The law on squatting has recently been changed meaning that it is now a criminal offence to squat in a residential property. This is good news for owners of unoccupied houses and flats because it is far easier to remove unwanted and uninvited occupants. Previously, squatting was normally a civil offence and in most cases the landlord had to wait until a court order was obtained before the squatters could be evicted. The new law means that the police can enter residential property if they suspect that squatters are present and anyone convicted of squatting could face a hefty fine or even imprisonment.

The good news for owners of unoccupied residential property, including many of our landlord insurance policy holding clients is bad news for the owners of commercial premises. Pubs and offices are now being targeted because the new law does not apply to them. The landlord will normally have to go to court and obtain an order to remove the squatters. There are several reports in the media of groups of people taking over empty pubs and office buildings.

The best thing you can do if you own an unoccupied property of any sort is to make sure it is as secure as possible and inspect it regularly. If you live some way away this is not easy but perhaps someone could do it for you? Squatters are not the only threat to empty buildings; storm damage, floods and fire are all a hazard. Check your insurance policy to be sure that you are complying with the insurer’s requirements. Many landlords do not realise that they need to inform their insurers if a property becomes unoccupied – perhaps because a tenant has moved out or the property is being prepared for sale.

The new law about squatting in residential property is contained in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act.