Legal Loophole leaves Landlords Vulnerable to Squatters

When squatters break into a property and start living there, it is not as simple as it should be to evict them. Both in the USA and the UK it generally requires paying an attorney and going through a court eviction procedure in order to evict them — whereas it should simply be a matter of calling police to arrest and remove trespassers. But due to a legal loophole that requires the court to examine whether the squatters have legal rights to be there, property owner’s ability to remove squatters are greatly diminished and the process becomes very expensive. Squatters know this, taking advantage of the system. One UK landlord had to pay twice to remove the same squatters, going through two different court proceedings.

He got a court order to get them out the first time, and then secured the property, but they broke in once again and so he had to go to court a second time to remove them again.

From the article:

When squatters took over Noel Kingsbury’s house just as he was preparing to sell it, this was the start of an four-month battle which exposes how badly the law fails to protect homeowners.

The illegal occupants refused to leave until he had battled through the courts to obtain an eviction order.

When they finally left the home, they left behind a trail of destruction including walls covered in graffiti, abandoned drug needles and excrement-stained mattresses.

Mr Kingsbury thought he had his property back. He was wrong. Just two weeks later, the squatters returned.

This time the homeowner assumed that having obtained the original eviction order, he would at least be spared the expense of a second legal battle to remove them. He was wrong again. Due to an “outrageous” loophole in the law, the court proceedings had to start anew. By the time bailiffs finally evict the squatters tomorrow, Mr Kingsbury, a father of one, will face a total estimated bill of £40,000 for repairs and legal fees.

Mr Kingsbury, a freelance gardening writer, bought the Victorian three-bedroom terrace house in Bristol 14 years ago for £60,000 as a ‘buy-to-let’ investment.

He put it on the market last August for £150,000, but his hopes of an sale were set back in November when around 12 squatters moved in.

It cost him £1,300 to secure an eviction order. Once it was in place in mid-December, the squatters left, and the downstairs doors and windows were boarded up to prevent further incursions.

Yet the security measures proved inadequate. Mr Kingsbury, 53, said: “Just after New Year a neighbor of mine looked out the window and saw a group of people in the garden with a ladder. There were about 11 of them going up, breaking in through an upper floor window.”

To the homeowner’s disbelief , the squatters were back. In February, he went to court seeking a ‘warrant of restitution order’, which would allow the original eviction order to be used again.

However, a judge refused the application because the group claimed they were not the same people as the previous squatters. They were able to exploit a loophole which forces property owners to get fresh eviction orders if new squatters say they have never been at the property before.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/8392580/Landlord-left-with-squatter-nightmare-because-of-legal-loophole.html

Indeed, squatting is so easy in Britain, that people are coming from other countries to squat there. Jason Ruddick came from Latvia to squat in a mansion in Highgate:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/8244715/Latvian-travels-1500-miles-to-milk-Britains-soft-laws-against-squatters.html

Jason Ruddick left his home in the Baltics after a friend told him that squatters’ rights were so entrenched in the UK that it was “almost impossible” to be forced out.

He hitchhiked his way to London and promptly set up home in an empty 10-bed Victorian home in Highgate, complete with running water and heating.

In another case, squatters in Britain were able to occupy a mansion directly opposite Buckingham Palace, and boasted that their goal was to get as close to the queen’s bedroom as possible. Even there, the owner had to go to court to get them out, whereas again, this should have been a simple matter for the police, which took no more than a couple hours and resulted in numerous arrests for breaking and entering and trespassing. Yes, things are very bad in terms of property owner’s rights in the UK. Someone’s got to work on the laws so they aren’t so glaringly openly inviting squatters.

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/feb/24/serial-squatters-face-eviction-from-14m-london-mansion

A British woman went away only for one weekend, and when she returned, she found a group of Romanians in her home, who had trashed the place and told neighbors she was dead. There are now “tens of thousands” of squatters doing things like this in England. British legislators say that the law needs to be changed to protect homeowners.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2034530/Make-squatters-criminals-let-Englishmans-home-castle-again.html

This article states that:

With the estimated numbers of squatters having doubled into the tens of thousands since the recession began in 2008, it’s now a serious problem across the entire country.

 

Romanian Squatters trashed Julia’s home when she was only gone a weekend

After such a widespread and serious problem with squatters in Britain, finally there were changes in the law, and squatting became a criminal rather than a civil offense in 2012:

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/squatting-becomes-criminal-offence-in-england-1293274

“They have caused homeowners untold misery in eviction, repair and clean-up costs. Not any more.”

Housing minister Grant Shapps added: “No longer will there be so-called ‘squatters rights’. We’re tipping the scales of justice back in favour of the homeowner and making the law crystal clear.

“Entering a property with the intention of squatting will be a criminal offence.”

However, squatting in many aress in the USA still needs to be addressed as a civil offense.
IN California, an Oregon couple lost their Hemet home in foreclosure, because squatters broke into it and they were unable to get them out in a timely way. The problem has become so serious and so prevalent in some areas, that a California Assembly Bill AB 1513 was introduced to make squatting a crime and make it easier to remove squatters. IN some areas, neighbors are actually forming anti-squatter “posses” to get the malicious trespassers off the premises.

https://www.pe.com/2014/05/30/real-estate-striking-back-at-squatters/

A law was passed to enable property owners to more readily remove squatters, but it was applicable only to Palmdale, Lancaster,and Ukiah CA — areas where this problem was particularly prevalent. Moreover, the law only lasts until Jan 1 2018.

http://law.onecle.com/california/civil-procedure/527.11.html

https://ww2.kqed.org/news/2014/10/01/governor-signs-anti-squatter-bill-despite-protest-from-tenant-advocates/

So the problem of squatting remains in California, and more legislation is needed to prevent it.

http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-associations-squatters-20170715-story.html

Changes in Texas law made removal of squatters as well as bad tenants easier there:

https://www.ksat.com/news/defenders/new-law-makes-eviction-of-bad-tenants-squatters-easier

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