UK: What's In Store For Squatters?

Last Updated: 24 February 1995
Jim Cotter of the Property Litigation Department of commercial lawyers Nabarro Nathanson looks at the problems facing retailers regarding squatters and how the new Criminal Justice Act makes squatting a criminal offence.

Commercial squatters clearly consider that they have little to fear from civil law remedies for trespass. Shortly however, commercial squatting will be a criminal offence. How will "the Christmas paper and novelties brigade" react?

Christmas present for lawyers

While I am no Nostradamus, if there is one prediction I have been able to make with confidence in past years, it is that I will receive instructions from at least one angry, frustrated and dispossessed landowner, shortly before Christmas. Commercial squatting does of course happen at other times of the year but, for obvious reasons, the month or two before Christmas are the most active for the nomadic vendors of Christmas paper and novelties.

Target premises

The premises in question will usually be a shop. Even in prime town centre locations there are sometimes a few empty shops for one reason or another. Perhaps new shop fitting works are about to be carried out, or perhaps the shop has become surplus to operational requirements and the retailer is attempting to dispose of the lease. Whatever the reason, it always comes as a nasty shock when the true owner discovers that, without having obtained any permission, unknown persons are trading from the premises.

Can the Police help?

The first reaction of many landowners who have not experienced this problem before is to contact the Police. "The premises were left securely locked; the squatters must have broken in," they say; "surely a criminal offence has therefore been committed and the squatters should be arrested?"

While the Police are always sympathetic, they are usually unable to help. The commercial squatters will often claim that they were given the keys by an untraceable "Mr Smith" or "Mr Brown" who (it is claimed) granted the squatters a tenancy for a number of weeks at a rent alleged to have been paid in advance.

If most squatters are to be believed, more business deals are struck in pubs than on golf courses. Furthermore, it appears that there are many traders frequenting pubs who, for the price of a light ale and a key, can be persuaded to part with several thousand pounds in cash, without of course requiring any receipt!

Implausible though these tales may be, the Police are often forced to conclude that the facts are insufficiently clear to justify any arrest and the true landowner is left to pursue his remedies under civil, as opposed to criminal law.

Self-help remedies

Many landowners are then tempted to contemplate "self-help" remedies, such as throwing the squatters and their wares into the street.

This temptation, though sometimes great, should be resisted. It is a criminal offence to use or threaten violence (to persons or property) for the purpose of securing entry to any premises, if there is anyone on the premises at the time who is opposed to the entry.
Commercial squatters take particular advantage of this provision. They are often well organised and well informed as to their legal rights. They will have no hesitation in calling the Police if any attempt to evict them is made other than via the Court. Often they will leave one of their number to sleep at the premises so as to ensure that, at all times, there is someone who can oppose and object to any attempted re-entry by the landowner, thus leaving the landowner at risk of criminal prosecution if he proceeds.

Civil remedies

In many cases the landowner's only option is to sue for possession. Fortunately there is a summary procedure available in both the High Court and the County Court. This procedure can be used even if the identities of the squatters are unknown. It is often therefore possible to obtain an Order for Possession, enforceable against anyone at the premises, within 4 days of issuing proceedings.

Enforcement of Possession Orders and Costs

There are two main problems with the existing law and practice however. The first is that the Order for Possession can only be enforced via the Sheriff's Officer in the High Court, or the Court Bailiff in County Court cases. With the best will in the world, these officials may be unable to execute an Order for Possession immediately.

The second problem is that the legal costs and Sheriff's/Bailiff's charges incurred in obtaining and executing an Order for Possession are not insignificant and are almost always irrecoverable.

The law and practice will soon be changed by some of the less controversial provisions of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. When those provisions are in force, it should be possible to obtain an "Interim Possession Order" from the Court immediately and without giving any prior notice to the squatters.

Furthermore (and more radically) if the squatters fail to vacate within 24 hours of service of a copy of the Order, they will be guilty of a criminal offence and liable to imprisonment for up to 6 months or a fine or both.


Enforcement of Interim Possession Orders will effectively be a matter for the Police therefore. This should speed up the process of recovering possession and hopefully result in savings on Sheriff's/Bailiff's charges.

The new law and practice may also act as a deterrent if the prospect of shorter trading periods, before eviction or even arrest, makes commercial squatting a less viable proposition.


The Lord Chancellor's Department (which is responsible for producing the new rules of Court required) is unable to give any firm indication at present as to when the relevant provisions of the 1994 Act will come into force.

Nostradamus might have predicted however, that for one litigator at least, Christmas will never be quite the same again!

Detailed specialist advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from any action as a result of the comments made in this article which are only intended as a brief introduction to the particular subject. Nabarro Nathanson is regulated in the conduct of investment business by the Law Society.

For additional information contact Kevin Wheeler, Nabarro Nathanson, tel 071 491 6982.

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.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
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
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

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 or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq 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 of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions