Squatters are now targeting empty commercial premises after a change in the law left them vulnerable, and property owners should take action as soon as possible to protect any vacant buildings - that's the warning from Stuart Haynes, who is the head of our Commercial Department.
“A change in the law means anyone squatting at a residential property could now face six months in jail and a maximum fine of £5,000,” said Stuart. “But the law covering commercial premises was left as a ‘civil wrong’, which means property owners have no choice but to go through a drawn-out court case to evict the squatters and reclaim control of the property.
“This means of course that squatters are now deliberately targeting empty commercial properties and it’s vital that owners do all they can to discourage anyone from choosing their building as their next home.”
Stuart said squatters tended to prefer properties that were furnished or had services which were easily accessible.
“So if possible, take out all free-standing furniture such as desks and chairs, so that life would be very uncomfortable for the squatters. You should also turn all services off at the mains, including gas and water, even if the property will only be empty temporarily. And if it’s likely to be vacant for a longer period of time, you could consider capping them off altogether.”
Stuart suggested installing locks or steel boards on the doors and windows, which would need to be heavy duty.
“Remember that squatters can claim a legal right of entry if they get in through open or previously vandalised entry points, and don’t forget to secure the roof as that’s always a popular way to get in.
“Make sure the property is inspected regularly and think about installing a temporary wireless alarm that records video footage which will provide hard evidence if you ever need to evict someone.”