The current outbreak of the coronavirus has placed a lot of uncertainty on remedies available to landlords in respect of commercial business tenancies.
One area of commercial property litigation which has been met with much confusion is the removal of trespassers from commercial property – squatters.
It is clear that there has been a spike in premises being squatted during the current crisis we are facing. What is not known to many is that you are only able to remove squatters from a commercial property by obtaining a court order.
Upon the new legislation implemented by the government in view of the lockdown restrictions, possession proceedings for rent arrears in respect of commercial properties are now placed on hold until after 30 June 2020 - My previous article in the commercial property litigation overview focuses on the legislation and effect it has on forfeiting a lease. You can read this article on our firm’s website.
The courts incorporated the new legislation into the Civil Procedure Rules which state that all possession proceedings will be placed on hold for a period of 90 days. At first, the 90-day stay period applied to possession proceedings against squatters. The rules have now been amended to exclude possession proceedings against squatters and such proceedings can now progress.
A possession claim is issued at a county court which is local to the location of the commercial property in question. One of the key factors is to demonstrate you are the direct owner of the property by way of showing you are the freeholder of the property or hold a lease. The claim documents are then returned to allow the documents to be personally delivered on to the property which is being occupied. For this, the assistance of a process server is normally required. A hearing date is provided at the same time the court documents are returned for service.
At a hearing, a possession order is granted. After which, enforcement agents are instructed to remove the squatters. There are occasions where squatters try to delay matters by attempting to raise a defence however as long as ownership is demonstrated and no evidence is produced to show the owner provided permission to the squatters to occupy the property, an order is normally granted.
The current response from the Courts
As a litigator, I have currently found that many courts will automatically place a hold on all possession proceedings. It is therefore paramount that the legislation and rules are clearly set
out in the court documents if proceedings are issued against squatters. Nonetheless, I have also found that despite referring to the legislation and rules in the court documents, the court will still place such proceedings on hold and we are required to clarify the position with the courts. Hopefully, with the amendments to the rules to exclude possession proceedings against squatters and more application being made, the rules will be applied properly to avoid delay for our clients.
Squatting in residential properties is a criminal offence and the police have the power to enter the residential property and remove and arrest the occupiers in accordance with s.144 Legal Aid, Sentencing & Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. This legislation is relatively unknown to the police and must be cited when seeking police assistance. If this legislation does not assist you, then you are able to issue possession proceedings against the squatters in the civil courts in the same manner as proceedings are issued in respect of commercial properties.
Contact our Property Solicitors at Lewis Nedas Law
If you wish to seek further information or have any queries as to this article, please do not hesitate to contact us at Lewis Nedas Law.
Sherry Fard is a solicitor-advocate in the Commercial & Litigation Team at Lewis Nedas Law who specialises in commercial property litigation and can be contacted on 020 7387 2032, or find Sherry on Linkedin here.