It is now that time of year when landlords often find a vacant unit is suddenly occupied overnight by cowboy traders, cashing in on the Christmas rush. The question then is how to regain possession of the unit and how quickly can it be done. Below we set out a brief summary of the options available if you find you have trespassers.
The first step to take is to ask them to leave pointing out that they have no right to be there. Whilst it is unlikely this will achieve the desired effect it will be evidence that they are aware they have no rights to be there. If this does not work there are three main ways of removing trespassers:
When dealing with trespassers it is always worth contacting the police to see if they will assist. The police have powers under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. Generally the police are reluctant to use these powers but there are exceptions. Even if they are reluctant to intervene initially, persistence sometimes pays off!
2. Private bailiffs
If the traders go home at night the task is straightforward enough – you go in, change the locks and re-secure the premises. Unfortunately they usually bring their sleeping bags. The common law entitles you or your agents to use "reasonable force" to remove trespassers. This task is best undertaken by bailiffs – many of whom advertise this service. You do need to be aware of the risks involved. What is "reasonable force" is difficult to predict and will depend upon the circumstances. In the event that the bailiffs use more than reasonable force you would be liable for their actions, leaving you open to both civil and criminal sanctions. That said, bailiffs can be cost effective and quick and some of our clients do use them successfully in appropriate circumstances.
3. Court proceedings
It will usually take 5 to 7 days to get a possession order from the court, however this may be shortened if the need for urgency can be shown. You will, of course, incur legal costs, however, the advantage of this route is that once an order is obtained, it will be enforced by court appointed enforcement officers who are authorised to use force to evict any occupiers and you will have no personal liability for their actions.
These three options can be used in combination and which is the most appropriate will depend on the circumstances. Relevant considerations will include where the occupiers are, whether they are causing damage, whether the occupiers are causing a danger to themselves or to others, how many occupiers there are and whether there are children present.
The best advice is to ensure that all your sites are secure, however, in the event that a site is unlawfully occupied always contact the police first and ask if they will assist.
This summary is designed to give you a very general idea of the options available. Please note it is not meant for use in relation to residential land. It is not exhaustive and if you have trespassers please do not hesitate to contact Caroline DeLaney on +44 (0)20 7367 2329 or at [email protected] or Danielle Drummond-Brassington on +44(0) 20 7367 2768 or at [email protected].