UK: How Do We Make An Offence Of Squatting In Commercial Premises?

Last Updated: 4 July 2013
Article by Jennifer Chappell

Squatting has always been a contentious subject for discussion, whether you have been the unfortunate victim of squatters taking up residence in your house or whether you have given support to a client, colleague or friend dealing with the legal process of evicting squatters. This article looks at the current legal process and suggests legislative changes are urgently required to include commercial properties within the offence of squatting.

The long arm of the law

The average man on the street will be aware that since autumn last year, squatting in a residential property became a criminal offence punishable by up to six months in prison and/or a fine of up to £5,000. From 1st September 2012, Section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishing of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO 2012) made squatting an offence punishable by up to six months in prison and / or a maximum fine of £5000.

The offence does not cover squatting in non-residential buildings or land, but in certain circumstances squatters who have broken into those premises or caused damage might be guilty of other offences, which will be looked at in more detail later in this article. The offence is also not retrospective for cases where the squatting has ceased. It does, however, apply to squatters who went into occupation before 1st September 2012 and remain in a residential property now.

At the end of September 2012, the national press highlighted that a squatter in a London & Quadrant housing association property had been prosecuted under section 144 of LASPO 2012. Mr Alex Haigh allegedly pleaded guilty to squatting and was sentenced to 12 weeks in prison. This was the first example of a squatter being imprisoned under LASPO. There was a suggestion that this first case was unusual as Haigh immediately admitted squatting, possibly because the offence was so new he did not understanding the impact of his guilty plea.

The consequences of LASPO have now had nine or so months to sink in and squatters are once again clued up about how to avoid criminal offences. If you want to avoid criminality then squatters are aware that they should squat in commercial premises. If squatters continue to invade residential properties then they are more likely to claim they are in occupation under a lease or tenancy agreement with an unknown landlord and that they have been the victim of a fraudulent letting.

Residential property owners are now undoubtedly in a much better position regarding squatters, as the police can arrest and prosecute any offender. The added benefit of this new process is that a property owner can now report the trespass direct to the police without incurring the expense of involving lawyers. However, for commercial property owners the situation remains much the same and there has been an obvious increase in the number of squatters breaking into business premises.

A cursory Google search will reveal a number of websites which have been created to advise squatters. These sites will typically be "squatter's rights" organisations offering legal advice/warning notices, which can be downloaded from their websites, confirming that non-residential properties are not caught by the new law and encouraging squatters to target commercial sites. You can even find a website which runs a practical legal workshop which will help a squatter resist eviction. So how do we get rid of commercial squatters and what can be done to stop them?

Breaking and entering commercial premises - the current law

There are legal procedures currently available for taking back possession of commercial property, namely those procedures relating to trespass and forfeiture of a lease or relief from forfeiture of a lease. Trespass is a civil wrong involving entering property or placing something on or over the property. In order to be a trespass, this must be done without any necessary consent from the person entitled to possession of the property.

Before starting a claim for possession from a trespasser, there must be an actual trespass on the claimant's property. If there is merely a threatened trespass, it may be more appropriate to seek an injunction, rather than a possession order for land (Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs v Meier [2009] UKSC 11, December 1 2009). The injunction would be a court order prohibiting the person from entering the premises, also known as a prohibitory injunction.

When squatters are already in occupation of commercial premises, if the trespass is happening over part of a property, the claimant can apply for and obtain a possession order preventing the trespass over the entire property, so long as there a real risk of the squatters moving into other parts.

This would prevent the trespassers from merely moving to another part of the property once the possession order has been made, causing the claimant to have to apply for a further order. This is the theory, but the procedure take a little more time, money, patience and nerves of steel as the matter rumbles through the civil courts.

In most cases the claim will be made in the County Court nearest to the property. It will set out the landowner's right to possession and involve a witness statement giving details of the occupation. The court would then list the matter for a hearing and you are required to provide the relevant notice to the trespassers. A little known fact is that occupational licensees can also evict squatters from premises/land.

It is suggested that as matter of practice in trespasser claims the hearing should be heard quicker than usual. My firm has a lot of experience dealing with both residential (prior to LASPO) and commercial squatters and, in the main, a possession order can be obtained within 7 days from receiving instructions from the client.

