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Squatting: If It Can Happen to Gordon Ramsay…

Squatting: If It Can Happen to Gordon Ramsay…
Squatting: If It Can Happen to Gordon Ramsay…

…It could happen to you.

Commercial squatters – they know the law, and they’re going to use it.

Widely reported in the press last week were the travails of one Gordon Ramsay.

Everyone’s favourite sweary executive chef has had a few problems with squatters. And these folks are not to be trifled with it, it seems. They are sophisticated squatters with an excellent understanding of every nuance of the current legislation. As a result, these circumstances are going to cost Mr Ramsay a great deal of money and quite a lot of hassle if he wants to get them out.

We’ll update you on what has happened and, significantly, why and how it can happen. Also, if we may, we’d like to use this article to warn you how best to protect your vacant commercial property from squatter occupation – as much as it’s possible to do so.

Which would you prefer: prevention or cure? In this case, there’s an unequivocal, simple answer.

Trouble At Mill

Here are the details:

Gordon Ramsay owns what the media have been referring to as a “swanky boozer”. In now-gentrified Camden, costing an impressive £13 million, the York & Albany is a gastro pub and hotel serving excellent food alongside high-style beer and fine wine to discerning customers.

Or rather, it was.

The Grade II-listed pub is currently up for sale and apparently being prepared for a new tenant, but it has been empty for some time.

Step forward a group of six highly informed individuals calling themselves the Camden Art Café. They have used kitchen appliances owned by Ramsay to barricade the doors and have glued the locks to prevent others from access.

commercial squatters

Take Notice – These Squatters Mean Business

Their plan? In an area beset by social inequality, was to open a soup kitchen offering free food – on Tuesdays and Thursdays. And here is where it gets exceptionally interesting:

With in-depth knowledge of the law surrounding squatting, a notice pinned to the pub door announced the following (with a few author edits):

“…We occupy this property at all times. Any attempt to enter these premises without our permission is therefore a criminal offence…

…If you attempt to enter by violence or threatening violence, we will prosecute you. You may receive a sentence of up to six months’ imprisonment or a fine of up to £5,000.

…You will have to issue a claim for possession in the County Court or in the High Court”.

Later, they told the Telegraph during, believe it or not, an ad hoc press conference that they were “occupying this property under squatting law, which is our right in this country”.

Gallingly for Mr Ramsay, they described the property as “our house” and told us how they had already been hosting guests.

And –

They’re one hundred per cent right. About all of it.

The Law Regarding Commercial Squatting

As the law now stands, since 2012, under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishing of Offenders Act, it has been illegal to occupy a residential property without permission of the owner. (You may recall that, pre-2012, “squatters’ rights” were all over the news. Clearly, it was the stuff of nightmares for so many people returning from their holidays to find that their home was no longer their own.)

There’s a loophole, however, that has still not been plugged:

The legislation missed commercial properties.

As a commercial landlord or property manager, you cannot remove squatters. Residential, yes. Commercial – no. And, should you try to use any force whatsoever, or threaten to, our friends in Camden are right: you would be breaking the law.

When Can the Police Act?

As Gordon Ramsay has discovered, simply being in your vacant pub, restaurant, office, factory, or warehouse is not illegal. However, should the occupiers:

  • Cause damage when entering or during their stay
  • Steal from the property
  • Use the gas, electricity and water there without permission
  • Dispose of rubbish etc on the property (fly-tipping)
  • Not obeying a noise abatement notice

Then – the police can get involved. Otherwise, it’s deemed to be a civil matter and law enforcement agencies turn into chocolate tea pots.

The following key point is missing from the list but we want to highlight it separately: squatters must leave when a court tells them to. Should they try to stay put, the police can use the full force of the law.

Otherwise, it’s deemed a civil matter

This last point has an update:

This week, the York & Albany squatters were issued legal letters, the administration of which Ramsay has called an “absolute nightmare” and no doubt an expensive one at that. Due to this court action, the property will soon be back to normal.

So, this story has a happy, if high-priced, ending.

Clearway - Eviction Services

Avoid Getting Your Fingers Burned

As vacant commercial property security specialists, Clearway wonders what measures Gordon Ramsay’s “people” are now taking to safeguard the building and prevent people from getting in.

