When squatters arrive on land this can often give rise to real anxiety as to how to deal with the issue.
It is possible to use a certified and experienced bailiff to serve a common law notice on the squatters requiring them to leave the land within 24 hours of service. If the squatters do not comply with that notice then reasonable force can be used to remove the squatters, again, using the certified bailiffs.
Of course, there is always the issue of what constitutes reasonable force and what is excessive force. This is why you should always use an experienced, certified bailiff.
With a larger number of squatters, the certified bailiff may also require police presence to ensure that there is not a breach of the peace. Using this process can be a quick and cost effective means of dealing with trespass to land. However, some land owners will not want to risk the possibility of a breach of the peace without a Court Order and so will look to other options.
As an alternative, the land owner can seek what is known as an Interim Possession Order (‘IPO’).
Interim Possession Order
An application for an IPO, together with a supporting witness statement, is issued at court and must then be served on the squatters within 24 hours of issue. The squatters must then leave the property within 24 hours of being served with the IPO. If they do not, they are committing a criminal offence and may be arrested. The offence is punishable by 6 months’ imprisonment. An IPO must be sought within 28 days of becoming aware of the existence of squatters. It is not possible to apply for an IPO in relation to open land.
If an IPO cannot be used then a possession claim against ‘persons unknown’ can be issued at Court. Once the possession order has been obtained enforcement is carried out by the court bailiffs following a warrant of possession.
A possession claim against a trespasser requires either two days (non-residential property) or five days (residential property) between issue of the claim and the hearing date. However, hearings normally take place between 2 to 4 weeks after issue and there can then be a further delay after the Court order has been obtained in terms of obtaining a bailiff’s appointment for enforcement. It is possible to transfer up to the High Court which provides for a quicker rate to enforcement but that comes at an additional cost.
Of course any civil remedy involves court fees and legal costs.
Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012
The only other possible route for the removal of squatters is to try to persuade the police to use their powers under Section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (“the Act”) which created an offence against squatting in residential buildings.
This new offence, and the powers that go with it, do not apply to commercial property, open land or previous tenants.
Subsection 1 of the Act provides that an offence is committed when a person is in a residential building as a trespasser and the person knows or ought to know that they are a trespasser and the person is living in the building or intends to.
If the Police are contacted and are satisfied that an offence under the Act has been committed they then have the power to enter and search the premises for the purposes of arresting and removing a person for the offence of squatting in a residential building, under Section 17 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.
Under subsections 5 and 6 of the Act the maximum penalty for such an offence will be 6 months’ imprisonment, a £5,000 fine or both.
In reality our experience is that the Police are not keen to use this power and, as we understand it, it is only regularly used in London and not elsewhere in the country.
There are numerous ways to remove trespassers from land. The most suitable option will depend on the individual circumstances. For further information please contact Andrew Baines, Partner and Head of the Property Litigation team, at firstname.lastname@example.org