Squatters security of tenure and eviction rights

The definition of squatters, the lack of security of tenure and their rights under homelessness legislation, and action that squatters can take against violence or persistent harassment.

This content applies to England

Definition of a squatter

A squatter is a person who enters and occupies property without permission from the person entitled to possession of the property. That person could be an owner, tenant or licensee.

The term ‘trespasser’ is used to describe someone who has no legal right to occupy premises. The term ‘squatter’ has no legal meaning, but is used to distinguish trespassers who have never had a right to occupy the premises from those former tenants and licensees who had become trespassers when their tenancy or licence ended.

The distinction is important because many of the procedures discussed in this section that are available to evict or arrest squatters cannot be used against other trespassers. Possession claims against trespassers under Part 55 of the Civil Procedure Rules can, however, be used against former licensees (see the page on Claims against trespassers for more information). See the section on Basic protection/excluded occupiers for information about the rights of licensees.

Security of tenure

Squatters have the least security of all occupiers. Court proceedings can be taken against them at any time and without warning. In some instances, they can be evicted without a court order (see the page on Eviction without a court order for details).

Squatters are not entitled to a separate possession order if a possession order has already been granted against the property they are occupying. The warrant used to execute the possession order operates against anyone in occupation. An example of this sort of situation is where squatters move into a property where the landlord has gained a possession order against their tenant and the tenant is not in residence.

Further, from 1 September 2012 a person squatting in a residential property can be arrested. for more information see the page Criminal offences and squatting.

Rights under homelessness legislation

Usually, squatters do not have accommodation that they have a legal right to occupy, so they will be homeless within the meaning of Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996.[1] Advisers should therefore check whether the squatter is in priority need (see the section on investigating priority need for details) and advise them of any rights to housing from the local authority, under Parts 6 and 7 of the Housing Act 1996.

Where a squatter is in occupation of a property owned by the local authority, and they satisfy the relevant criteria (ie that they are eligible, homeless, in priority need and not intentionally homeless), but the local authority refuses to accept the application, the squatter may apply to the court for judicial review (see the page on Defences for information) of any subsequent decision to issue a claim for possession of the property.

The basis for judicial review would be the failure by the local authority, in taking the decision, to have regard to its own failure in exercising its statutory duty.[2] Possession proceedings should be adjourned pending the result of the judicial review.

See homeless application process for more information on making a homelessness application under Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996. The section on Allocation of social housing contains information on local authority housing allocations under Part 6 of that Act.

Offences against squatters

Squatters may be able to take action against violence or persistent harassment using, for example, the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, the Criminal Law Act 1977, and/or the Criminal Damage Act 1971.

Last updated: 23 February 2021

Footnotes

  • [1]

    s.175(1) Housing Act 1996.

  • [2]

    West Glamorgan County Council v Rafferty (1968) 18 HLR 375 CA; Avon County Council v Buscott [1988] 1 All ER 841 CA.