Squatting is a term typically used to describe homeless people inhabiting an empty building. There may be as many as 30,000 squatters in England. Squatting is legal in England, although if issues arise between squatters and the owners of a building, the matter must be resolved in a civil court. To evict a squatter, legal procedures must be followed as it is an offence to force entry into an occupied building.
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There are two types of squatters' rights in England. The first and oldest type is called "adverse possession." This states that if a squatter takes over another person's land, the owner has 12 years to take legal action. If no action is taken within 12 years, land ownership officially belongs to the squatter. The second type is modern squatters' rights, which apply to people who occupy buildings that are not theirs. Although these squatters are considered trespassers, it is still a criminal offence for the owner to force access.
There are approximately 784,000 unoccupied homes in England, which can legally become squatters' residences. Squatters must only enter unused, empty buildings, usually abandoned warehouses or office space. To retain squatters' rights, you must not cause criminal damage or break into an empty building. The Advisory Service for Squatters (ASS) recommends that squatters repair any existing damage to a place and change the locks once they are inside.
Squatters have legal protection as long as the site remains occupied. The property should never be left empty, as owners can evict squatters if no one is home. Squatters should also contact the electricity and gas suppliers and request to start paying for the services. The ASS suggests that for additional proof of residency, a squatter should have mail sent to them at the new address. These letters can be shown to police if necessary to prove that the squatter lives there.
ASS has a legal warning available on its website for squatters to print and display in their occupied property (see link in Resources). The warning states that under Section 6 of the Criminal Law Act of 1977, as amended by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994, squatters live in the property and intend to stay there. The squatters will prosecute anyone who attempts to enter violently or with threats and will only be evicted through a court claim or written statement in agreement with the law. The warning must be signed by the squatters and posted on the property.
If the owners of a squatter-occupied property are able to gain access without force or violence, the squatters can be evicted. A squatter can be evicted by a Displaced Residential Occupier (DRO), somebody who lived there immediately prior, or on behalf of a Protected Intending Occupier (PIO), somebody who was about to move in but was unable to, due to the squatters' presence. Evictions generally happen through a court case.
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