What is the law regarding squatters?
When someone occupies an empty or abandoned residential property which they don’t own or rent, without the owner’s permission, it is called squatting. If your property has been taken over by squatters and you would like to remove them, you may wish to consult a solicitor or the Citizens Advice Bureau for advice.
Removing squatters from your property
There are specific laws relating to trespassing on residential property, which are intended to protect those who have been made homeless by squatters:
- If you are a ‘displaced residential occupier’ (i.e. squatters won’t leave your home that you are currently living in), you should call the police to report a crime.
- If you are planning to move into a property you may be considered a ‘protected intending occupier’. If a squatter moves into this property, you may 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.
- It is a crime (under most circumstances) for a person to trespass on residential premises and refuse to leave once a displaced residential occupier or a protected intending occupier has asked them to do so.
- You can go through the courts to get your property back if you have an immediate right to possession of a property that has been taken over by a squatter (e.g. a landlord or occupier of the property). This will involve applying to the court for an interim possession order (IPO), which (if granted) means that the squatter(s) must leave the property within 24 hours. If they refuse to do so, they are committing a crime and may be arrested. At the same time that you apply for an IPO, you should also apply for possession of the property, and a final order for possession will normally be made soon after the IPO.
Adverse possession – can squatters take ownership of a property?
Adverse possession is the term used to describe the process by which a squatter, who isn’t the legal owner of a property, can take ownership of the property by virtue of having lived in it for a certain period of time. It is commonly known as ‘squatter’s rights’.
The amount of time for which a squatter needs to live in a property before they can apply to be registered as proprietor of the land depends on whether the land is registered or unregistered. For unregistered land, a squatter can claim ownership after a period of 12 years adverse possession of it.
For registered land, a squatter in occupation for 10 years can apply to be registered owner of the land. The application can be made if the squatter is still in possession, or has been evicted within the previous six months by the registered proprietor. Notice of the squatter’s application will be given to the registered proprietor, who can object to the application within a specified time limit. A squatter will be registered if one of three particular conditions are met.
If the squatter is not entitled to be registered, the registered owner then has two years to obtain possession against the squatter. If he does not do so, and the squatter remains in possession, the squatter can apply once again for registration as owner.