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Squatters rights in the UK: Everything you need to know

We answer some of the big questions about squatters rights in the UK.

Squatting was in the news this month as protesters occupied a central London mansion belonging to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.

The group of squatters, known as The London Makhnovists in honour of the Ukrainian anarchist Nestor Makhano, stated that the billionaire’s mansion should be used to house refugees.

“We aren’t here to live we are here to protest and open up the space for refugees. They did not buy this house as a home they bought it a as a property investment,” they said.

A poster released by the group encouraged the public to “squat oligarchs’ properties everywhere”, and warned oligarchs: “You occupy Ukraine, we occupy you.”

By the end of 2021, there were reportedly nearly 300,000 empty houses across the UK.

According to a survey conducted by GoodMove in the same year, 68 per cent of Brits said they believed these houses should be used to target the nation’s growing homelessness crisis.

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Squatting is the act of deliberately entering a property, whether it is empty or not, without permission of the owner and with the intention of living in it. 

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There are many reasons why a person may choose to squat in a property, including poverty, growing rent prices, protest and recreation. 

Laws and regulations for squatters vary depending on property type, be that residential or non-residential. Here are some of the things you may need to know about squatters rights in the United Kingdom.

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Is it illegal to squat in a residential property?

Squatting on a residential property is illegal if you didn’t get the owner’s permission to live there, or entered the property without permission. It can either lead to six months in prison, a  £5,000 fine, or both. 

Citizens Advice also suggests it is illegal to squat in any residential building designed or adapted to be a place to live before the squatter moved in. This includes things like caravans or mobile homes. 

According to the Criminal Damage Act of 1971, a squatter can also be charged with criminal or property damage if, when entering the building, a window or door is broken in order to get in. 

Despite this, long-term squatters who have been living in residential properties for 10 years or more can legally apply for squatters rights. You’ll find more about this below. 

Is squatting against the law?

The government suggests being on another person’s non-residential property without their consent is “not usually” against the law. 

Despite this, there are other crimes police can take into account to charge squatters if they are staying on a non-residential property. According to Shelter: “Under Section 7 of the Criminal Law Act 1977, a squatter commits an offence if they fail to leave accommodation after being asked to leave by or on behalf of a displaced residential occupier or protected intended occupier.”

Squatters will also be charged if they fly-tip or use utilities such as gas or electricity without permission on a non-residential property.

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Do squatters actually have rights?

Yes, long-term squatters do have rights. The law suggests that in specific circumstances, long-term squatters can sometimes become the registered owner of the property they’ve occupied without the original owner’s permission. This is often referred to as adverse possession. 

According to Coodes Solicitors, a person can apply for adverse possession if they can prove they have occupied the property they’re living in continuously for 10 years or more at the time of the application. 

Coodes Solicitors suggest in order to apply for squatters rights, an application must be made to the Land Registry. A notice will then be sent to the original owner of the land who has 65 days to accept or reject the application. 

In some circumstances, the original property owner will give a counter notice which will require the person squatting to show that their situation falls under one of these three categories:

  • That morally it would be wrong for the original owner to defeat the application.
  • That the property is next to land already owned by the squatter, specifically in the circumstances where a boundary line hasn’t been formally decided.
  • That the squatter is for some reason entitled to become the new owner of the land, for example if they are contracted to buy it from the original owner. 

If the application does not receive an objection or if the original owner’s objection fails, the squatter will become the new owner of the property. 

How long before you get squatters rights?

Squatters, or a succession of squatters, must have been living in a registered property continuously for 10 years before they can try and claim ownership. The squatter must then find a means to prove that they have acted responsibly as the owners of the property throughout this period. 

The squatter must also prove they never had the original owner’s permission to live in the property, for example, they were never a tenant who used to pay rent to the owner. 

For unregistered properties which don’t feature on the HM Land Registry, the squatter must prove that they have been living without permission for 12 years before they can attempt to gain ownership.

In what circumstances should squatters not be arrested?

According to Citizens Advice “a squatter cannot be arrested if they first entered the property with the owner’s consent for example as a tenant or a licensee.”

How can squatters be removed?

Under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994, property owners can legally remove squatters by applying for an Interim Possession Order (IPO). According to Shelter, this process “requires squatters to leave the premises within 24 hours of service”.

If the squatters have not left the premises 24 hours after being served an IPO, this will be seen as a criminal offence and they could be charged by the police or sent to prison. This will also be the case if they return to the property within 12 months of leaving. 

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