Let’s take a look at a situation we encountered the other day…
One of our clients had squatters on his land. After having discussed the situation at length with them, they decided that it would be too expensive to move them on and therefore he decided to leave them there until they got fed up and would leave on their own accord.
The problem this presents is there are a number of consequences of leaving squatters on your land or in a building and doing nothing further about it. Firstly, if a landowner leaves squatter on their land or in a building without doing anything, then the situation will get worse.
This could look like the numbers growing, and the squatters get more established, which will resultantly mean the cost will grow – as they do – when it does come to evicting them. Secondly, something that is largely unknown is, there are responsibilities of the owner of the property/land when they have residing squatters on their property.
Which is want we want to discuss here.
What does the law state?
Did you know that as a land/property owner you have a legal responsibility to protect the people on your land/property? Under the Occupiers Liability Act 1984. The Act extends the common duty of care to trespassers as well as visitors, providing that this duty is to be required when the occupier has actual or constructive knowledge that a danger exists and that a trespasser is or may be near it. Unlike the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957.
So, let us look at this for a moment. If, for example, a number of travellers arrive on your land and you know that they are there but decide to leave them there, as the land is not being used, and it makes no odds to you are the moment, what harm is there to leave them there.
The 1984 Act only allows an injured trespasser to claim for death and personal injury, not for damage to personal property. The Act also makes amendments to the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977, with the stated intent of allowing additional educational and recreational use of land. In British Railways Board v Herrington  AC 877, the House of Lords decided that a landowner could owe a duty to trespassers on his land, that duty being to avoid negligently injuring them.
So, let’s give this a practical example. What this could mean is that if whilst they are on your land, one of the travellers has an accident you could be responsible for that accident. If the accident could have been avoided if there were notices on your site, saying that it may be dangerous or if you had started to take proceedings the moment you found out that the travellers had arrived, you won’t be responsible. But if you did not do either of those things, legally you are therefore responsible under the above Act.
The test held by the courts is whether the accident could be predicted that the trespasser was likely to be injured. You will argue that if they were not trespassers then the accident would not have happened. The legal system may say that you knew the squatters were there and did nothing, therefore there is a very strong possibility that the Occupiers Liability Act will come into play.
Even worse for land/property owners is In British Railways Board v Herrington  AC 877, the House of Lords decided that a landowner could owe a duty to trespassers on his land, that duty being to avoid negligently injuring them which especially rates to children.
Whilst you may not agree with the situation, the land/property owner has a duty of care to trespassers on their land. So, what you thought was the cheaper option, may turn out to be more expensive than you could imagine, and to think all this could have been avoided. What is the answer to the above?
What should you do in this situation?
The short answer is that should you find squatters on you land, or in a building you own. It is essential that you start legal proceedings as soon as you hear of the trespassers. This will cover your back should anything happen to them. Once you have started the proceedings, the next call should be to Able Investigations & Enforcements. We specialise in evictions, especially with travellers, people in buildings and protesters. We can advise on the best way to deal with the situation. Liaising with your legal team and the police afterwards. So, for a one stop shop, Able Investigations & Enforcements are your go to support team.