The whole point is to stop this issue before it starts. Security is your responsibility, and there are quite a few things that you can do.

Hostelries in urban areas are tricky; they signal their vacant status loudly and can become an easy target. But, all buildings can be vulnerable to intrusion not least from people clued up on the law, as are our friends from Camden Art Cafe.

Start with this:

risk assessment from Clearway will reveal the property’s weak points, with specialist guidance and advice on your best next steps.

Your bespoke plan will depend on location, size, use, and length of time between tenancies and several other key facets. With a risk assessment, forewarned is forearmed; without an independent review such as this, you could be investing in impractical, ineffective, big-ticket measures – or worse, rest on your laurels with a no-action policy to leave your property highly exposed.

Products and Services from Clearway

Steel Security Screens and Doors

Clearway Steel Screens

These products deliver Fort Knox-type protection and are a super-strong visual deterrent.

Fixed within an internal framing system, we fit heavy-duty steel screens over the building’s window or door frame. They’re impossible to wrench open or get past and are constructed in such a way as to allow ventilation and airflow, which reduces mould.

Steel doors are imposing, impenetrable doors with keyless security code entry system functionality. Only those with authorised access can enter, which means squatters have no chance.

Temporary CCTV Surveillance

CCTV camera

These work hard all day and night to monitor the property from a high position.

Contemporary CCTV offers ultra-sharp image definition, with footage that you can see directly or which can be transmitted instantaneously to trained staff at our 24/7 ARC (Alarm Receiving Centre), where highly trained staff can act accordingly.

These cameras work on long-life batteries and are easy to look after.

Wireless Vacant Property Alarms

video verified alarm systems

Video verified alarm technology from Clearway is wireless and connects to a mobile network alarm system. Tamper-proof, weather-proof, and quick to install – when activated, they emit a loud noise and record a series of still images. These still pictures are then strung together to create a ten-second clip of the disturbance, which again is sent to our ARC for further action if necessary.

Property Inspections

Clearway Property inspections

Property inspections are well worth considering, especially if you live and work at some distance from the premises in question. Clearway works with highly qualified specialists who will spot immediately the tell-tale signs of intrusion (or attempted intrusion).

Also, they can remove rubbish and post from entrances and doorways – always a giveaway sign of vacancy.

Other Measures

Think about good lighting to shine a light on the entrances and alleyways surrounding the building. It goes without saying that squatters prefer dark, dingey areas to enter under the cover of darkness.

  • Isolate the gas, water and electricity. There’s nothing like a cold interior with no lighting or water to deter would-be incomers. And, make life uncomfortable.
  • Look after the exterior. Properties can deteriorate with surprising speed. Ensuring that everything still looks neat and tidy supports a pleasant environment and gives the impression of occupancy.

Did You Know?

Regarding vacant properties, celebrity chefs are of the moment.

Marco Pierre White’s former restaurant in London was this week taken over by as many as 400 squatters. Yes, you read that right: 400. According to media reports, “hordes” of people are said to have moved into one of the capital’s most prestigious postcodes.

Occupying all the building floors, they are alleged to have made quite a mess.

The good news is that the Met Police have now secured the property, with considerable clean-up costs.

Final Thoughts

As we have mentioned, if it can happen to Gordon Ramsay (and Mr. White), it can almost certainly happen to you.

The law will change at some point, no doubt, but in the meantime, effective monitoring, management and robust security measures are the best way to secure your commercial property.

Squatters hold more cards than you think. Get in touch with Clearway to discuss the best prevention processes to keep the building safe rather than after-the-fact actions to put things right.

Gideon Reichental

Vacant Property Security Consultant

Gideon is an experienced property specialist with a commitment to excellent customer service and support. With over eight years dedicated to the niche field of vacant property security and services, Gideon has been at the forefront of developing and implementing best practices and successful strategies for safeguarding vulnerable properties, demonstrating a profound understanding of the complexities involved. His hands-on experience includes managing portfolios of over 200 vacant properties directly, alongside senior management roles overseeing broader portfolios that encompass more than 2000 properties.

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