Christopher Bernard: What To Do About Squatters!
Christopher Bernard is a property litigation specialist with award-winning Housing and Property Law Partnership, a boutique law firm offering experienced legal services in all areas of property law. They represent housing associations and other social landlords, property managers, managing agents, private landlords and individuals involved in a variety of housing and property transactions or disputes across London and Southeast England.
His areas of practice cover anti-social behaviour disputes, disrepair claims, mortgage possession actions, leasehold disputes, short life housing, insolvency, commercial property practice and leasehold enfranchisement.
Leasehold Life is very pleased to welcome him as a new guest contributor, offering advice on what people returning from holiday to find their home taken over by squatters can do.
Anyone who returns from holiday to find that his or her home has been squatted can make use of the Criminal Law Act 1977. In the language of the Act, that person has become a Displaced Residential Occupier. Under s.7 of the Act, anyone who displaces such a person is committing a criminal offence and can be arrested.
If, however, a person has bought a flat or a house and has not lived there but intends to live there, then he or she is classified as a Protected Intending Occupier. Under s.12A of the Act, the person can obtain the same rights as a Displaced Residential Occupier. The person will need to make a written statement in front of a Commissioner of Oaths (eg any solicitor). Any person who refuses to vacate a property when asked to do so by a Protected Intending Occupier can be arrested.
There are, however, cases where the provisions of the Criminal Law Act 1977 will not apply – where, for example, the owners were not displaced and where they have no intention of living at the property. In such cases, proceedings have to be issued. So long as the owner takes action within 28 days of knowing about the squatters, and so long as the premises are residential, he or she can obtain an Interim Possession Order. The squatters must leave within 24 hours of being served with the Order or they can be arrested.
There is no reason why the owners should not be able to obtain such an order from the court within 10 days, though the court may have to be persuaded to list the matter quickly. There will be two hearings rather than one. Usually, the final possession order is given a week or so after the Interim Possession Order.