It is that time of year again when landlords may find a vacant unit occupied overnight by illegal traders, cashing in on the Christmas rush of must-have items. Can you regain possession of the unit and how quickly can it be done? Below is a summary of the options available if you find you have trespassers.
1. 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. Delivery of a notice by a burly process server might do the trick.
2. 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 particularly if your trader is neatly tucked in a unit but you may be lucky, even if the police are reluctant to intervene initially, persistence sometimes pays off!
3. If the traders go home at night you can go in, change the locks and re-secure the premises. Unfortunately the traders often 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.
4. There are Court proceedings. This is the most time consuming and costly option, but the most risk-averse. It will usually take 5 to 7 days to get a summary possession order from the County Court. We can advise on expediting proceedings, commencing them in the High Court or transferring them to the High Court for quicker enforcement. 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 can use force to evict the traders and you will have no personal liability for their actions.
5. Do nothing on the basis that the traders will leave after Christmas anyway.
These options can be used alone or in combination depending on the most appropriate circumstances. Relevant considerations will include where the occupiers are, whether they are causing damage or are a danger to themselves or to others, how many occupiers there are and whether there are children present.
The best advice remains to keep your site secure to prevent squatters in the first place.
This summary is designed to give you a very general idea of the options available. It is not exhaustive. Please note that it applies to commercial premises. It does not apply to residential premises.