According to the Ministry of Justice there are an estimated 20,000 people squatting in the UK at any one time. Before residential squatting was criminalised in 2012, it was estimated that around 60% of squatters chose to squat in residential properties. Although the criminalisation of residential squatting sought to tackle squatting, it seems that the issue has simply moved from residential to commercial properties. The Government has no current plans to criminalise squatting in commercial premises, so this trend is unlikely to change any time soon.
Our experience suggests that squatters are increasingly targeting commercial properties, but as with residential properties there are steps landowners can take to keep their commercial properties safe from squatting. Preventing squatters from gaining access to properties in the first place will always be more efficient than removing them. However, even secure properties may be targeted by well-organised squatters.
In this article we will focus on protest squatting in commercial properties. Protest squatters usually fall within two categories: political and environmental. For example, we have seen anti-fracking protestors at fracking sites, and anti-capitalism protestors at the Royal Mint. Such protests are often organised through social media. If a landowner knows that their property is likely to draw attention from activists, one suggestion would be to monitor social media and the internet to keep one step ahead.
If a landowner discovers that squatters are planning to protest on their property, an injunction should be sought to prevent the occupation. As well as preventing a protest, injunctions can also demand that certain items at the property are removed in order to protect them (for example, the removal of antiques and valuable paintings). Injunctions can be obtained against ‘persons unknown’, but wherever possible a landowner should try to identify one point of contact (professional protest organisations are usually happy to provide this). Combined with strong security, an injunction can prove effective as the police are able to intervene where an injunction has been breached.