Minimise squatter risk when converting property for residential use

Minimise squatter risk when converting property for residential use

17:35 PM, 8th May 2015, About 7 years ago

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Your risk

So you have bought an old pub or office building and your mind is brimming with ideas of redeveloping it for residential use – a dream home for your family or extra income through letting or selling. Whilst you may not think twice about leaving your new property unoccupied as you draw up your redevelopment plans, somebody else might be thinking about moving in. Basically, you need to be aware of a very real threat and act quickly or you could end up seeing those plans that you spent months agonising over put on the shelf for a little while longer. 

A change in legislation in 2012 made it a criminal offence for squatters to knowingly enter and live in residential properties and, as a result, made it easier for landlords to evict these trespassers.

Great breakthrough for residential landlords but not so great for the owners of unoccupied commercial properties. Why? Because to avoid the risk of arrest and prosecution, squatters began to target commercial properties to reside in.

It is a well sung song that The Sheriffs Office are very familiar with and hear often. Just last month, our Rapid Response Eviction Team were called upon to enforce a High Court writ at Admiralty Arch in London and again, two weeks later, at St. James’ Square where the same squatters had moved to! Both evictions went smoothly and both properties were successfully returned to their rightful owners very quickly.

Another similar incident occurred when the owner of the Cross Keys pub in Chelsea closed the pub and left it vacant whilst planning permission was sought to convert it into residential accommodation. Squatters moved in and it was a team from The Sheriffs Office who entered the pub to remove the squatters promptly, acting under a High Court writ of possession.

Your plan

As with most things, it’s nearly impossible to completely prevent the risks of squatters gaining access to your property but measures can be put in place to significantly dissuade any intruders;

  • Is there an option to keep your building occupied? Options could be short-term leases and property guardians (people occupying the premises on a very short-term contract for a minimal rent, in exchange for protecting the property from squatters, vandalism and general deterioration).
  • Increase the security of your building by introducing CCTV, alarms, security doors or screens, motion-detection lighting or security guards.
  • Check regularly for any indications that an entry may have been attempted.
  • Make your property appear less attractive – remove any valuable items (internally and externally) including machinery and disconnect any utilities such as power and water.
  • Make it difficult for trespassers to enter – fences, strong gates, barbed or razor wire.
  • It is also good practise to check your insurance policy – are you covered for intrusions or damage to your property?

Despite your best attempts, a determined squatter will still make their move and, in some cases, an eviction is the necessary course of action. You would need to obtain a possession order and the good news here is that The Sheriffs Office can transfer this up to the High Court (court permission not required) who will obtain a writ of possession. The Sheriffs Office will then enforce the writ and remove the problem squatters quickly and professionally.

Your solution

The Sheriffs Office has an excellent reputation for acting promptly to evict squatters under a High Court writ and an impressive success rate. We will assess the risks and requirements and, most importantly, advise you how to secure the site to prevent future occupation. If you would like further advice about how to make your property secure or need an eviction please get in touch.

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