Squatting,sometimes known as adverse possession, is when an individual or group of individuals enter a property without the owners permission with the intention of living there. However, it is a common misconception that squatters can simply enter your home while you’re away on holiday and claim it as their own. According to the law, squatting in a residential building is illegal and can lead to a hefty fine or jail sentence.
Squatting in a non-residential property without permission is not in fact a crime, unless the property is damaged or a crime is committed on the premises. It also becomes criminal activity if the squatters refuse to vacate the premises after being told to by the owner, the police, or the court.
So what exactly are a squatters rights?
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There are a few grounds on which a long-term squatter can apply to become the registered owner of a property. A squatter must be able to prove that the property has been occupied for ten continuous years and that they have acted as owner for the duration of that period. They must also prove that they did not have the owners permission prior to the occupancy. For example, if the squatter originally rented the property then they cannot file for ownership.
If the above requirements are met then the squatter can send a form for adverse possession with a written statement of truth to the Land Registry Citizen Centre. The Land Registry will then investigate the squatters claim and let the owner know that squatters are trying to obtain possession of their property. From here, if the owner wishes to keep their property it is very important that they take action as soon as possible.
What to do if squatters are claiming your property?
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Firstly, you must not make any attempt to physically remove the squatters or make a threat of violence. If you do so then you are committing a crime. Once you have received notice from the Land Registry that squatters are making a claim for possession you should apply for an Interim Possession Order (IPO). Within a few days you will receive confirmation of your application from the court along with some documents you must give to the squatters within 48 hours. If they do not then leave the property within 24hours and do not stay away for at least 12 months they can be sent to prison.To then regain possession of your property you must make a claim through theIPO form.
After two years,if you do not make an effort to reclaim your property and the same squatters apply for possession again they you will not be able to reject, so act fast if you want results.
What to do if you suspect squatters are in your area
If you see someone breaking in to a property or think that someone may be squatting, call the police. They will be able to handle the situation and start procedures for either moving them on or letting the squatters claim possession.
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One thing that is important to remember is that squatters are usually classed as homeless. While they are infringing on your property and it can be easy to get frustrated by this, remaining calm and following the correct channels usually provides the best outcome for both parties. Squatting does not provide a secure home, as they are easier to evict than legal tenants. By registering as homeless or seeking out companies such as Shelter, individuals without a permanent residence can receive support.