What do I need to know about squatters and unauthorised occupants?

What do I need to know about squatters and unauthorised occupants?

If squatters have taken over your property, there are steps you can take to get them out. Find out about the laws on squatting and what you can do to get your property back.

Squatting: what it is

Squatting is when someone occupies an empty or abandoned property which they don’t own or rent, and without the owner’s permission.

Simply being on another persons property without their permission is not usually a crime in itself. But if squatters commit other crimes when entering or staying in a property, the police can take action against them.

Removing squatters from your property

If squatters have taken over your property, what you can do to remove them depends on whether or not they are guilty of criminal offences.

There are specific laws related to trespassing on residential property. These protect those who have been made homeless by squatters.

If you live in your home or are about to

If you currently live in your home and come back to find squatters who won’t leave, this would make you a displaced residential occupier. You should call the police to report a crime.

If you are planning to move into a property, but are not currently living there you may be considered a protected intending occupier. You can read Section 12A of the Criminal Law Act 1977 for definitions of protected intending occupiers, but if you are unsure, you should contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau.

It is a crime (except in certain circumstances) for a person to trespass on a residential premises (eg enter into someone’s home without authority) and refuse to leave once a displaced residential occupier, a protected intending occupier or someone on their behalf has required them to.

If you are a protected intending occupier, you’ll need to give the squatter a statement or certificate as required by section 12A of the Criminal Law Act 1977 that shows you are the rightful occupier. Once you call the police, they may decide to arrest the squatters.


Do squatters rights really exist?

The popular belief that squatters rights exist comes from a law which makes it illegal to threaten or use violence to enter a property where someone is present and opposes the entry. The law was introduced to stop landlords from using violence to evict their tenants, but has also been used by squatters.

This law doesn’t apply to a displaced residential occupier or a protected intending occupier. This means that if you break down the door of your own home where you are living, you wouldn’t be committing a crime. However, you would need to be able to prove you are a displaced residential occupier or protected intending occupier.

Occupiers of non-residential properties and those who are not displaced residential occupiers or protected intending occupiers of residential properties can’t force their way into a property when someone there opposes entry.

Going through the courts to get your property back

If you have an immediate right to possession of a property which has been taken over by a squatter (eg you are a landlord or the occupier of a property), you can apply for an interim possession order (IPO) to get your property back. You may be able to get an IPO from the courts within a few days.

You can only apply for an IPO if you are only seeking possession. You cant seek an IPO if you are making a claim for another remedy, for example, damages. You can only use an IPO against people who entered the premises as trespassers – it cant be used against former licensees, tenants or sub-tenants.

Once squatters are served with an IPO, they must leave the property within 24 hours. If they dont leave, they are committing a crime and may be arrested. It is also a crime for them to return to the property within 12 months of the date of service of the order.

To get final possession of the property, you must also make an application for possession when you apply for the IPO. A final order for possession will normally be made soon after the IPO.


Reporting damage, theft or other offences by squatters

If a squatter causes damage (while entering or once inside) or steals things, you should call the police to report a crime. The unauthorised use of utilities (eg gas and electricity) may also be a criminal offence and you should call the police to report this.

You may also want to speak to your utility company about possible action.

If you suspect that criminal offences are being committed on a neighbouring property you should report it to the police straightaway.

If squatters are very noisy or they are fly-tipping you can report this to your local council. Your council may be able to take enforcement action under the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

Can squatters take ownership of a property?

The process for someone who isn’t the legal owner of a property to take ownership after living in it for a certain amount of time is called adverse possession. It is very rare for squatters to be able to do this because they have to stay in a property without the owners permission for at least ten years.

The amount of time a squatter needs to stay in a property before they can get ownership depends on whether the land is registered or unregistered.

If the land is unregistered, a squatter would generally need to occupy it for 12 years to get ownership. If the land is registered and a squatter lives there for ten years, they can apply for registration. The current registered owner will be able to object and in most circumstances will be able to stop squatters from taking ownership.

Reporting squatters in someone else’s property

If you see someone breaking into a property you should call the police.

If you live in a council or housing association property, you should also tell your caretaker or housing officer. If you suspect someone is squatting in a property, you should contact your local council or police.


Evicting a tenant who won’t leave

A tenant who won’t leave after a landlord asks them to isn’t a squatter. There are steps a landlord must take to evict a tenant.

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