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Squatting in commercial property on the rise, says law firm Winckworth Sherwood

Mon 12 Aug 2013

The house party for squatters may be over, but commercial property is increasingly seen as fair game as squatters are turning to empty shops, pubs and commercial premises to avoid criminal proceedings.

In September last year the Government made it a criminal offence to squat in a residential building.  The regulations – the Legal Aid, Sentencing & Punishing of Offenders Act 2012 – did not, however, apply to commercial property.

Emma Chadwick, a litigation partner in the Commercial Property team at Winckworth Sherwood said: “Residential property owners are often in a better position as the police can arrest and prosecute offenders.  Owners of commercial property are now, however, the target of squatters and have to rely on civil proceeding to evict them, which is costly and time-consuming.”

The increasing number of empty commercial buildings in town centres is driving a surge in squatter activity, supported by a number of online resources designed to help them find suitable premises and offer support on evading eviction.  

Emma said: “The Government is aware of the increase in squatter activity in commercial property and is considering legislation.  The Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, just last month asked MPs to pass on to him examples from within their constituencies of squatting in commercial premises to evaluate the scale of the problem.”

At the same time the Government has published guidance (on 9 August) to address and remind local authorities, the police and landowners of their rights and responsibilities to remove, amongst others, those creating illegal protest camps – such as the Occupy London. 

Winckworth Sherwood offers this advice to land and property owners:

  • Protect empty spaces and buildings as far as possible, with CCTV, alarms and security guards
  • Visit regularly empty buildings to ensure that they are secure and have not been damaged
  • Disconnect services, such as water and electricity
  • Remove all items of any value
  • Contact your legal advisers or speak to a member of Winckworth Sherwood’s experienced commercial property team

Emma said: “This is an area that is ripe for further reform.  Positive steps have been taken to protect home owners, the same steps are now needed for those that own commercial premises.”

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