Do Squatter’s Rights still Exist?

Finding out that squatters are occupying your property is never an ideal situation for landlords or property owners. It can even be a distressing experience. One concern for landlords who discover squatters on their premises is whether they have a legal right to be there, and what that means in regards to evicting them.

What is squatting?

Squatting is the action of occupying an unoccupied area or building that the individual does not own or have any legal permission to occupy. 

Do these rights still exist?

When individuals refer to squatter’s rights, they are referring to legislation that was introduced in 1977. This law made it illegal to make threats or use violence to gain entry to a property where an individual is present and opposes entry. Though this law is not exclusive to situations involving squatters, it is what individuals are referring to when they mention this concept. However, in law there is no such Act.


However, a change in the law in 2012 has meant that it is now illegal to squat in residential properties, meaning that in all cases, where residential property is concerned, these rights under the housing act have been removed.

In some cases, squatter’s rights might also refer to the process where squatters may become the registered owner of the land they’ve been occupying. 

Squatting in residential buildings

The change in legislation in 2012 now means that it is illegal to squat in vacant properties when they are residential buildings. Those found guilty of squatting in a residential property face a maximum jail sentence of six months and/or a £5,000 fine.

Now that squatting in a residential premises is illegal, the eviction process is much quicker as police can now access the building and remove squatters operating under section 17 of PACE (the Police and Criminal Evidence Act), which allows them to enter the property and make arrests.

Squatting in non-residential buildings

The change in law in 2012 only applies to residential properties meaning that individuals squatting in non-residential buildings are not breaking the law and can claim squatter’s rights. However, police can take action if squatters commit other crimes when staying in the property. For example, smashing a window to gain access, stealing, using utilities without permission, fly-tipping, or not leaving if told by a court.

Squatter’s claims to property

In situations where a squatter in a property, or a series of squatters, have occupied the land on a long-term basis, they may be able to claim ownership. If the property is registered with the HM Land Registry, the squatter occupation must have lasted continuously for 10 years. If it’s not registered, this time is reduced to 10 years. 

This is usually only true if the trespassers have acted as owners of the property during that time and never had permission from the owner to reside in the property.

abject owners

If a squatter does apply for adverse possession, you as the property owner will have 65 days in which to object. Even after a refusal, the squatters can attempt to apply again in 2 years if they still possess the property and no attempts to remove them have been made. 

If the matter comes to a tribunal, the squatters may owe you legal fees, regardless of the outcome.

What options are available to evict squatters?

Landlords needing to evict squatters from their premises, whether commercial or residential, need to ensure that they follow the correct legal procedures. Using an enforcement agency to regain possession of your property is one of the best ways to make sure that you stay within the law and that the process is completed quickly. An enforcement officer, like the members of our team, can help advise on how the eviction needs to be carried out, and whether an Interim Possession Order or Court Order is required.

If you are a property owner or landlord and currently have issues with squatters occupying your building, then Able Investigations can help. We are experienced in evicting commercial squatters in Bristol and throughout the UK and always operate quickly and within the law. Speak to a member of our professional team on 0345 366 0000 or email [email protected].

Originally posted 2015, Updated 2022

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