What are ‘squatter’s rights’ and do they have any basis in law?

If someone is occupying your property and claiming to have ‘squatter’s rights’, it’s vital you understand your legal rights and obligations as a landlord.

There is also a big difference legally between people squatting in residential property and those doing it on commercial premises.

So, here’s our essential guide to dealing with squatters…

 

What is a squatter?

In law, a squatter is someone who has entered a property without the permission of the landlord with the intent to live there.

This means that tenants who fall behind in rent or refuse to pay are not deemed squatters as they originally rented the premises with the permission of the landlord.

 

What’s the difference in law between a squatter in residential and commercial property?

Squatting in a residential property is illegal and it can lead to six months in prison, a £5,000 fine, or both.

Although squatting in commercial premises is not in itself a crime, it’s usually a crime to refuse to leave the premises when told to do so by police, the landlord, or the local authority, or when presented with a repossession order.

It is also a criminal offense to damage the property.

 

Can the police take action to deal with commercial premises squatters?

Only if crimes are committed when the squatters are entering the premises or while staying there.

This can include damaging the property to gain entry, damaging the property while living in it, stealing from it, fly-tipping, using gas or electricity without permission, refusing to comply with a noise abatement notice, and refusing to leave when to do so by a court.

 

Do squatters have rights in law?

The short answer is that squatters who have been at a property for a few weeks or months have no rights to the property.

They can, however, apply to become the registered owner of a property or piece of land if they or other squatters have continuously lived at the site for more than 10 years (or 12 years if it is not registered with the Land Registry), if they acted as owners for the whole of that time, and if none of the squatters was ever permitted to live at the site by a landlord.

The owner has 65 days to object to this application and it will usually be automatically rejected if they do.

Once a claim is rejected, the owner must take action to remove the squatters or they could reapply after two years.

 

How can you remove them?

If your squatters refuse to leave when you ask them to, you’ll need to apply for an interim possession order within 28 days of finding out about the situation.

You’ll be sent confirmation and documents you must give to the squatters within 48 hours.

Once they receive the IPO, if they refuse to leave within 24 hours or don’t stay away from the property for 12 months, they can face prison.

If you’re also making a claim for damages against them or it’s after the 28-day point, you’ll instead need to make a claim for possession.

 

Why should you use agents?

It’s so easy for a landlord to get into legal hot water if they try to deal with squatters themselves.

Attempting to remove them without an IPO or with the wrong order could leave a landlord facing legal proceedings.

Some squatters will want a confrontation to assault a building owner, or so that they can make counterclaims against landlords to the police for assault or harassment.

Trained agents who are well aware of their legal rights and duties will know what constitutes reasonable force when removing squatters from a property, how to apply this knowledge, and will look for a peaceful means of resolving the situation.

Having an agent there can also help to take difficult emotions out of the situation. Most squatters realise agents are simply doing a job and will opt to move on.

 

Do you need help to evict squatters? Call us on 01495 781218 or get in touch here.

What are Enforcement Agents and when do you need to call them in? Here’s our useful guide for landlords…

Bailiffs, Enforcement Agents, High Court Enforcement Officers, Sheriffs…are you confused about their different roles and powers?

Every landlord should understand what each of these professionals do and when they need to call on their services.

Here’s our handy guide to why Enforcement Agents can be so useful for landlords.

 

What do Enforcement Agents do?

Enforcement Agents are qualified, experienced people who understand property law and understand the rights of landlords and tenants.

They are certified by a County Court judge and they can enforce rent arrears, council tax arrears, business rates arrears, parking fines, and child maintenance payment arrears.

They work under the Tribunals Courts and Enforcement Act 2007, along with the Taking Control of Goods Regulations 2013 plus the Taking Control of Goods (Fees) Regulations 2014.

They can also:

  • Advise landlords on the correct methods of eviction.
  • Act as the landlord’s spokesperson in conversations with tenants.
  • Relay information about tenants to landlords.
  • Help to ensure possession orders are enforced within the law.
  • Act as officers of the High Court – in other words they become sheriffs of the court enforcing its orders.

When a tenants refuses to comply with an eviction order and fails to vacate a property, the law requires that landlords use Enforcement Agents to resolve the situation.

 

What’s the difference between a County Court bailiff and a High Court Enforcement Officer?

A County Court bailiff collects debts on behalf of a debtor or the plaintiff in a County Court and carries out the orders of this court.

They can list goods and have them removed in lieu of unpaid debts and they are able to recover costs. They are employed directly by the court.

A High Court Enforcement Officer collects debts on behalf of the High Court.

That means he or she has greater powers as the High Court is a higher legal entity. High Court Enforcement Officers have writs of control which allow them to seize assets if no payment plan is agreed to or payment isn’t made. They have the right to access premises without being invited onto the site and can force entry to business premises if no one lives there.

High Court Enforcement Officers are privately employed and are also often paid on results.

They work under the High Court Enforcement Officer Regulations 2004 and The High Court Enforcement Officers Association’s Code of Practice and Professional Conduct.

All High Court Enforcement Officers must belong to this professional body.

You can find out more here.

What is the possession order enforcement process?

Once your possession order has been granted in a County Court and your tenant refuses to leave, you can apply for the order to be transferred to the High Court for enforcement proceedings.

Once that High Court order is granted, the Enforcement Agents are instructed and they attend the property to evict your tenant.

This usually takes between seven and 10 days.

 

Why should landlords take a step back then?

It’s so easy for a landlord to fall foul of the law themselves in this situation.

