The term squatting is used to describe when an individual deliberately enters a property without permission and has the intention of living there and claiming squatters rights. Sometimes this is referred to as being adverse possession.
Squatting in any residential building is against the law and does not fall into squatters rights and it can result in a £5,000 fine, 6 months in prison or in the worst case both.
Someone who enters a property after seeking permission from the landlord initially would not be classed as a squatter if for example they fall behind on the rent payments and continue to live in the property.
Squatting in a non-residential property is not a crime but it is a crime if you cause damage to the property.
A criminal offence is committed if you are instructed by a property owner, the police, council or a repossession order to leave the property and you refuse to do so. Non residential properties are defined as any building or land which is not designed to be occupied for residential purposes.
A crime will be committed when;
- Damage is caused upon entering the property
- Damage is caused to the property while the individual is inside
- Failing or refusing to leave when instructed to do so by a court
- Stealing from a property
- Using gas, electricity or other utilities without seeking permission
- Using the land for fly tipping
- Failing to comply with a noise abatement notice
Once squatters have occupied a property for a long period of time, they are rightfully entitled to become the registered owner of the land or property that they have occupied, without seeking permission from the owner and have acquired squatters rights. If you are a squatter you can seek advice from a conveyancing solicitor if you wish to claim ownership.
Applying to become a Registered Owner
If a squatter wishes to apply as being the registered owner of a property, they must prove that:
- They or a group of squatters have occupied the property continuously for a period of 10 years. Where the property is not registered with the Land Registry this is slightly longer, at 12 years.
- The squatter or their predecessor has acted as owner of the property for that entire period
- The squatter didn’t have permission from the owner of the property to occupy the property
If the property has been registered, the squatter(s) will need to complete what is known as a form of adverse possession. This must be supplied along with a written statement of truth prepared by a solicitor and these two documents should be sent to the Land Registry Citizen Centre for consideration.
Land Registry Checks
Once the Land Registry has received your application they will carry out a series of checks to ensure that the application is valid. The property owner will be informed at this stage. The owner of the property then has a period of 65 days to submit an objection to the application. If they do, then the squatter’s application will be automatically rejected.
If the Land Registry does not receive any objections, you will be the registered owner of the property.
If there has been an objection to your application you are free to re-apply in a further two years provided that:
- The owner of the land or property has not tried to remove you
- The property has not been reclaimed
- You are still squatting at the property
If your application is approved the Land Registry will register you as the legal owner.
The process is slightly different for unregistered property. The initial stages are very similar in that you will be asked to prepare a statement of truth, but the next steps are quite different.
You must first apply for what is known as first registration. It is important that you include your statement of truth with this application.
Once this has been received and processed by the Land Registry they will need to inspect the property and the fee must be paid by the applicant. The Land Registry will determine whether the application is valid and inform the property owner if they have their details.
If the owners of the property object, you can negotiate with them to come to an agreement. The Land Registry will arrange a tribunal to determine who owns the property if an agreement cannot be reached or either party is unwilling to reach a mutual agreement.
Those seeking registered owner status will need to pay the costs of the owners such as legal fees.
Property Owners and Property Possession
As a property owner, the Land Registry will inform you if there is a challenge to take registered ownership of a property, provided that it is registered. If you wish to keep the property or the land you must take the relevant action.
The way in which an application is blocked will depend very much on whether the property is registered or unregistered.
In the case of a registered property, the property owner has 65 days in which to object. If you wish to object the Land Registry will inform you about the action that you need to take.
If you have a valid reason to object, the Land Registry will reject the application which has been submitted by the squatters. If their application is rejected you must take the appropriate action to remove them from the property.
If you do not take any action, you are unable to object for a second time if the squatters decide to re-submit their application after two years.
Where the property is unregistered you can still object to the squatter’s application. However if the property is not registered, the Land Registry may find it extremely difficult to contact you.
The Land Registry will contact you and ask whether you wish to negotiate with the squatters, such as negotiating to sell the property. If you would like to negotiate you will be given additional time. If you cannot reach an agreement, you will be asked to attend a tribunal who will reach a decision on ownership of the land or property.
Squatters can be removed from a property through obtaining what is known as an Interim Possession Order (IPO) or you can make a claim for possession. Property owners are strongly discouraged from trying to remove squatters from a property themselves through the use of force or the threat of force. If you do you are committing a criminal offence.
A property owner can only apply for an Interim Possession Order if it has been 28 days or less since you have found out that your property has been occupied by squatters. An IPO application should be completed and sent to the county court in your local area. Within a few days, the Court will send you confirmation of your IPO along with any documents that you must issue to the squatters within 48 hours.
After the Interim Possession Order has been issued, the squatters may face a prison sentence if they do not:
- Leave the property within a 24 hour period
- Stay away from the property for a period of 12 months
To secure final possession of the property the owner of the property must make what is known as a claim for possession which can be completed online.
A property owner cannot use an Interim Possession Order if they are also making a claim for damages as a result of the squatters. In this instance you need to make a claim for possession. If you are trying to evict a former tenant, licensee or sub-tenant, you also cannot use an IPO.
Finding squatters in your property can cause all kinds of problems, but it is important that you follow the correct channels and understand the various squatters rights that are available.
About the author:
This article was written by a member of the Expert Answers legal advice team. Expert Answers provides online legal advice on all aspects of UK Law to users in the United Kingdom.