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Quick squatter eviction no reason for complacency

The recent occupation of London’s Burberry Building highlighted the need to act quickly when seeking to evict squatters, with speed the critical factor in determining success or failure.

When anti-austerity protestors occupied London’s iconic Burberry Building, the owners faced two immediate problems: the occupancy and its effect on their plans for the property, and the potential damage that might be inflicted on the fabric of the building.

Speed is of the essence in cases like these, as we are dealing with ever more sophisticated protestors who know the legal pressure points that can cause property owners pain.

Rapid response

Following occupation of a commercial property, the owner must consult lawyers immediately, as the police will do little to resolve the situation until instructed by the courts.

In this particular case there were two hearings at the High Court within 12 hours – that’s how fast you have to act.  

Not unsurprisingly perhaps, the squatters, who represented themselves in court, quoted the Human Rights Act 1998, citing article 8 as just cause for their right to squat.

It provides a ‘right to respect for an individual’s private and family life, his home and his correspondence’, with the key word being ’home’.

How long it may take a squat to become a home to protestors is one of the deciding factors.

Property owners have to act and get their case for eviction heard as quickly as possible, to prevent squatters claiming property or land as their home.

Clear court statement

In this case the judge was minded to issue emergency orders in part due to the threat of public order offences being committed in conjunction with an anti-austerity march, but this is the first clear statement from the courts on the position – this was an illegal trespass of a building, which the judge never considered to be the squatters’ home.

The threat to property owners or land owners is increasing as occupation of commercial property or land now appears an accepted way of demonstrating opposition to development or attracting media attention to a cause, with the added advantage of creating major disruption to the owner or developer.

In the end, the eviction team entered the premises a little over 24 hours after the building owner was notified of the occupancy, with the intention of arresting the squatters, all of whom had escaped via a hidden exit.

Article 8 is something of a wild card for squatters and protestors, but this case looks like it has ended this perverse use of serious legislation.

However, it cannot be stressed enough that speed of action is the critical factor in these cases and how much longer squatters would need to occupy a building or land before the courts gave greater consideration to their right to call it ‘home’ is not something owners should want to test for themselves.

Martin Edwards is a partner within the real estate team at Shakespeare Martineau

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