and you’ll also receive documents you must give to the squatters within 48 hours.
The squatters must then leave your property within 24 hours and stay away from the property for 12 months – otherwise, they could be sent to prison. The final step is getting final possession of your property by making a claim for possession via the IPO application form.
However, you cannot use an IPO if you need to make a claim for damages or you’re attempting to evict former tenants.
If it’s been more than 28 days, you will need to make a claim for possession. This is also what you’d use if you are also looking to claim for damages.
Whatever you do, do not try to remove the squatters yourself. If you attempt to do so using force or threats, you could be committing a crime yourself.