What is the law surrounding squatters and commercial properties?
Squatting in a residential property has been a criminal offence since 1977 but there is no similar offence in relation to commercial properties. Government Ministers are under an increasing pressure to bring in anti-squatting laws to cover commercial premises.
There has been an increase in the number of squatters of commercial premises, including a number of high-profile situations involving public buildings. This is as a result of the enforcement of Section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing & Punishment Act 2012 which makes it more difficult for trespassers of a residential property to establish they have any rights of occupation. Consequently, squatters are turning to commercial properties where the land owner will have to rely on civil remedies for the unauthorised occupation. By the time solicitors have been instructed, court proceedings issued and court orders enforced the land owner could find that significant damage has been caused to his property. There could even be a situation where the owner has contracted to sell the property and, in-between exchange and completion, squatters have taken occupation thereby preventing the owner from completing the sale with vacant possession.
We will update you on any developments towards criminalising squatting in commercial properties.