Finding out that squatters have occupied an empty property can be difficult to address. Landlords, residential homeowners and commercial property owners may find it complex to evict squatters quickly and return the premise to good condition.
The ideal approach is to protect an empty building from intrusions, preventing unauthorised individuals from gaining access and reducing the risk of exposure to extensive repair, waste removal and redecoration costs.
Squatting: What does the law say?
There are many misconceptions about ‘squatter’s rights’, but it is also important to remain within the law if you find that an empty property has become targeted. Squatting in any residential property has been illegal since 2012, and those who fail to comply with eviction instructions can face fines of up to £5,000 and six months imprisonment.
However, the law varies regarding commercial premises, and the owner or landlord bears responsibility for removing squatters or pursuing civil action.
Properties with mixed-use, such as a retail unit with residential accommodation above, can be particularly challenging since squatters could claim to live solely in the commercial proportion of the building while rendering the entire premise unusable.
How to Deter Squatters From an Empty Property
Best practice guidelines are similar for any premise. Still, they may be more crucial for commercial owners and landlords, given that they may be unable to access police support to enforce an eviction notice.
The first step is to consider the expected duration of the vacancy since the security measures you decide on may differ if you anticipate a property being empty for a week or two as opposed to a month or longer.
You can also take some simple steps to reduce the attractiveness of a vacant property or make it less obvious that the premise is empty:
- Ensuring all doors, windows, gates and fences are firmly closed and securely locked.
- Removing any easy access points such as ladders, scaffolding or tree branches.
- Implementing regular property inspections or security patrols, so it is clear the premise is under surveillance.
- Isolating utilities, including water, electricity and gas, both to reduce fire and flooding risks and to make the property less appealing to prospective intruders.
- Paying attention to the property’s external appearance – overgrown gardens, driveways, and a dilapidated frontage may indicate that the structure is not being used or inspected.
From here, there are several things you can do to ensure your property is protected. Squatters commonly cause severe damage, from leaving waste and biohazards, fly-tipping, vandalism, graffiti and stripping a property of wiring, cabling and fixtures.
Preventative action is always preferable and considerably more cost-effective than repairs and clearance work, including the time and expense required to enforce an eviction.
Security Screens and Doors
Even the most robust locks can be tampered with, crowbarred away from doors or windows or snapped. Squatters can also force an entrance, smash a window or dismantle the frame to gain entry, so if your property is likely to be empty for some time, steel screens may be advisable.
Heavy-duty steel screens are fitted with internal framing systems to cause minimal damage to the window or door frame underneath and act as an enclosed unit which is invulnerable to tampering.
Perforated screens are ideal, allowing airflow and ventilation while being impossible to remove, lever away or unscrew without specialist tools and equipment.
Steel security doors are another excellent option, which can be fitted with a keyless security code entry system or with designated keys issued to owners, property managers, security patrols and other authorised visitors such as contractors, valuers or surveyors.
Scenarios Where Steel Screens and Doors are a Necessary Preventative
Although a short-term vacancy of a few days may not require a steel security screen over every window, we often recommend this when:
- Properties are due to be empty during refurbishment or renovations, where contractors and tradespeople require access yet will not be present overnight.
- The premise contains valuables, furniture or fittings and requires protection from illegal activities or intrusions.
- Access points are difficult to secure otherwise – examples include skylights, which can be easy to forget but provide easy access for squatters.
Specially engineered security locks and screens cannot be forced or removed and present a physical, visible barrier to entry.
Vacant Property Alarm Systems
Alarm systems are often considered unsuitable for empty properties since if you have isolated the utilities and disconnected the electricity supply, a conventional alarm system will not be operational.
Vacant property alarms provide an active, always-on alert system, using commercial-grade battery systems to operate independently from your mains power.
The lack of cables or wiring means the alarm cannot be tampered with, and fixtures such as video-verified alarms work well in most settings, capturing short bursts of video when movement is detected to prevent a security responder from reacting to a false alarm.
Temporary CCTV Surveillance
CCTV cameras can also be installed with either solar-powered battery systems for outdoor applications or high-performance batteries for indoor use, providing real-time surveillance of an empty property and the surrounding area.
Advanced CCTV cameras have varied functionalities, such as body temperature and infrared detection, automatic alarm sensors, live recording, audio warnings to prospective intruders and AI-enabled monitoring features.
Securing an Empty Business Property From Squatters
The security provisions mentioned here can apply to either business or residential properties, but the right options depend on the risks, location, property layout and other considerations.
If you are responsible for the security of an empty commercial structure, we would recommend the following:
- Carrying out a full site risk assessment to include all non-standard exits, including roller shutters and fire doors, which may not have security-standard locks.
- Emergency security lighting or floodlights, perimeter fencing and CCTV surveillance, and concrete barriers to prevent vehicles from accessing the building from a rear entry point.
- Scheduling visible security patrols with badged guards and possibly K9 guarding teams to signal that the property is under surveillance.
One of the main eviction processes for commercial landlords trying to remove squatters is an Interim Possession Order (IPO), so patrols and inspections are vital to ensure you apply for the court-ordered judgement within 28 days of the squatters trespassing onto your property.
Creating a squatter prevention strategy and implementing the most suitable security safeguards is essential to deter squatters and trespassers and ensure you have the right to evict any intruders swiftly if necessary.