What Are Squatters Rights & How to Evict Them?
Looking at squatters rights and how squatting can affect a house sale.
Whether you are a landlord or a homeowner, the issue of squatters is an issue that you may have had to deal with in the past, or something you may have at least given some thought to. Maybe you have squatters in house after holiday, or perhaps you have a second house with squatter after a long vacancy, it is an issue that is prevalent throughout the UK. Squatters can cause damage to your property, as well as being a general nuisance for any homeowners. If you have squatters on your property, there are several rights you will need to familiarise yourself with in order to start the eviction process.
In this blog post, we will be looking at squatters rights, what to do if squatters occupy your property, and how we can help you sell your squatter house fast.
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What are squatters rights?
Squatters rights, also referred to as adverse possession, occur if squatters occupy a property for 10 years without a break. They may take long-term legal possession of the property if the squatters had been acting as 'owners' of the empty building or house during this time.
Should this property that is being occupied by squatters not be registered to the HM Land Registry, then they will need to occupy it for 12 years before claiming ownership.
The same singular person does not need to have been in residence for the full 10 or 12 years, it can also be a series of squatters.
Squatters must be able to prove that they have acted responsibly as the owner during the period they occupied the property in order to register as the new owner. An example of this could be properly maintaining the property or paying utility bills.
What is squatting?
Squatting is the name given to the process of a group of people or a single person taking up residence in an unoccupied building without permission from the owners until a certain time frame has passed.
Once the squatters have occupied the building for the necessary timeframe, the people or person are able to claim ownership of the property. But in order for their claim to be successful, they will need to meet a certain legal criteria.
A squat in a property is when people, also referred to as squatters, live in the property without permission from the owner of the property.
Why does squatting occur?
Squatting is not a new practice and has occurred for centuries in both residential and non-residential property. One of the most common reasons why a person may revert to squatting is because of homelessness. This can be because of repossession, high rents, or eviction.
People may also turn to squatting as a form of social or political protest, or even sometimes for recreational reasons.
What issues can squatters cause?
If you have a house with squatter, then you may find there are issues that they can bring. You may find:
Nuisance - First and foremost, squatters can present an issue in the form of nuisance and disturbance for your neighbours. They may be responsible for excessive noise, litter, and loitering.
Legal issues - Although squatting is illegal in the UK, landlords can also be on the receiving end of the law if they try and illegally evict squatters.
Safety issues - Squatters also pose a health and safety threat, such as fires from heating or cooking.
Damage - Squatters can also cause damage to the property, causing broken windows, damaged walls, and vandalised fixtures. This damage is often expensive to correct and can end up lowering the value of your property.
When did squatting become illegal in the UK?
In the UK squatting in residential buildings is a criminal offence. Squatting in a residential property or building complex can leave those found guilty facing six months in prison. Those found guilty of squatting can also face a £5,000 fine. In some cases, people found guilty of squatting may face both.
If the squatter entered the property legally, they cannot be arrested for trespassing. This means they must have first gained the consent of the owner. So, if the now squatter was originally a tenant and stayed on after the tenancy ended, they cannot be arrested for trespassing.
This means that the act of squatting in an unoccupied non-residential or commercial property is not technically illegal, however, squatters may face police action if they have committed a criminal offence during the process of adverse possession, like vandalism.
How do squatters legally take possession of a property?
If a squatter wants to take legal possession of the property, then they will be required to fill out an "adverse possession" form, as well as a signed "statement of truth" which will then both be sent to HM Land Registry.
The Land Registry will then give notice to the property owner, alerting them to the claim of adverse possession. From here, the owner may be able to reject the claim and reclaim ownership for themselves. Using an IPO ( interim possession order ) they may be able to evict the squatter, as long as they do so within 65 days.
If this does not occur, then squatters can apply again in 2 years if:
The property has not been reclaimed
The squatter has remained in possession of the property
The property owner has not made an effort to remove the squatter
After this has occurred, HM Land Registry will typically register the squatter as the owner. If the building is not registered, then the squatter will need to go through the HM Land Registry to register the property.
Should the squatter have received the owner's permission during the 10 or 12 year period, then it is not classed as 'valid squatting' and any claims of possession are invalid.
