When can a building be re-squatted?
There seem to be various myths around about how long a property must be left empty before someone can squat or re-squat it. There is no simple calculation of time, and it depends to some extent on how the place became empty.
The following gives a brief overview, contact ASS for further details, or SLN (and your local squatters network) if shit’s happening.
There are always practical, common sense considerations about choosing somewhere to squat, which we’re not going into here. If a place has just been evicted because the owner is actually going to do something with the place you’re not going to get long, so do your research.
On 1st September 2012 S144 of LASPO created a new criminal offence, that applies to anyone who trespasses with the intention of living in a “residential building”, defined as a building designed or adapted for residential use before your trespass, any changes you make yourself wouldn’t count. If the property had been previously squatted it would be safest to explain that you or your housemates had made any adaptations yourselves, rather than previous squatters.
Interim Possession Orders
If the previous squatters left because of an Interim Possession Order (IPO) made against them, check the paperwork. Always leave paperwork behind when you leave a squat so that anyone thinking of re-squatting it will know what happened.
Once an IPO is made by a court and properly served, it is a crime for anyone to trespass in the building, from 24 hours after service, for as long as the order lasts. But it won’t last long as the court should have set a date for a full Possession Order hearing, when the IPO comes to an end. Anybody who was in occupation at the time the IPO was served would still be committing a crime if they re-squatted within a year of service, but this doesn’t seem to have been used, and evidence would be pretty hard to come up with.
So the simple answer is; the IPO is dead once the court makes a full possession order, so there is now no legal reason why the building can not be squatted.
(Normal) Possession Orders
Most court hearings for an eviction result in ordinary Possession Order rather than an IPO. (Some result in neither) This just tells the occupiers to leave.
These have to be enforced by Court Enforcement Officers, also called bailiffs, or sometimes sheriffs, after the court has issued a warrant or writ to follow up the order.
Once the occupiers have left and the owner (or whoever applied for the order) has got possession back, the Order is satisfied and dead. It doesn’t matter whether the occupiers just left, or bailiffs came round and removed them.
Simple answer 2; a Possession Order ends when the claimant has regained possession, and someone else can come and occupy the property.
BUT, if the same people move back in, or people who are connected to them, the owners can go back to court and say “them pesky kids are back again” and get a new warrant or writ based on the original order, called a “warrant (or writ) of restitution”. [To break the connection (or “nexus”) between the order and re-squatting would probably require some other group to squat the place and get evicted.]
Sometimes the owner will try to use a warrant of restitution when there is no connection between the occupiers, or a possession order that has already been satisfied (shocking, I know) and it is then up to the occupiers to go to court and apply for this to be stopped. For this you need an application form (Court Form N244) on which you apply for the warrant to be set aside and explain why it is not appropriate. This will cost about 80 quid [what’s happened to the keyboard, can’t find the quid sign] unless you’re on benefits or extremely low wages, in which case you’ll also need to complete an exemption from fees form. Applications against warrants of restitution don’t always work, partly because there’s a least one judge who thinks that all squatters are by definition connected.
If the eviction is threatened soon, you should also ask for the warrant to be “stayed” until the hearing of your application, and make sure the bailiffs know that this has happened.
Increasingly evictions are being carried out without warning by the High Court Enforcement Officers, which means that you won’t have time to put in an application. If you are evicted on an inappropriate writ of restitution without notice contact SLN/ASS immediately and make notes of everything so this kind of behaviour can be challenged.
If previous squatters left without a court order, this might be because
a) they were illegally evicted by force, in which case you need to be properly prepared, including talking the previous occupiers into taking legal action,
b) because they agreed to move out after a certain amount of time, in which case the owners are probably cool but about to use the place,
c) the place is residential and they were threatened with arrest / arrested under S144, or
d) they got taken away in the rapture.
Other things that could affect squatting a place, or not:
If there’s a notice that the property has been closed as a “crack house” under the Anti-Social Behaviour Act, 2003 you could be committing a crime by entering the property. Take a photo of the notice and research whether it’s still valid.
If there’s a notice of “walk-in possession” this relates to the ending of a non-residential lease, and stops the tenant (normally the shopkeeper) from re-entering. This has nothing to do with anyone else, and is no reason why the place can’t be squatted.
Various authorities sometimes take it on themselves to decide that a property is too dangerous in some way for people to live there. The legislation is designed to stop landlords exploiting tenants, and to make them carry out works, but …..
draft, produced by Advisory Service for Squatters October 2013