Avoiding squatters in your commercial building

Advice on how to avoid squatters in commercial property

Many people may think of squatters as uneducated, jobless junkies just looking for a temporary roof over their heads. If that’s your perception, think again. Today’s squatter is just as likely to be a university educated professional, and will probably know the law better than you, at least as far as his rights are concerned…

Section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing & Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 is the law that was passed recently, making it a criminal offence to squat in an empty, unoccupied residential property. What the new law didn’t do however, was make it a criminal offence to squat in unoccupied commercial property, which means that commercial properties are now far more likely to be targeted by squatters. This means squatters will be less wary of the wrath of the law and a criminal conviction as they are subject to different legislation.

To avoid squatters and problems with your insurers, it is essential that commercial properties are secured as effectively as possible. Regular visits to the property are an essential part of preventing squatters. They are far less likely to enter a property that has people coming and going on a regular basis. Squatters will often ‘case a joint’ for a while before deciding to move into the property so this reinforces the message of more ‘people traffic’ equals less of a risk of squatters. For larger buildings, where budgets allow, it is advisable to consider security. A 24 hour security presence is the ultimate deterrent, whereas regular visits to the site from roving security guards also offer some added peace of mind.

A fairly basic requirement these days is the installation of an intruder alarm system. Intruder alarms can be a very effective way of deterring a squatter (or even an intruder!). There are various levels of intruder alarm protection starting from a self installed system to a professionally installed system with the latest monitoring technology. It is recommended that you seek professional advice and use a company registered with NSI (National Security Inspectorate).
The physical security needs to be as effective as possible. Ground floor windows are an easy point of access so as a very minimum you need to fit them with good quality key operated window locks. Bars are also a consideration for some properties or security grills or shutters depending on the nature of the property.

Lighting the perimeter of the property, again, depending on location, can be an effective way of preventing unwanted entry to the property. Make sure windows and frames are not broken, ensure doors are of a good standard and that all locks are in good working order. Where possible, fit hinge bolts to doors that have external hinges. Good quality hinge bolts are available from a variety of firms. Door locks should also be of a good standard, make sure you are buying the best quality and that they comply with the latest BS Kitemark standard. With locks, the more you pay, the better lock you have. Make sure however that the frame and the door are up to scratch too. If you have a garden area or lawn, keep it tended. Unkempt gardens and lawns are the first thing a potential squatter will see when they are looking for a place to stay.

The more effort you have visibly taken with regards to security will act as a deterrent as the potential squatter will be less likely to enter a property where effort has been made and seek another ‘target’ elsewhere.

How to Evict Squatters
The Police will be very reluctant to intervene when dealing with squatters in a commercial property. It is certainly worth advising the Police of the situation and in certain circumstances they do have the power to move squatters. If you already have squatters in your property you will need to obtain a Court Order for possession of your property which usually takes 24 – 48 hours to obtain. It is advisable, if the squatters are amicable and it is safe to do so, to negotiate with squatters. This is more effective if they have just established a new squat as they will often have a second or third possible building they could have used. Best advice for removing squatters in a commercial property is to call your Solicitor.

Lastly, make sure you tell your insurance company without any delay. The occupation of a property by squatters is a fact that changes the insurance risk and you MUST tell them. It may open up a can of worms but it is a can well worth opening quickly.….