One challenge that homeowners certainly don’t want to face is dealing with squatters. But whether you’re a homeowner or a property investor, it’s handy to know what you should do if you come across squatters in your property. From understanding squatters and their rights to how to lawfully remove them, here’s everything you need to know.
What is a squatter?
A squatter is someone who occupies a property without the legal permission of the owner. This could be a residential building, a commercial property or even a piece of undeveloped land. It’s important to note that squatting in residential properties is illegal in the UK, but the rules are slightly different for non-residential properties.
What is “Squatters’ Rights”?
“Squatters’ rights”, or as it’s formally known, adverse possession, is a legal principle that can, in certain circumstances, allow a squatter to become the rightful owner of a property. This might sound alarming to property owners, but it’s important to note that these rights are not easily acquired and there are specific conditions that must be met.
When do Squatters’ Rights Apply?
In the UK, for a squatter to claim rights to a property they must meet several conditions:
- They, or a succession of squatters, have occupied the property continuously for 10 years (12 years if the property isn’t registered with HM Land Registry).
- They (or their predecessors) acted as owners of the property for the whole of that time.
- They (or any of their predecessors) did not have the owner’s permission to be on the property – for example, the property was not originally rented to a squatter.
If the property is registered, the squatter can fill in a form for adverse possession, complete and sign a written ‘statement of truth’, and send these documents to the HM Land Registry Citizen Centre. The Land Registry will then decide if the application is valid and will notify the property owner. The owner has 65 days to object – if they do, the squatter’s application will usually be automatically rejected.
Should there be no objection, the squatter will be registered as the owner of the property. If the squatter’s application is rejected but the owner has not tried to remove the squatter, the property has not been reclaimed, and the squatter is still in possession of the property, they can apply again after 2 years. The Land Registry will usually then register the squatter as the owner.
How to get rid of squatters
The process for removing squatters varies depending on whether the property is residential or non-residential.
For residential properties, since squatting is a criminal offence under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, you can report the squatters to the police who can take action to remove them. Of course, it can still prove to be a time-consuming process and is a situation you should aim to avoid altogether.
For non-residential properties, it’s a bit more complex as squatting isn’t a criminal offence. You’ll likely need to go through the civil courts to get an interim possession order (IPO) or a claim for possession. This can be a lengthy process and it’s recommended to get legal advice.
How much does it cost to evict squatters?
The cost of evicting squatters can vary significantly based on a number of factors, including the type of legal assistance you use, the complexity of your case and the length of the court process.
If you choose to handle the matter yourself, there will still be court fees that cost around £350 to apply for an interim possession order (IPO) in England and Wales. However, this cost will increase significantly should you decide to employ a solicitor and even more so if your case is particularly complex.
In terms of the process, the eviction of squatters typically involves:
Serving an eviction notice
This is usually the first step in the eviction process. You must provide the squatters with a written notice stating that they are trespassing and that legal action will be taken if they do not leave.
Applying for an Interim Possession Order (IPO)
If the squatters do not leave within the time specified in the eviction notice, you can apply for an IPO at your local county court. The squatters must leave within 24 hours of receiving the IPO, and failure to do so is a criminal offence.
Applying for a Possession Order
If the squatters do not leave after receiving the IPO, you can apply for a Possession Order. If granted, bailiffs can forcibly remove the squatters from the property
Can I sell a house with squatters?
Selling a house with squatters can be challenging. Most potential buyers will be put off by the presence of squatters, and mortgage lenders often refuse to lend on properties that are occupied by squatters. It’s usually best to resolve the squatter situation before putting the property on the market. However, there is still one viable option for selling your squatter-occupied property, and that is Property Rescue! We will buy any home, including ones occupied by squatters. Just Get in touch with us here to discuss. Once we buy your home, the squatters will become our problem and you can move forward with your life.
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A word of caution
Dealing with squatters can be a complicated and stressful situation. However, understanding your rights, he squatters rights and the legal options available can make the process more manageable. If you try to evict squatters without following the correct procedures, you could find yourself on the wrong side of the law, and you could be the ones facing prosecution, so always seek legal advice when facing such a situation to ensure you act lawfully and effectively.