Landlord's Guide to Traveller and Trespasser Removal (Last updated August 2018)
With summer well underway, the likelihood of travellers occupying private land has increased, more so than any other time of year.
It is not uncommon for travellers to cause a disturbance and damage within the local community, and to the land, they are occupying but to also leave a significant amount of rubbish and mess to be cleared by the landowner.
Furthermore, by having travellers illegally occupying the land, landowners may be in breach of any planning or licence requirements.
If a landowner finds travellers, caravans, cars and animals on their land, fast action is key to minimising damage and costs.
Methods of regaining possession from travellers
There are two ways in which you can regain possession of land from travellers; either evicting them using common law or under a writ of possession.
Government guidance advises that local authorities seek a Court order to remove travellers as they have an obligation to consider the welfare of individuals on the land before taking enforcement action against them, whereas private landowners have more choice. They can still go down the Court route of obtaining an order for possession, and enforcing it in the High Court under a writ of possession, or they can use the ancient remedy of common law.
The advantage of using common law is that there is no need for Court action, and the eviction can generally be carried out within 48 hours.
Eviction – Common law powers
Under common law, landowners have the right to remove travellers from their land using reasonable force if required.
Eviction under common law is normally carried out by an authorised agent appointed on the landowner’s behalf (bailiff).
Upon identifying travellers on private land, the first step in the eviction process is for the appointed agent to serve written notice on the travellers giving them a maximum of 24 hours to vacate the site. This notice should be handed to an adult on the site, or fixed in visible and prominent positions around the site if there is no person present.
Once the notice period has expired, the appointed agent will return to the land to ensure they have left.
Should the travellers fail to vacate the land, the authorised agent along with tow trucks, removal vehicles and police if necessary will proceed to remove them along with any personal items, by reasonable force if necessary.
The main advantage of a common law eviction is the speed in which the process can be carried out – often as little as 24hrs. The speed of the response can help to lessen the amount of damage caused to land and buildings, as well as reduce the opportunity for theft from the site. Acting fast can also help to reduce fly-tipping and general waste left behind thus reducing potentially expensive clear up costs.
Upon successful removal of the travellers, the appointed agent will take pictures of any damage or rubbish that has been left behind and secure the land where possible. It is always advisable for the landowner to make arrangements for securing the land before the eviction.
Use of force
Where travellers have entered land peacefully, the landowner must first ask them to leave his land. If they refuse, the landowner or his appointed agent can then remove the travellers “using no more force than is reasonably necessary.”
However, if the travellers enter the land with force and violence, then they can be removed without having previously being asked to leave.
Where a landowner obtains an order for possession but decides to use common law, the landowners appointed agent still has the right to use reasonable force to remove the travellers.
Use of excessive force could give rise to a claim against the landowner or their appointed agent by the travellers.
Under Section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, the Police, at their discretion have the powers to direct travellers to leave the land, providing the landowner has taken reasonable steps to ask them to go and they have failed to do so and there are at least two or more people intending to reside on the land. One of the following conditions must also be met:
– if any of those persons has caused damage to the land or property on the land; or
– used threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour towards the occupier, a member of his family or an employee or agent of his; or
– those persons have between them six or more vehicles on the land
In reality, the Police are usually reluctant to get involved in all, but the most serious cases of traveller removal and landowners will need to resort to using the Courts to get an order for possession or use common law. If however, the Police to assist, it is worth noting that if the unauthorised travellers fail to leave, or return to that location within three months of the direction, they are then committing a criminal offence.
Methods of regaining possession from trespassers – commercial property
To evict trespassers from a commercial property you must first apply for an interim possession order (IPO), then a full possession order.
You can apply for an interim possession order if:
– You find that squatters are occupying without your consent, a building, a part of a structure that is a self-contained room or flat within it, or the land next to a building. It does not cover open land
– you have an immediate right to possession of the premises being occupied (and have had this right for the whole of the time the premises have been occupied illegally)
– it has been 28 days or less since you found out your premises was being occupied without your consent.
An IPO is not a final order giving you possession of the premises. You must, therefore, also make an application for possession when you apply for an IPO. A final order for possession will usually be made at a hearing shortly after the interim possession order has been made.
What forms will I need?
To apply for an interim possession order and a full possession order, the forms required are:
When the Court issues your application for an interim possession order, it will include a hearing date. These documents must be served on the trespassers within 24 hours of issue by fixing a copy to the door and posting a copy in a transparent envelope addressed to the ‘occupiers.’
Once the Court issues your IPO, you must serve the order on the trespassers within 48 hours, in the same way, you served the notice of application. The IPO will require the defendant(s) to vacate the premises specified in the claim form within 24 hours of the service of the order.
At this hearing, the Court will also set a date for the hearing of the final order for possession.
At the hearing for the final order for possession the squatters may attend and plead their case, however, if your claim is upheld, then the judge will grant a final order for possession, which instructs the squatters to leave.
If the trespassers do not leave your property of their own accord once the order for possession has been granted, then you can transfer you order for possession to the High Court using court form N293A and obtain a writ of possession, which is enforced by a High Court Enforcement Officer.
Site protection measures
As always, prevention is better than cure, and this is undoubtedly the case in securing your land or empty property. There are some measures landowners, landlords and local authorities can do to try and prevent the arrival of travellers and trespassers.
Keeping the property occupied
The risk of commercial property being occupied by squatters reduces if it is occupied. Property guardians are a popular choice, as not only do they provide peace of mind to landlords they also offer affordable accommodation to professionals. Other ways to prevent the premises being vacant are to consider short-term lets, commercially or to charities, or for use as a pop-up shop.
Situating earth bunds or embankments around the site, height restrictions to enter the land, fencing/gating around the premises, securing doorways and windows with bricks or steel panels, and situating heavy bollards at the entrances which are difficult to move are all methods used to prevent property and land being occupied.
Following the eviction of travellers and trespassers taking action to secure land and property from re-entry should be considered. Measures such as changing the locks, boarding up windows and doors, installing CCTV and alarms and even having on-site security are all adequate and commonly used by landlords and landowners.
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