An adverse possessor, also known as “a Squatter”, is a person who occupies property that does not belong to them. A Squatter may be a homeless person who has decided to take refuge in a property in order to remain warm or maybe someone who has fenced in a piece of garden land.
The government have legislated laws and rights for Squatters that have enabled them to remain in possession of property that they adversely possess. These laws have prevented people from evicting Squatters forcefully and making forceful eviction a criminal offence. If the Squatter had been living in the property for more than twelve years, as stated in Section 15 Limitation Act 1980, the Squatter may claim that the land is theirs at the peril of the rightful owner.
Before a Squatter can state to the Land Registry that the land is theirs they must provide evidence that they have adversely possessed the property. To do this they must demonstrate involvement with the land such as maintaining a fence to keep all others out. The process of registering the squatters right at the Land Registry can only begin with registered land if the Squatter applies for registration of the land after 10 years of treating it as their own, as established in Schedule 6 Land Registration Act 2002.
The Squatter’s rights have now been amended in such a way that could decrease the likelihood of a Squatter remaining in the property that they have chosen to live in. It is now a criminal offence for a Squatter to live in a residential building, such as a house or flat, that does not belong to them. If a Squatter is found to be adversely possessing a residential property it can result in either a fine of up to £5,000 or 6 months in prison, or both. This has become the new sentencing guideline since 2012. This now removes the rights for somebody to adversely possess residential property since it will be considered to be trespass. Although this will provide relief to homeowners, the Act does not prohibit Squatters from living in a commercial property. This new reform will be a relief to landlords who have vacant properties and cannot find tenants to rent the property. This may not be as much of a common concern to homeowners but if a Squatter moves into your home, for example whilst you are on holiday, you will not suffer the experience and anguish of trying to evict strangers from your house.
This has sent a shockwave through the population of Squatters and may decrease the rate of squatting. Although it is illegal to squat in a residential home, commercial properties have not acquired the change of occupational rights. As a result of this more commercial properties such as shops and pubs are the main target for refuge.
This guide is intended as general information only it does not seek to summarise the relevant legislation which is a complex and technical area of law. You should take specific professional legal advice relating to your personal circumstances prior to proceeding with any action.