There has been a significant rise in vacant commercial units since the start of the pandemic, leaving many properties vulnerable to trespassers.
This can present a major problem to landowners, as quite often trespassers will cause thousands of pounds worth of damage by carrying out illegal activities within the property.
It is crucial that adequate security systems are put in place and monitored regularly.
Sadly, the police are unlikely to intervene, as trespassers in a non-residential context fall within the remit of civil law.
It is essential to seek legal advice as quickly as possible and to engage the services of a High Court Enforcement Officer (HCEO). As an initial step, an HCEO will inspect the premises to see whether possession can be obtained by the common law (ie by removing the trespassers without force) which can result in significant time and cost savings. If possession cannot be obtained via this method, you will need to apply to court for a possession order.
Proceedings are usually started in the County Court (or, where the matter is urgent, in the High Court). You will need to produce a witness statement confirming details of ownership of the property, a location plan and confirmation that the trespassers entered the land without consent or licence.
The court will fix a hearing and the HCEO will serve the proceedings on the trespassers in accordance with the Civil Procedure Rules.
Quite often, trespassers will not file a defence or even attend the hearing. Once a possession order is obtained, the HCEO will apply for a writ of possession enabling the HCEO to enforce the order and regain possession.
As a final word of warning, do not seek to negotiate with the trespassers or trust that they will leave within a promised timeframe. They are often professionally organised groups and it is wise to leave matters in the hands of a legal adviseer and experienced HCEO.
Chloe Benson is senior associate at Goodman Derrick