On 16th November, early in the morning, a team from The Sheriffs Office entered the Cross Keys pub in Chelsea to remove the squatters acting under a High Court writ of possession.
There has been quite a lot of coverage about these squatters in the Cross Keys after the pub was closed earlier this year by its owner and left vacant while planning permission was sought to convert it into residential accommodation.
And, just yesterday, I read of another empty London pub that has just been occupied as well. This is a story we are hearing more and more frequently – not just in pubs, but in all manner of empty commercial buildings as squatters seek to avoid arrest and imprisonment since squatting in residential property was criminalised September 2012.
From bad to worse
This situation is only likely to get worse. Criminalisation has afforded some protection to residential property owners, but does not change the fact that there are homeless people, as well as those who choose squatting as a lifestyle, looking for property to squat in. And why risk prison when there is empty, easily accessible commercial property available.
While the situation may be worst in London, the rest of the country is, by no means, escaping the problem.
Prevent it from happening to you
While it may not be possible to completely prevent squatters from gaining access, there is much that you can do as a commercial property owners can do, in particular increase security - such as guards and CCTV – and take steps to prevent leaving the property vacant in the immediate term.
Such steps may include short-term leases and property guardians, people occupying the premises on a very short-term contract for a minimal rent, in exchange for protecting the property from squatters, vandalism and general deterioration.
If it happens to you
If eviction does become necessary, you will have to obtain a court order for possession. Then instruct a High Court Enforcement Officer to act promptly to evict the squatters under a High Court writ.
At The Sheriffs Office, evictions are carried out after a thorough risk assessment, where the need for specialist entry teams and equipment can be ascertained, police assistance is secured and, most importantly, we advise you how to secure the site to prevent future occupation.