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Squatters occupying commercial premises

Napthens - June 19th 2017

The national press has recently covered a story whereby a group of travellers broke into the car park of a well known Lancashire business and occupied the premises by preventing access to the site by putting their own locks on the factory gates.

According to the Daily Mail, it is alleged that the travellers demanded a ransom to be paid by 10:00 p.m. that evening or they would burn the factory down. The police did not act on that threat and had apparently told the factory owners that they could not assist with the matter.

Napthens has significant experience of dealing with squatters in a variety of situations and it is usually the case that the police consider squatting on business premises a Civil matter.

Ideally business premises should be properly secured with modern locks and height restrictions or obstacles to prevent vehicular access. CCTV is very useful and should be positioned at all possible entrances to the premises so that it can be used to demonstrate that the trespassers have committed a criminal offence in gaining access to the property. The footage is particularly useful in persuading the police to take immediate action.

It is important to act quickly and there is a course of action that is underutilised - land owners have the right to remove trespassers from land using reasonable force if required.  Force can include the use of Enforcement Agents (formerly bailiffs) to remove people and equipment and tow trucks can be used to remove vehicles. Some enforcement companies are reluctant to use reasonable force, but Napthens has contacts within the industry that are prepared to use this remedy within the law.

It is possible that the police will prevent the use of reasonable force and it is useful to have a contingency plan by also issuing possession proceedings through the Courts via a possession order for open land, or an interim possession order for property.

Legal advice should be sought immediately as an application to the Court for an Interim Possession Order (“IPO”) must be made within 28 days of the date in which you knew that your premises were occupied.

After an application for an IPO is made there will be a hearing and you must inform the squatters by fixing notices to the doors of the occupied building. If an IPO is made the squatters must leave within 24 hours or they can be arrested.

A further hearing will take place after which a Warrant of Possession can be requested and agents instructed to remove the occupants.

Squatters are protected by the law and there are a variety of websites advising squatters on how to occupy premises. Therefore, it is important that the correct procedural steps are followed as a procedural error can lead to a new application being required at considerable expense.

If you have any queries on the above, please do not hesitate to get in touch with myself or David Bailey in commercial property litigation.

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