GallowGlass Security

Gallowglass Security Blog

Squatting and the Vulnerability of your Vacant Property

  • Blog
  • 3rd June 2014
  • By Jack Flash & George Oliver
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Since the inception of Gallowglass in 1999, one of our most active service sectors has been to work in conjunction with certified bailiffs to assist in the lawful recovery of properties from squatters. Some have been very high profile, for example the former MI5 whistle-blower David Shayler as reported in the Daily Mail http://is.gd/8ugCuQ

There can be no doubt, anecdotally at least, that there has been a change of emphasis from squatters with empty commercial properties (for example pubs, offices and warehouses) proving to be increasingly vulnerable, as civil remedies are still required to ensure their removal, and this can be costly and time consuming. Insofar as vacant domestic properties are concerned, do they remain any less vulnerable?

Three factors suggest that they remain vulnerable, and will do so for the foreseeable future. Firstly, as is now well known; Section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LAPOA) made it a criminal offence to squat in residential premises. Since this statute came into force in September 2012, squatting of residential vacant properties still continues. After all, there are whole rafts of criminal offences designed to deter and punish criminal conduct and behaviour, yet crime still takes place routinely, and squatting is no exception.

Secondly, much will hinge on the willingness of local Police forces to prosecute these cases. With cut backs to Police budgets, it is difficult to foresee that the prosecution of squatters will feature highly on the list of local Policing priorities.

Thirdly, the wording of the statute does allow scope for the more streetwise and savvy squatters to exploit it. For example it was reported in the Evening Standard on the 29th October that a group of squatters moved into an expensive vacant council house owned by Southwark Borough Council on the 28th October, shortly after it was sold at auction for just under £3M.

The protest was reported to be a political one against the sale of council housing stock that could have been be used for social housing. Protesters claimed that the reason that the Police have not enforced the legislation is because this protest is a political one.

This raises an interesting point; as we assume then that was at the time a challenge to the wording of the offence that states that the trespasser is “living” or “intends to live” in the building for any period. So does occupation under shifts for the purposes of political protest amount to “living” in an unoccupied residential property?

So if a property is squatted, be it commercial or domestic, what is the legacy for the property owner in our experience? Well, first up it can be expensive and time consuming (in the case of commercial premises), with a multi-agency approach required to recover and secure both types of property. There is also a cost in human capital, particularly in the case of home owners, who are subjected to the nerve jarring experience of violation and intrusion.

The certified bailiff must ensure that his client secures a court order, if needed, and security needs to be on standby at short notice, to execute the order. Potentially plumbers, carpenters, painters, lock smiths, waste removal experts, electricians and gas engineers need to be available to assist with any urgent remedial work to make the premises safe.

The collective cost to the property owner can easily run into five figures. One very extreme example that we were involved in saw the presence of 14 riot vans, 100 plus policemen, 4 ambulances, 4 specialist rope teams, 4 fire engines and a helicopter for 9 hours!

The obvious question is, is this all really necessary? Well  yes , as we are frequently instructed to assist in the removal of persons determined to make a point of staying where they are for political reasons, notably the frequently well-educated self-styled anti capitalists and anarchist syndicates’.

As a consequence our security teams need to be carefully selected, under a clear chain of command, for their physical attributes in mind together with their willingness to impose themselves, whilst at the same time being trusted to act within the rule of law, always.

This is because squatters will barricade themselves in, and will subject security to a fusillade of projectiles intended to deter access and to hurt and maim. When entry is forced, our teams do expect to be subject to acts of violence and threats, and these need to be faced down and the occupants removed quickly.

Once the property is recovered, they are often found to be in an appalling state of damage and degradation, which gives rise to both potential occupiers liability considerations as well health and safety ones.

The first assault on the senses is the overpowering stench of excrement, urine and rotting food. This is because water may have been turned off, or the occupants have not worked out how to turn it on. Either way, if toilets are blocked or not functional, buckets are used for ablutions, and rubbish is not taken out.

The second assault is the intense heat. Invariably, squatters rely of the unlawful abstraction of electricity for their energy needs, which leads to power sockets being overloaded with the inevitable fire risk being increased.

A sweep of the premises is also undertaken to ensure that anything injurious to health is quickly and safely removed, for example hypodermic needles, broken glass and possibly weapons.

A sad and unfortunate legacy of squatter occupation is that that there can be considerable damage to existing fixtures, fittings, and delicate architectural features; as well as theft of the more expensive ones such as lead and marble fireplaces. Graffiti inevitably proliferates, which all adds to the repair cost of recovered property.

Once recovered and repaired, empty property remains vulnerable unless proper preventative measures are put in place to prevent reoccurrence. At Gallowglass Security we have years of experience in successfully ensuring that empty properties are kept secure, and are handed back to the owner or agent at the prescribed time.

Never in the history of Gallowglass, has any vacant property under our management, been lost to squatters. Certainly there have been attempts’ by them, as with common criminals intent on burglary and damage, but all attempts’ have been robustly foiled, without any damage to the fabric of the property under our stewardship.

Do you have a property that has been squatted? Are you worried that your empty property might be broken into? Either way, contact our Mr George Oliver, he and our property sector have a full range of recovery options as well as time tested preventative measures that will give you peace of mind. George can be contacted on either 0845 2575648 or property@galsec.co.uk

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