Recent examples of restaurants saying they have had to deal with squatters include Islington restaurant Chinese Laundry and ramen specialist Kanda-Ya, whose latest site was claimed to have been taken over by squatters at the end of last year. So what can you do when the squatters move in?
There are three key steps to take, according to Deborah Rider, a partner at London law firm Goodman Derrick LLP.
Initially, you should establish the circumstances of the squatters’ occupation and gather as much evidence as possible about what is going on. For example, how did the squatters gain access? How many are in occupation? Are they sleeping in the property? Are they operating a trade, creating a noise nuisance or causing damage? By establishing this from the outset, you will be better equipped to determine the steps to be taken and the evidence needed in order to secure a successful outcome.
2 Involve the authorities
Squatting in commercial premises is not a criminal offence. However, the manner in which the squatters have entered the property or their behaviour while in occupation may give rise to criminal sanctions. Their conduct may constitute a public disorder or nuisance offence and if the squatters broke the locks or damaged the property, criminal damage may have occurred. Other offences may be committed if the squatters are seeking to trade. It is often difficult to engage the assistance of the police or local authorities but if there are aggravating factors then recourse may be available.
3 Engage a specialist
Local enforcement agents provide a wealth of experience and knowledge to assist both in the gathering of evidence and in persuading trespassers to move on. Sophisticated squatters habitually move from premises to premises and therefore will be known to local enforcement officers in the area. It is important to engage a certified agent who is experienced in dealing with squatter issues. Depending on the circumstances, it may be possible to take steps to remove the squatters. However only reasonable force is permitted by the law and should the squatters oppose, trying to remove them could give rise to criminal sanctions. Therefore it is not appropriate in all cases and should only be exercised with extreme caution.
Deborah Rider is a partner specialising in dispute resolution at Goodman Derrick LLP.