Think about this scenario. You go on holiday and you come back home and find people you don’t know have moved in! How do you go about it to make sure you get your property back in the quickest and most painless way?
How to evict squatters from your property?
Well, the good news is that provided you follow the right procedure, eviction should be reasonably straightforward. It won’t happen overnight, but you should have your property back within a few weeks.
The other thing to bear in mind is that squatters are not necessarily bad. There may be all sorts of reasons that have resulted in them squatting in your property but they’re not necessarily going to trash it!
In this post, we’ll guide you through everything you need to know and do in order to evict your squatters. We’ll also include links to some extra resources in case you need a helping hand.
Squatter, trespasser or tenant?
In this post, what we mean by squatters is someone who has deliberately entered a property without permission and lives there, or intends to live there. They are also referred to by the courts as trespassers.
This is not the same as someone who originally entered the property with your permission but who you now want to evict. For example, a tenant who hasn’t paid their rent, or whose tenancy has expired.
If the people in your property, entered with your permission, you will need to follow a different procedure in to order to evict them.
Similarly, if the property was your former home, or was somewhere that you were about to move into, you will need to follow a different procedure than that outlined here, and you should take legal advice.
Can’t I get the police to evict the squatters in my property?
Not necessarily. If your property is residential then squatting is now a crime (which carries up to 6 months in prison, a £5,000 fine or both). However, the police are often reluctant to get involved.
If the property is non-residential, squatting isn’t a crime although any damage to the property may be.
Make enquiries before you start proceedings
Depending on who they are, one of the first considerations should be whether to make contact with the squatters. You should also contact your local police to find out what approach they take in these situations.
This will help decide how best to evict your squatters and what is the appropriate course of action. If the squatters are willing to vacate, it could save you a great deal of time and money. If they’re belligerently determined to stay put and the police are unwilling to intervene, court proceedings will be necessary.
What’s more, if the police won’t intervene, applying for an interim possession order as outlined below, may be a waste of time and money and you will have to apply for a full order – also outlined below (a slightly longer process).
Whatever you do, don’t try and evict the squatters yourself using force, or you may be arrested!
Quickest court procedure for evicting squatters
If squatters have entered your property recently, act fast and apply for an Interim Possession Order (IPO).
You can apply for an interim possession order if it’s only been 28 days or less since squatters entered your property. But you must have an immediate right (and have had the right for the whole time the property has been occupied by squatters) to possession of the property.
In order to apply for an IPO, the premises being occupied must be:
- a building, or
- part of a building, that is a self-contained room or flat within it, or
- the land ancillary to a building.
You cannot apply for an IPO in respect of open land.
The application process for an IPO
You will need to complete a claim form for possession of the property (form N5) and an application for an interim possession order (form N130). The form N130 includes space for a written statement to support your application.
You will be the claimant and the squatters will be the defendants. If you don’t know the names of the squatters, state persons unknown.
You will need to provide proof of ownership of the property and proof that the squatters have no legal interest in it. This can normally be done by way of land registry papers.
You can obtain the claim forms from your local County Court or download them online from http://hmctsformfinder.justice.gov.uk. You will need several copies of the completed forms:
- two sets for you
- one set for the court
- one set for each defendant, including one for those whose names you do not know.
You will then need to file the completed forms at the County Court in the area in which the property is situated. You only need to issue in the High Court in exceptional circumstances and you should get legal advice before you do so.
Setting a hearing date
The court will set a date to decide your application “as soon as possible” (but not be less than 3 days after you issued your claim). Court staff will hand you back all but one copy of the forms N130.
Attached to each will be a form N133 (which is a witness statement for the defendants/squatters to use in order to oppose the making of an interim possession order if they wish). Failure to serve the defendants with the Form N133 could lead to a dismissal of your application.
When you can’t apply for an IPO
Note: You cannot use the IPO procedure if you are also seeking damages from the squatters (i.e. for lost use of the premises or damage to the property).
If your premises have been occupied for longer than 28 days before you became aware of it, the judge will consider whether you should have known about it sooner than you did. This will affect whether an IPO can be granted.
Serving the squatters with the court papers
You must serve the documents on the squatters/defendants within 24 hours of the court issuing your application for an interim possession order. There are strict rules governing how you do so.
You can serve the documents by:
- fixing a copy of them to the main door or other prominent parts of the premises, and
- if practicable, inserting them through the letterbox in a sealed, transparent envelope addressed to ‘the occupiers’.
If you wish, you may also place stakes in the ground at conspicuous parts of the premises. Copies of the documents, in sealed, transparent envelopes addressed to ‘the occupiers’, should be fixed to the stakes.
You, or any person who serves the documents on your behalf, must then complete a certificate of service (form N215) saying how and when the documents were served. This must be filed at the court at or before the hearing to consider your application.