For example, did you know that even if a residential possession order has been granted, it’s still illegal for a landlord to change the locks?

Enforcement Agents bring legal expertise and are adept at handling different people and different situations.

Having someone outside the landlord-tenant relationship can also help take the heat out of situations.

Tenants can feel very angry with their landlords but enforcement agents are merely doing their jobs.

Enforcement Agents are used to defusing situations which could otherwise lead to a landlord being attacked.

 

Do you need Enforcement Agents? Call us on 01495 781218 or get in touch here.

Got a problem business tenant? Here’s the commercial eviction process explained…

Are you worried about taking a tenant through the commercial eviction process?

Our expert professionals are here to help you understand the stages you need to go through to get your property back and recover rent arrears.

From problems with the tenant to court action and enforcement, here’s our guide to commercial evictions…

Has the tenant breached the lease?

If so, you need to act quickly.

If your tenant breaches any of their contractual obligations, most leases give landlords the right to forfeit the lease.

Usually, this happens if tenants aren’t paying the rent but they could also have damaged your property or be running a business prohibited by the lease. The latter two issues may require a separate legal notice.

Making any arrangements with the tenants about late payment could be seen as an act of waiver, which could affect your right to evict the tenant, and you don’t want them to do even more damage..

So, call us in at the earliest stage possible and get our professional advice.

What happens next?

Your tenant may comply with the terms of the lease and leave your premises, or you may be able to regain your site with ‘peaceable re-entry’.

This means there is no one who is likely to oppose the landlord’s re-entry, you aren’t threatened, and you can get inside and change the locks, leaving a visible notice for the tenant outlining what you’ve done, why, the date, and that the lease is now considered to be at an end.

If threats are issued, you run the risk of committing an offence, so get expert advice before you attempt this and hire experienced staff to do this.

You may also have to go to court for a possession order.

A 28-day period where the tenant can apply for relief or vacate the premises is usually granted by the court.

If your tenant hasn’t left, the possession order can be transferred to the High Court for a writ of possession which is the basis for an eviction.

High Court enforcement agents, like ours at Eviction Plus, must then be instructed.

They will remove the former tenant with no more than reasonable force. We would never advise landlords to do this themselves or hire unqualified people as reasonable force is decided in each, individual case and experience is key to avoiding claims of excessive force.

Do you have trespassers at your commercial site?

You may not have to go to court to deal with them.

You could evict them under common law, which is a quicker process. A representative of the landowner asks the trespassers to leave and gives them a time period in which to do so. Generally, this is 24 hours.

After this time period is up, certified enforcement officers may use reasonable force to evict the trespassers. We recommend landlords do not do this themselves, as they put themselves at risk of attack.

Are you owed back rent?

The law says commercial landlords must instruct enforcement agents to recover commercial rents which are owed to them.

This came into effect because in the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 in 2014.

You can recover this commercial rent without going to court under schedule 12 of this act.

Only rent, interest, and VAT can be recovered under CRAR (Commercial Rent Arrears Recovery), but we can collect the service charge and any associated debts free to the landlord and tenant if it is combined with an instruction for rent arrears under CRAR.

The debtor pays the fees for the rent arrears.

Do you need help with a commercial eviction? Call us on 01495 781218 or get in touch here.

Why every landlord needs to have the number of a good tenant eviction service

Most experienced landlords will have dealt with one or two bad tenants and know the benefits of a professional tenant eviction service.

You simply cannot afford to have tenants who do not pay, damage your property, or cause the neighbours problems with noise, drugs, or other criminal activities.

Having the telephone number of a good tenant eviction service can be the difference between your property portfolio making you money or costing you dearly.

How can our tenant eviction service help you?

Our professional agents can help if you have tenants who:

  • Aren’t paying the rent
  • Are causing a nuisance or damaging your property
  • Are refusing to leave after the end of their tenancy agreement
  • Are in breach of an obligation in the tenancy agreement
  • Have a trade or business at your residential property without your permission

You’ll need to serve a possession notice on your tenant, and our experienced staff will help you choose the right notice and we will draw it up and serve it for you.

We’ll also help you prepare for any court dates and we’ll book one of our experienced solicitors or barristers to act for you in court.

Which possession notice should you use?

Section 8 notices are used when a tenancy has been breached, such as with rent arrears, damage, or nuisance. Landlords must provide 14 days’ notice to the tenant before action can be started in the courts and if the tenant rectifies the issue, possession may not be granted. This is often the best order to use when a tenant is solvent or there is a guarantor.

Section 21 notices are sometimes preferable even though they require two months’ notice to be given to a tenant and cannot end before the end of a fixed term tenancy. This is because in most cases, it is a paper process with possession being granted and separate claims can be brought for any rent arrears.

In 2018, 10,128 repossessions were carried out by County Court agents in England using the “accelerated procedure” under Section 21.

There are currently government plans to end Section 21 possessions in England and Wales, however.

We keep abreast of the latest legal moves and each case we deal with is assessed on its individual merits and we advise our clients accordingly.

 

What happens when you get a possession order?

Normally, a judge will give a tenant between 14 and 28 days to vacate a property. An order to pay rent arrears or for the cost of damage may also be made.

If a tenant is still refusing to leave, you can instruct High Court enforcement agents and transfer your case from the County Court to the High Court to obtain a High Court order.

Experienced, professional agents will carry out the eviction within the law.

Simply changing the locks is not legal, even if your tenant has ignored a possession order.

 

Do you need advice from our tenant eviction service? Call us on 01495 781218 or get in touch here.