Getting Rid of Squatters Can Be A Messy Business

Getting Rid of Squatters Can Be A Messy Business.

In 2011 Landlord Action were instrumental in putting together a campaign which helped make squatting a criminal offence in supporting the campaign and representing the  landlords who signed the petition campaign, presented to Parliament in April 2011, Paul Shamplina commented at the time. “Squatting cases have been on the rise for some time now, many by organised gangs whom have travelled thousands of miles to engage in squatting knowing they will be protected by the law. It was only when some of the high profile cases hit the headlines that people sat up and took notice of the growing injustice on homeowners.”

Sadly the problem has not gone away and today we are warning landlords not to be complacent, “Enforcing a law does not mean that the activity of squatting will be eradicated, it just means there are tougher measures to deal with it which should prevent landlords and homeowners having to enter into lengthy and expensive legal battles. The law in place currently focussses exclusively on squatting in a residential property. This is now a criminal act, and a squatter can be imprisoned up to six months and fined up to £5000. However squatting in a commercial property, is not at the moment a criminal act and civil possession proceedings have to be issued ” adds Paul.

Below we offer our advice on the ongoing issues around squatting.

Squatters, people who occupy an empty building without the permission of the owner or landlord, are not uncommon in the UK. There are an estimated 20,000 squatters in the UK, many of whom are homeless.

Evidence suggests that 40% of single homeless people squat. Squatting is most common in London and other large cities, including Brighton and Bristol.

In England and Wales, trespassing is illegal. Squatting in residential buildings through acts of trespass became a criminal act in 2012 after an amendment to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill. The amendment reads:

“The new offence will be committed where a person is in a residential building as a trespasser having entered it as a trespasser, knows or ought to know that he or she is a trespasser and is living in the building or intends to live there for any period.”

As a result of the amendment, landlords were given the right to evict squatters by calling the police. However, getting rid of squatters can be a messy business in more ways than one.

Squatters Do Not Always Leave Nicely

Unfortunately, getting rid of squatters is not always straightforward. Many squatters are reluctant to leave because they do not have an alternative place to shelter.

London Safety Clean, a team of squatter cleaning specialists, recently cleaned out 36 flats in East London, which had been empty for some years. On the second day of their inspection work, they came across two final squatters. They informed them that they would be checking and cleaning the property for the next 7-10 days before it was demolished.

The squatters agreed to leave nicely, but on their way out set fire to two first floor flats. This delayed works while the fire brigade did their job, leaving a congealed black mess of water soaked rubbish, furniture and carpet to scrape and clear away.

Jeff Nelson, Operations Director at London Safety Clean, said: “There are also the particularly spiteful squatters who know they are about to be evicted and lay booby traps for others – broken needles stuck to the underside of door handles, bannisters, sink traps and so on – in the hope of causing injury to others.”

Drugs and Needles are a Common Problem

Drug use is rife amongst squatters and it is not uncommon to find unprotected, used syringes lying in properties, often partially hidden amongst piles of clothing, rubbish, or building waste. These need to be found before other waste is removed.

Cleaning staff must wear specialist needle proof clothing as well as receive a range of inoculations, including Hepatitis, Polio, Typhoid and Tetanus, before dealing with this type of cleaning. On a recent job, a team of four operatives from London Safety Clean removed seven hundred used syringes before any further cleaning could begin.

Bodily Fluids are Usually Present

Landlords of properties which they know will be empty for long periods of time, often smash or remove toilets and sinks to dissuade squatters. This can be effective against some squatters, however others will disregard this and make one or more rooms their toilet.

Consequently, bodily fluids including blood, vomit, urine and faeces are often present in properties which have been occupied by squatters. These areas need to be fully disinfected.

Huge Amounts of Rubbish is Left Behind

Squatters nearly always leave behind large amounts of rubbish. Rubbish includes everything from scraps and clothing, to furniture and broken glass. The sheer volume can be very time-consuming to clear out.

Theft of Materials from the Building

Metals such as stainless-steel, aluminium, copper, lead are present in buildings. Many squatters may steal these metals to sell later. This theft can occur with no visible difference to the outside.

However, such metals are often hidden behind walls and above ceilings. Extensive damage can occur whilst retrieving them, meaning the cost of repairs in larger office blocks can extend into tens of thousands of pounds or more.

To Get Rid of Squatters you Need Professional Help…

Getting rid of squatters can be difficult. Jeff Nelson comments “Squatters are usually inconsiderate to the property they are living in illegally and often cause damage without any thought to property owners or their workforce, which can mean massive expense for landlords.”

Landlords should do their best to be aware of potential squatters in their properties and deal with the problem early on. If they don’t, the cleaning costs can soar and the damage to their properties can be extensive.

Thank-you to for their assistance with this blog

Precise Treatment Reduces Pain

Detail needs experts. Expert time is worth it when it saves you a costly mistake. Main objective: Get the property back. Best action: Very precise treatment.

Serving a notice is actually the most important part of the possession process.

It isn’t complicated but one tiny error can cause dreadful problems.

That’s why we say, don’t DIY and don’t use internet amateurs. It’s not worth it.

1. Compliance Errors
If the tenant doesn’t leave at Step1, the notice had better be valid. Because then it has to go to court. Any little error can get a case thrown out. And you have to start all over again.

2. Attempting Short-Cuts.
In an effort to be quick, some internet services aimed at landlords are using short-cuts around the process. But if the tenant doesn’t leave (50%) these practices can backfire at court and the case thrown out.

3. Trying to Save Pennies.
Internet services have mushroomed and landlords can expect to get what they pay for. To get the process done PROPERLY it takes a certain amount of time for an expert to look over a file and be accurate. Our fees cover that expert time.

Chasing courts for dates, arranging advocates and preparing court papers is time consuming. Especially if you’ve never done it before.

Some landlord and agents have served notices themselves. They believed they were saving a few pounds but it often ended up costing them more.

If you lose a claim, the court can order you to pay the tenant’s defence cost, which can run to hundreds or thousands of pounds.

Our in-house Solicitors are there to get your property back as fast as they can. And we protect landlords and agents from themselves.

As experts, we know that in the rush to get things done, errors can happen. And those errors can can come back later to mess up your case – and the whole process has to start again.

You can speed things up – give us accurate information quickly. Help us to help you.

There are services on the web who will prepare papers BUT they get you to pay the court-fee separately and get you to sign the court papers – so in fact they don’t represent you!

If your notice (at Step1) wasn’t drafted or served correctly you risk wasting your court fees and losing a whole lot of time because of a small error.

We won’t let your case anywhere near a court until we have checked every little detail. To make sure you don’t waste time or money, at Step-2 we first only charge part of the fee.

If your notice is fine, then you just pay the balance of the fee and we issue the claim. If there is a problem with your notice or paperwork, we will advise you what to do next.

Courts take the view that possession proceedings can make someone homeless. So they are very careful. If there’s any error in the notice, they throw the case out. It’s the process. Get it right or lose.

If the notice is invalid, you have to start all over again. The weeks or months you’ve waited are wasted. If there were rent arrears, there are now more.

If there weren’t rent arrears, they might now start. More fees. More lost rent. And still no possession. Tenants can be alerted to making a counter-claim.

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