What is an IPO?
An IPO or an Interim Possession Order as it is also known, is an order which is used by the courts to allow a property owner to remove a squatter from their premises under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994. The IPO allows for a property owner to evict a squatter pending a court hearing. If the court rules in the favour of the property owner and decides that the squatter is an illegal trespasser, then the eviction will be permanent.
An IPO will require the squatter to leave the property within 24 hours, if they fail to do then they risk arrest and further legal action. If they then decide to return within a year of the eviction then they would be committing a crime.
What if my squatters are tenants?
If the squatters in your house are previous tenants then the eviction process is slightly different. This is because squatters who stay on in a property after the tenancy has ended may face a "standard" or "accelerated possession order". As a landlord, you can use this first option if you wish to receive rent from a tenant who remained on your property despite receiving a Section 21 notice. If you do not care about the rent and simply want your previous tenant evicted, then you should use the second option.
What happens if you find squatters in your house?
Dealing with squatters is generally an unpleasant situation to be in. They may feel as though they are entitled to the property and may not be willing to leave.
Some property owners may choose to bypass the hassle and stress that can be caused by squatters by simply selling their property to a cash buyer (like ourselves) or a property auction.
If you tackle your squatter issue early on, the law will typically be on your side. So if you find that a person or a group of people are squatting in your property you should call the police. From here you should be able to serve a formal eviction notice which should be enough to deter the squatters.
However, if this does not work, you can move on to an IPO to get the ball rolling.
Can you break into your own house if squatters?
You cannot "break into" your own house if squatters are present. This can be easier said than done, as squatters are generally aware of this right and will avoid leaving the property unattended. However, if the squatters leave the property unattended, then you have the right to a peaceful re-entry. This means if you break windows or doors then it will be classed as threatening, and you could end up in legal problems yourself. If you use force or threat as a way of gaining entry to the property, then you will be committing a crime.
Can I change the locks on a squatter UK?
Yes, you can! As the owner of the property, you are able to go in and change the locks if the squatter is not there to stop you from doing so. This is referred to as a peaceful eviction and can only occur if the property is vacant.
As we have already mentioned, you are unable to use force to get back into your property. The building must be vacant at the time of entry and if you use threat or force you may find yourself in trouble with the law.
How to avoid squatters
If you are looking to avoid squatters in your property, there are some preventative measures that you can take to keep your property unoccupied by squatters:
Regularly inspect your property
Make sure that your property is kept secure and hard to access
Install CCTV and floodlights, or hire monitoring security if the property is large enough
Shut off all gas, electric, and water
Alert the local police station that the property is vacant
How long does it take to evict a squatter UK?
If there are squatters in my house and you are wondering how long it will take to evict, you may be disappointed there is no one answer for how long it can take to remove squatters. Exactly how long it takes to evict a squatter will depend upon how far into the squatting process they are.
If you involve the police as soon as you discover the squatter and kickstart the eviction process, it should not drag out too much. This means taking action within 28 days of discovering the squatters, and as long as you do this and the property is residential, you should be able to obtain an IPO. Once the IPO is served, the squatters must leave within 24 hours.
How can we help against squatters rights?
Whether you currently have squatters or you have recently evicted them, we are here to help! Here at The Property Buying Company, we specialise in fast house sales. We can buy any house, in any condition, and in any location. Regardless of the state of your home, we will not be deterred.
We also tailor our service to fit you! As we are a genuine cash buyer, we have the cash funds readily available to purchase your home as soon as you are ready to sell. Whether you want to sell in as little as 7 days or as far away as 6 months' time, we can buy your house.
We are also proud members of The Property Ombudsman and The National Association of Property Buyers, as well as being rated excellent on TrustPilot.
Our process is simple, we only require one quick viewing to ensure that our cash offer is correct. Once you have accepted our offer, that is the amount that you will receive in FULL in your bank.
Plus we will cover all of the legal fees you would typically associate with selling a house, it's just one of the ways we make selling easy.
If you are ready to sell your home fast, get in touch today and fill out one of our no-obligation valuation forms to receive your free CASH offer which we could have in your bank in as little as 7 days...