However, this can sometimes depend upon the particular court where the matter is to be heard and it can take a little longer, say two weeks, before you have a hearing date. The procedure involved in obtaining a possession order is time consuming and therefore expensive for the client who has probably not budgeted for the expenditure. There are also no criminal sanctions involved and sometimes no assistance from the police is available.

It has always been possible to opt for an "interim possession order". If the correct procedure is followed, this order can also be obtained from the courts within a few days and squatters must leave the property within 24 hours of service of the order. Unlike a normal court order, an interim possession order means that if squatters do not leave within 24 hours they are committing a criminal offence and may be arrested. This option is however more expensive than the standard possession order and involves at least two hearings at court. In the current economic climate, money is key for most clients.

Government sympathy

At the start of May 2013, the Government took its first steps towards criminalising squatting in commercial premises. Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has written to MPs to seek evidence of the scale and impact of squatting in commercial premises in order to form a better picture of what is happening in the UK.

Since the change in the law at the end of 2012, the property industry has been lobbying to extend the criminal sanctions to commercial real estate. Owners of commercial premises must currently rely on the civil proceedings mentioned above to evict squatters and these are neither fast nor user-friendly. Examples of squatters in warehouses, offices and pubs have been the subject of media focus and rarely a week goes by without there being some commentary on commercial squatters in the national press.

In November 2012, the Cross Keys pub in West London was invaded by individuals who turned a lovely old pub into a den for squatters with boarded-up windows, dingy lighting and a smoky atmosphere. The pub closed a few months before the change in the law after the owner said it was losing too much money and squatters immediately made it their home. These are new breed of squatters who claim that they do not believe in taking over other people's houses, but think it' is acceptable to take over a corporation's premises.

The Government is aware that squatting in commercial premises is an ever increasing problem and can only get worse. The result of its 2011 consultation exercise about residential squatters raised some concerns by companies that squatting would change from invading houses to invading offices. It is hoped that the latest evidence gathering exercise by the Justice Secretary will add new weight to the property industry's plea to include commercial buildings within the legislation.

The British Property Federation ("BPF") has highlighted that the chronic shortage of housing is clearly the root cause of the problems surrounding squatters and this needs to be addressed by the Government. The current legislation appears to be penalising businesses with an empty property, not only by forcing them to pay full business rates whilst empty, but in having to spend significant sums of money securing their premises and facing costly legal proceedings to evict squatters.

Mike Weatherley, Tory MP for Hove and Portslade, led the Government's efforts which brought about the criminal change for residential squatters. At the start of May 2013, Weatherley delivered a petition to Downing Street calling for a legislative change to include commercial premises. Weatherley's letter identifies an example of squatters taking up residence in a former school which is being refurbished into offices.

"A salient example of this was seen within my own constituency just two months after the law had come into effect when a bunch of squatters broke into a former school that was just about to be let as a refurbished office suite. The squatters caused significant misery and distress and left an appalling mess after themselves", says Weatherley in his letter to the Prime Minister.

Avoidance tactics

If the Government chooses to extend the law on squatting to include commercial real estate then a clause could be introduced into a justice bill later this year. There are however currently no commitments to extend the law to encompass commercial buildings. There is still hope that lobbying from MPs and the property industry in general will force a change as the logical next step to stopping such anti-social behaviour.

In the meantime, the best advice to clients and commercial property owners is to take the following steps:-

1. Ensure vacant property is as secure as much possible using CCTV cameras, alarms, locks and on site security guards;

2. Inspect the property internally and externally on a very regular basis;

3. Remove any items of value, if at all possible;

4. Turn off electricity, gas and water supplies if the building is going to be unused for some time;

5. Consider granting short term leases of vacant property for low rents in return for the occupiers protecting the property from squatters and vandalism;

6. Use height restriction barriers and ditches dug around the perimeter for premises with car parks to prevent caravans and trucks from entering the premises unlawfully;

7. Take immediate legal advice in the event that your commercial premises are invaded by squatters or the threat of such invasion becomes apparent.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Jennifer Chappell
In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.