7 October 2016 by Yezdan Izzet

Squatters: ‘Where there’s muck, there’s brass’

London is currently experiencing an upsurge in gangs of professional squatters breaking into vacant commercial properties for the purposes of running illegal sites for fly-tipping.  Squatters can make substantial amounts of money in a short period of time through charging others to dump rubbish and waste on the land they are unlawfully occupying.  Landowners require a Court possession order to remove squatters which can take weeks to obtain due to delays in the Court system, which unfortunately squatters are able to use to their advantage.  In response, the High Court issued fresh guidance last month on how to apply for possession orders in urgent cases.

Currently, owners of vacant commercial sites have two main options for removing squatters through the Court system.  Firstly, they can apply to the Court for a Summary Possession Order, which typically can take 3-4 weeks to recover possession.  Alternatively, landowners can use the ‘faster’ application for an Interim Possession Order, provided they make this application within 28 days of becoming aware of the squatters.  Typically, such IPO claims can take between 1-2 weeks before recovering possession.  The majority of such possession claims are pursued in the County Courts where the timescales for recovering possession vary from court to court.  Most practitioners have not pursued possession claims against trespassers through the High Court because of the perceived complexities of the rules and the extra requirement to be able to justify, amongst other things, that there is a substantial risk of public disturbance or of serious harm to persons or property which properly require immediate determination.

In response to this rising problem of squatters running illegal fly-tipping sites on commercial sites usually awaiting redevelopment, the High Court has issued guidance making it easier to navigate the High Court’s existing rules for landowners to follow in order to obtain a possession order in urgent cases:

“Claims involving a substantial risk of public disturbance and/or serious risk of harm to persons, particularly where the disturbance may be widespread, will often be suitable for the High Court. 

Such cases may also involve a serious risk of harm to property.  Harm to property need not be long-lasting or permanent.  An example of such a case is where there has been substantial tipping of waste material on commercial property. Further tipping may be likely and urgent steps may be required to prevent further harm to the property. Waste material may contain substances which are dangerous and pose a hazard to anyone gaining access to the site. 

In a case of real urgency, where there is a need to manage the risk of public disturbance or further substantial risk of harm to persons or land, the court will consider fixing a hearing of the claim very soon after issue (occasionally on the same day as issue) and giving permission for short service of the claim.”

At Bolt Burdon, we have witnessed firsthand this growing problem.  We have acted for many developers over the past few months that have had squatters break into their vacant commercial sites delaying redevelopment works and causing them to suffer financial losses as a result of the delays and clean up costs.  We are experienced in being able to help landowners navigate through the complex High Court and County Court possession rules, and take steps to recover their land from squatters as quickly as possible.

If you wish to discuss any issues relating to squatters, then please contact us at info@boltburdon.co.uk

You can also contact one of our other solicitors in the Real Estate Disputes team here.

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