What is trespassing?
Trespassing is when someone comes onto your property or land without your permission. And it’s not just annoying; it’s against the law. For some, trespassing might just be a small bother, like someone stepping onto their lawn. But for others, it can be a big deal.
What counts as trespassing?
Trespassing can mean living in someone’s house without their agreement (squatting); dumping rubbish on someone else's land, or encroaching on a neighbours property lines.
Is trespassing a criminal offence?
Trespassing itself isn’t a crime. Instead, it’s classed as a ‘civil wrong’ against the landowner, which means it’s a matter for civil courts.
There may be situations where trespassing turns into a crime. For example, if the trespasser threatens violence to gain entry. But in these cases, the criminal act would not be trespassing but the threat of violence.
How to evict trespassers
Part 55 of the Civil Procedure Rules 1998 helps owners or landlords evict trespassers.
This process involves owners or landlords asking the court to remove trespassers, but this procedure only works for trespassers who enter a property or encroach on land without the owner’s permission. If someone was a tenant and had permission but overstayed their welcome, this procedure won’t apply. Instead, landlords must follow the correct eviction procedures.
The legal process for evicting trespassers
To evict trespassers, owners or landlords have to ask the county court where the property is located for a possession order.
If there’s a serious risk of trouble or harm that needs to be addressed straight away, it is possible for proceedings to be issued in the High Court. To do this, owners or landlords have to submit a signed statement of truth alongside the reasons for bringing the claim.
Landlords and owners have looking to evict trespassers will need to submit Form N5B for the claim and Form N121 for the particulars of the claim, this includes details like:
What property the claim relates to;
Interest in the property (i.e. if it’s owned or leased);
If the property is residential or commercial;
If the squatters were never tenants;
Details of who is in the property or ‘persons unknown’.
If appropriate, the person making the possession claim may also wish to include witness statements to support the case alongside the relevant forms.
When all the correct paperwork has been filed, the court will set a date for the hearing if it accepts the claim. It is then up to the landlord or owners to give the squatters any necessary documents by a specific date.
In the next section, we’ll break down exactly what documents should be served in accordance with the law.
Serving notice to evict trespassers
If a landlord or owner has filed a claim against ‘persons unknown,’ which means you don’t know their names, you have to make sure they’re aware of the case by law. You can do this by:
Attaching copies of the court papers to the main door or another visible part of the property;
Putting copes in a sealed transparent envelope and sliding it through the letterbox;
Placing stakes with copies of the documents in a sealed envelope at visible points on the land.
This must be done at least five clear days before the hearing date for residential properties or two days before for non-residential properties (including weekends). This gives squatters enough time to know what’s going on and file a defence, if they wish.
It’s not a legal requirement for squatters to file a defence, but they can. In the case that they do, and it looks like they might have a strong valid defence, it’s recommended to get advice from a specialist property solicitor who can help with the strength of your case.
Do I have to go to court to evict trespassers?
It’s not always inevitable that a landlord or owner will have to attend court to evict trespassers. Sometimes, both parties can come to an agreement. For example, the squatters might agree to leave by a certain date or stay only until the property is needed for something else.
If this does happen, it’s a good idea to make it official with an ‘order by consent.’ This is a formal agreement where the squatter agrees that an owner or landlord can enforce a possession order under certain conditions which have been agreed by both parties. For example, the landlord needs the property for something else.
However, if either party doesn’t stick to this agreement, they would be in contempt of court and could face serious consequences.
Possible outcomes of evicting trespassers
Generally, at the hearing for evicting trespassers the court will make a decision on the case or give instructions on how things should proceed based on the circumstances.
If the squatter has a strong defence, the court might categorise the case into different tracks based on its complexity. Alternatively, if the squatter doesn’t have a defence or loses, the court can order immediate possession.
If the squatter has a good defence but didn’t get to present it at the hearing, the court might set aside the possession order, or delay the start date.
The outcome of a hearing for evicting trespasses depends on the situation, the strength of the defence and any agreements that may have been arranged between the landlord/owners and the trespassers.
Can you force trespassers out?
A possession order will say when trespassers have to leave a property. But, if owners or landlords want to get trespassers out right away, a possession order isn’t enough and they can't force them out themselves.
To evict trespassers immediately, it is necessary to get a warrant for possession, or a writ of possession if the case was heard in the High Court.
This is because a landlord or owner can’t carry out an eviction of trespassers themselves. It is court bailiffs who are responsible for making sure squatters leave and only a warrant or writ of possession gives them the authority to take action.
Can the police evict trespassers?
The police have some legal powers when it comes to dealing with trespassers, although only court bailiffs can legally evict them with a valid writ of possession.
Police can, however, direct trespassers to leave land (not buildings) if they reasonably believe trespassers entered with intent to reside there, the occupier has asked them to leave, and:
Damage has been caused to land or property;
Trespassers have used abusive or threatening behaviour toward the occupier, their family, employee, or agent;
There are six or more vehicles on the land.
Police may also be able to take away property or vehicles from trespassers or direct them to leave land if they believe there’s a suitable alternative site for them to pitch.
However, their power do any of the above is discretionary. Generally, they must be satisfied that the occupier has taken reasonable steps to ask the trespassers to leave, usually starting with a verbal request followed by a written one.
Who pays court costs for evicting trespassers?
If a landlord or owner successfully gets possession, they might be able to ask the court to make a costs order against the squatter that covers the expenses of going to court.
However, this might not be possible if they filed a claim against ‘persons unknown’ and they aren’t able to discover the identity of the trespassers.
In considering a costs order, the court will look at the squatters' means and resources. If the trespasser has no financial means, it’s unlikely they’ll be asked to cover the court costs.
Get legal help with evicting trespassers
At Lawhive, we have a team of expert property solicitors on hand who can help with evicting trespassers quickly and affordably, whether you’re a landlord or owner.
To get started, tell us about your case to get a free case assessment and no-obligation quote.