Blog post contributed by Eddisons – experts in commercial property.
The Government introduced Squatters Rights Laws as part of the Criminal Law Act 1977. The legislation was designed to protect tenants from their landlords and to ensure that they could not be unfairly evicted from the property. In order to do this the laws made it illegal for any person, including the landlord, to force their way into the building against the occupiers wishes.
Although these changes to the law were set in place with noble intentions; it has had a negative impact for many landlords with residential property. This problem is of course the fact that squatters are able to gain access to empty properties and cannot be legally removed without a lot of red tape. In order for a landlord to have the squatters removed from their property they have to go through the courts, which can take months and also cost them thousands of pounds. Additionally, they could lose money on possible rental income if they have a new tenant lined up.
A look at the changes
As of 31st September 2012 the laws have been amended to offer greater protection to landlords and ensure that they can have squatters removed with much less hassle. The bones of the changes are that the Police now have the powers to plan and carry out raids on any properties where they suspect squatters have made their home, before removing.
Squatting has also been made a criminal offence, whereas it was previously seen as a civil matter. This essentially means that squatters could actually face court proceedings, with a maximum of £5,000 and/or a six month custodial sentence. Whilst the moves have been welcomed by the vast majority of residential landlords; they could result in more hassle for commercial property owners.
According to Government figures, there are an estimated 20,000 squatters in Britain, although some squatting organisations suggest that the actual number is much higher. Either way; the changes in law mean that most of these squatters are going to be more wary about seeking refuge in residential properties. However, as the changes do not currently encompass commercial properties, there is an increased likelihood that squatters may now target these types of buildings in their search for shelter. Whilst owners of commercial property will feel sympathy for those that are forced to live on the streets; in business terms they must of course protect their investments.
Safeguarding your commercial property
When it comes to protecting commercial buildings from squatters, the key aim is of course to prevent them from gaining access. All commercial premises should have a fully operational alarm system – if you haven’t got one installed in your property, now is the time to do it. Taking things a little further, you may wish to seek out additional covers for your windows and doors, such as roller shutters or perhaps steel bars. Finally, you could look into how much it would cost to have a security firm include your property as part of their regular rounds. Squatters will usually scope out possible buildings, before trying to gain access and the regular presence of security guards is likely to deter them.