Protecting your commercial property from squatters

Squatting in unoccupied residential buildings in England and Wales is a criminal offence, however this does not include commercial properties. The police can only take action if squatters commit other crimes when entering or staying in a property.

Crimes include:

  • causing damage when entering the property
  • causing damage while in the property
  • not leaving when they’re told to by a court
  • stealing from the property
  • using utilities like electricity or gas without permission
  • fly-tipping
  • not obeying a noise abatement notice

There are an estimated 20,000 squatters in the UK, up 15,000 from 10 years ago, and the law change in 2012 (Section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act) may mean unoccupied offices and commercial properties could become a target for them. This is because the legislation does not extend to non- residential buildings i.e. buildings not designed to be lived in. It follows therefore that squatting in offices, a public house, or a warehouse will not in itself be a crime. A landlord will therefore need to resort to civil law and obtain a court order to evict squatters from their commercial property.

There is evidence to suggest that the new legislation has simply shifted the problem on, with squatters now seeking out commercial buildings rather than face arrest for occupying a residential property. For example, since September 2012 office blocks, vacant pubs and empty bank branches – witness the Upper Bell Inn in Blue Bell Hill near Chatham and Lloyds TSB in Bristol ­ have all been targeted and occupied. For commercial landlords with empty property this is of considerable concern; they not only have to pay full business rates, but they also have to spend significant sums securing the property if they are unable to secure a tenancy. The alternative is to risk lengthy and costly legal proceedings to evict squatters.

Here’s some ways you can keep unwanted guests at bay.

  • Shut off utilities such as water and electricity
  • Alarm the building and use video cameras or a security firm to secure your premises
  • Secure doors and windows and prevent roof access
  • Install fencing to secure the perimeter
  • Clear the property of furniture and equipment
  • Install a letter box seal and collect mail regularly to prevent arson
  • Inspect the property regularly
  • Check your insurance to see if intrusions and damage is covered

For more information on managing risks for your unoccupied property, contact A-Plan’s commercial insurance team today.

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This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given.