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Eviction without a court order

This content applies to England

How a squatter can be evicted without a court order. The status of 'displaced residential occupiers' and 'protected intending occupiers' and the penalties for refusing to leave when asked to do so by them.

Overview

A person with a right to occupy the property can lawfully enter and secure squatted premises without a court order, but only if there are no squatters present in the property opposed to her/his entry. However if a squatter does not leave after she is requested to do so by a 'displaced residential occupier' (DRO) or a 'protected intending occupier' (PIO), or someone acting on her/his behalf (see below for definitions), s/he will be committing a criminal offence.

It should be noted that, from 1 September 2012, squatting in a residential property is a criminal offence and a squatter can be arrested, for more information see the page Criminal offences and squatting. The existing civil procedures, set out on this page and on Eviction through the courts, can still be used.

Squatter refuses to leave when requested

A squatter commits a criminal offence if:[1]

  • s/he has been requested to leave the premises by (or on behalf of) a displaced residential occupier or a protected intended occupier, and
  • s/he does not leave.

A person guilty of an offence can be imprisoned and/or fined. A uniformed police constable with reasonable cause to believe that a person is guilty of an offence under this section can arrest the person without a warrant.

However, s/he will have a defence if it can be proved that:

  • the trespasser did not believe the person making the request was a displaced residential occupier or protected intending occupier (or a person acting on their behalf)
  • the premises which s/he was trespassing were not used for residential purposes, or
  • the protected intending occupier or her/his agent failed to produce the statement or certificate outlined above.

The offence does not apply to anyone who entered the premises lawfully, such as a tenant or licensee who became a trespasser after the end of her/his tenancy or licence.

For the purposes of this offence residential premises includes any land (or buildings on that land) ancillary to the premises such as the garden or a shed.[2]

Displaced residential occupier

This is any person who was already lawfully living in a property as her/his residence before being excluded by squatters.[3]

This definition covers all owner-occupiers or tenants who leave their property unoccupied (while on holiday, for instance) and return to find that it is being occupied by squatters. However, squatting in someone's home is not common.

Protected intending occupier

An owner or tenant (or an agent acting on her/his behalf) who has not yet moved into a property can rely on the 'protected intended occupier' exception which enables her/him to evict a squatter without going to court and without fear of committing an offence. This is most likely to be used by local authorities.

To qualify under this exception, however, it is essential that the protected intending occupier has a written statement, or certificate, confirming her/his status as intending lawful occupier. Without such a statement or certificate, s/he will not qualify and could be liable to prosecution under the Criminal Law Act 1977 if s/he tries to force entry.[4] To deliberately make a false statement about whether someone is a protected intended occupier is an offence.[5]

The following can qualify as protected intended occupiers:

  • a freeholder, or leaseholder with at least two years of the lease left to run, who requires the premises for her/his own occupation and is excluded from the premises by a trespasser. S/he (or the agent acting on her/his behalf) must have a written statement, which s/he must sign, specifying her/his interest in the premises and stating that s/he needs them for occupation as a residence. The statement must have been signed in the presence of a justice of the peace or commissioner of oaths and witnessed. A separated husband who used violence to re-enter his matrimonial home which he co-owned with and was occupied by his extranged wife with his permission did not qualify as a protected intending occupier and could be convicted of a criminal offence[6]
  • a tenant or licensee, who requires the premises for her/his own occupation and is excluded from the premises by a trespasser. Tenants and licensees must also have a written statement which must comply with the same requirements as in the above bullet, must specify the interest of the landlord, and must be signed by both the tenant/licensee and landlord
  • a tenant or licensee of a registered provider of social housing (including local authorities and private registered providers such as housing associations) who requires the premises for her/his own occupation and is excluded from the premises by a trespasser.[7] This is the 'public sector' category of protected intending occupier. Such tenants or licensees must have a certificate issued by their landlords that states that they have been granted a tenancy or licence[8] and that their landlord is one specified in the Criminal Law Act 1977.[9] Unlike the first two categories, public sector protected intending occupiers do not require a statement signed in the presence of a justice of the peace or commissioner for oaths.

Offences against the squatter

Occupiers, including squatters and other trespassers, are protected from violent eviction. Under the Criminal Law Act 1977, it is an offence for any person, without lawful authority, to use or threaten to use violence (towards people and/or property) for the purpose of securing entry to premises when there is someone present on those premises who is opposed to the entry.[10] This applies to both landlords and the police, although the police may have lawful grounds for entry, in which case they will not be committing an offence The person forcing entry will not be committing an offence if s/he is a displaced residential occupier, a protected intended occupier or someone acting on her/his behalf.[11]

Squatters have often made their presence known by attaching a notice to the front door or by keeping it near the door to be put out through the letterbox when need it. However, by displaying such a notice, this will be an admission of committing an arrestable offence (see the page Criminal offences and squatting). The Advisory Service for Squatters has produced templates of standard notices that squatters can use, when appropriate, to warn that the premises are constantly occupied.

[1] s.7 Criminal Law Act 1977.

[2] s.12(1) Criminal Law Act 1977.

[3] s.12 Criminal Law Act 1977.

[4] s.12A Criminal Law Act 1977.

[5] s.12A(8) Criminal Law Act 1977.

[6] Wakolo v Director of Public Prosecutions [2012] EWHC 611 (Admin).

[7] 12A(6) and (7) Criminal Law Act 1977.

[8] s.12A(6)(d) Criminal Law Act 1977.

[9] s.12A(7) Criminal Law Act 1977.

[10] s.6 Criminal Law Act 1977.

[11] s.6(1A) Criminal Law Act 1977.

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