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What are squatters rights?

In the UK, there is so much confusion surrounding squatters’ rights. A lot of the time, people think that squatters can just stroll into a home and claim ownership, but the actual process is a little more complicated than that. There are circumstances where a squatter can claim ownership of your property, but it’s not as cut and dry as you might believe. 

As a property owner, it is important that you are aware of the laws surrounding what squatters’ rights are in the UK and how you can protect your property against them. The good news is that we are here to take you through it all and save you a little bit of stress. 

What is Squatting? 

Squatting is a form of trespassing where a person, or group of people, enter a property without a person’s permission and decide to live there. This is a deliberate act with the intention of living (or intending to live) in the property even though they are not allowed. 

A long-term squatter has the potential to become the registered owner of property or land that they have occupied without permission from the owner. 

Are Tenants in Arrears Squatters? 

No, tenants who are in arrears are not squatters because they entered the home and rented it with permission from the owner. Therefore, they cannot claim squatter’s rights. If your tenant has not paid the rent or you are having trouble evicting them, you will need to go through the usual procedures in order to have action taken against them. 

Is Squatting Illegal? 

Whether or not squatting is a crime actually depends on the circumstances surrounding it. Squatting in a residential property is illegal, and it is a crime for squatters to remain there after they have been asked to leave by the owner, police, or an order from the court/council. The police are able to enter the property and arrest squatters if it is residential. 

Non-residential buildings are considered a civil matter as opposed to a criminal one with regard to squatting, which makes these buildings far more at risk. It is not illegal for them to be there, but if they steal or damage anything inside then this is still considered a criminal act. If they are ordered to leave by court order, it becomes illegal for them to remain there. 

However, there are situations where squatting in a property and taking ownership of it can be legal, and this is what is known as squatters’ rights in the UK. If a person, or a group of people, squats in a property for 10 years (12 for those that have not been registered with the HM land registry) then they might be able to apply for ownership of it under the adverse possession law. 

In order to do this, squatters will need to apply to HM Land Registry and show that they have acted as though the property is their own for the period of occupation. If the owner does not object, they will then become the legal owner. Even if the owner does object, squatters can reapply in two years so long as:

  • the owner has not tried to remove them
  • the property has not been reclaimed
  • they are still in possession of the property

How to Protect Against Squatters?

All vacant properties are at risk, but there are some things you can do in order to deter squatters and try to protect your property from them:

  • Make vacant property and land appear as occupied as possible 
  • Keep the property monitored at all times and invest in CCTV
  • Find a temporary use for the land or property until it is rented out

Squatters can be an issue, but it’s not as simple as the media makes it out to be. It’s actually very difficult for them to make themselves at home in your property, especially if it is residential, and cases of squatters claiming properties as their own are very rare. Hopefully, we have been able to ease your mind and give you some good tips to protect your land or property. 

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