Instructing a process server
It is often sensible to instruct a process server to serve squatters with the documents. The process servers can collect the papers directly from the court office. You’ll find more information about how to instruct a process server here.
The hearing will normally take place in the judge’s room (called ‘chambers’). The squatters/defendants may attend the hearing and may provide evidence in the form N133 or give oral evidence if so required.
This hearing is normally pretty straightforward and provided the proper procedure has been followed, the court will grant an IPO.
However, you may be asked to give various undertakings to the court. These are formal promises to the court usually along the lines of:
- promising to allow the defendant/s back into the premises and pay them damages if an interim possession order is made and the court later decides you were not entitled to the order; and
- promising not to let the premises to anyone else or damage them, or dispose of any of the defendant’s possessions until the court makes a final decision on your right to possession.
Ordering interim possession
Once the judge has made an IPO, you will be given a copy of it which you must serve on the squatters/defendants within 48 hours.
The order will also include the time, date and place of a further hearing (when the judge will decide whether to make a full possession order). The interim possession order will expire on the date of the next hearing.
You will also be given other forms (forms N5, N130 and N215 certificate of service) which must also be served on the squatters/defendants.
You must serve the documents in the same way that you served your notice of application unless the judge decides it should be served some other way. Again, it is a good idea to instruct process servers at this stage and you must ensure form N215 is filed at court saying how and when the documents were served.
If for some reason, the judge does not make an interim possession order, a new date will be set when the court will consider your claim for possession (a full possession order).
The judge may also say what other steps should be taken before that hearing (called ‘giving directions’) and you’ll be given a copy of these in a court order.
Disobeying an IPO
Often, obtaining an IPO is enough and squatters move on. It’s a criminal offence to disobey an interim possession order.
If the defendant doesn’t leave within 24 hours of service of the order, you can ask the police to arrest them. You will need to hand the police a copy of the IPO and a copy of the certificate of service.
However, as mentioned, the police are often reluctant to get involved, particularly if there are a large number of squatters. So, make sure you’ve done your research first. Do not try and evict the squatters yourself by using force.
Obtaining a final possession order
If it’s been more than 28 days since squatters entered your property, you need to apply for a full order for possession (you can’t apply for an IPO in these circumstances).
The application process and rules for service of documents are the same as that for an IPO (above).
You must give the squatters /defendants 5 clear days’ notice of the hearing date of your application. If you fail to comply exactly with the rules about service, your application for a possession order will fail. Contact, us if you’d like more advice about this.
If you’ve made an application for an IPO, the date for deciding whether to grant a final order will have been set by the court. This hearing will be the same as applying for a full order for possession and will be not less than seven days after the date on which the IPO was made.
Both you and the squatters/defendants can attend and give additional evidence. It’s a good idea to do so, particularly if the squatters/defendants are going to, in case they contest your evidence.
If the court makes an order for possession
If a full and final order for possession is granted, it will specify the date by which the squatters/defendants must leave your property – which is normally immediately.
The court should then serve the possession order on the squatters/defendants. However, it is sometimes quicker to arrange for service yourself which may be the best option if you want to get your property back fast.
You can seek an order that the squatters/defendants pay the costs you’ve incurred but in reality, recovering those costs will be difficult. Even with a court order, it may not be cost-effective to pursue it.
Warrant for possession – evicting your squatters
If the squatters do not vacate the property by the date in the order, you will need to apply for a warrant for possession. This is a method of enforcing the order for possession and allows the court bailiff to evict the defendant.
Unfortunately, it means another application to court. This time it’s done by completing form N325, which is available from the court. You must certify on the form that the tenant has not left the property.
The warrant is delivered to the county court bailiff, who will visit the premises and notify the tenant of the date and time of the eviction. If the tenant is still in the property at the time of the eviction, the bailiff may use such reasonable force as is necessary to evict him.
The bailiff will usually change the locks and disconnect water and utilities. You can find more information about bailiff services here.
Transfer to the High Court
Sometimes, it’s possible to use High Court enforcement which is faster, but more expensive. But to do so, the case has to be transferred to the High Court.
Permission from the County Court to transfer up to the High court is needed, and it’s imperative that the permission is granted at the hearing for this to be an option (whether you decide to pursue it or not). If you don’t get permission, the result is further delay and additional expense if you later decide that you want or need to apply for a transfer.
Working with us
Dealing with squatters can be a potentially dangerous and very stressful situation to deal. What’s more, because of the strict rules that apply, there is the potential to make mistakes and even minor errors can cause any legal action to fail as well as costing you valuable time and money. When you work with us, we use our partner solicitors to prepare documents on your behalf and we can then serve any documents that need to be served to make sure you have complied with the rules. By managing the whole process for you, we can also eliminate or minimise any danger and stress and provide you with peace of mind.