UK: Increase in squatter problem gives property owners expensive headache - Aviva
The threat from squatters occupying vacant buildings has led to a massive growth in property owners seeking insurance cover to tackle the problem, according to Aviva.
Squatters are using online sources not only to identify vacant property but to gain advice on their legal rights as well1. The Home Office has issued its own guidelines2 for concerned residential property owners.
Demand for legal expenses cover for property-related disputes has trebled for Aviva in the past two years. Currently, a third of claims on legal expenses insurance policies provided by Aviva are connected to the eviction of unauthorised occupants.
Matt Gordon, underwriting manager at Aviva, said: “Insurance broker feedback to the company has shown that many property owners do not know where they stand legally when it comes to removing squatters, while squatters themselves tend to be well informed about their legal position.”
An interim possession order (IPO) now makes it easier and quicker for the property owner to regain possession of residential or commercial property from squatters. The application must be made within 28 days of the date the claimant first knew or ought reasonably to have known that the squatters were in occupation. An IPO can usually be obtained from the courts within a few days.
Squatters must leave the property within 24 hours of service of the IPO. If they do not, they are committing a criminal offence and may be arrested3. The offence is punishable by up to six months’ imprisonment. Squatters can cause significant damage, resulting in costly repair bills for property owners and managers.
Aviva has worked with its preferred supplier, SitexOrbis, a 24/7 property and people protection provider, to produce a six-point action plan to secure properties against squatters for commercial property owners. Although other plans are available, the recommendation is to use all or part of the plan depending on advice received following immediate and regular site inspections by empty property surveyors.
Commercial property owners are advised to:
- Cap off all utilities. If the building is to be refurbished, remove the fuse board too. This will make it difficult for squatters to reconnect the electricity.
- Secure windows and entrances with steel screening to prevent vandalism and access (screens can be rented). Make sure there is no roof access, as squatters claim legal rights by entering open or previously vandalised entry-points without forcing entry.
- Alarm the building with a temporary wireless alarm with integral video transmission that is monitored. The video will filter out false alarms and provide hard evidence in court cases.
- Install perimeter fencing to protect open areas, such as driveways, car-parks and gardens.
- Remove all combustibles from the building such as mattresses, chairs and upholstery. As well as a fire hazard, they may be vilely mistreated or damaged by squatters.
- Use mobile or static dog patrols to stop determined squatters
Gordon continued: “We have seen cases where squatters have stripped a commercial property, causing around £150,000 of damage. More malicious squatters will destroy property within the building, ripping out fixtures and fittings to be sold for scrap and even blackmailing the property owner by offering to leave the property in exchange for cash.
“To limit costs in this situation, property owners should consider the six-point plan when preparing a vacant property. Squatting is most common in commercial properties that lack adequate security, which is why it is ever more important to make sure a specialist supplier is brought in to go through the process of 'sleeping' a building.”
Aviva offers additional legal protection cover for property owners with empty properties. Cover is available via brokers and includes legal fees up to the value of £500,000.
Advice on applying for an IPO can be found at:
For further information, please contact:
Telephone: +44 (0)161 9198011
Aviva Press Office
Telephone: +44 (0)1603 684224 / +44 (0)7800 692909
2 Advice on dealing with squatters in your home can be found at:
Notes to editors:
Aviva is one of the world's largest insurance groups* with 53 million customers worldwide and 46,000 employees.
Aviva’s main activities are long-term savings, fund management and general insurance, with worldwide total sales of £45.1 billion and funds under management of £379 billion*.
In the UK, Aviva takes care of its 19.2 million customers by helping them look after their future, protecting what’s important – from their health to their homes, their cars to their business – and saving for the future.
Aviva has a 10.5%** share of the UK life and pensions market and insures one in six homes and one in 10 cars in the UK. It is also one of the oldest UK insurers, with a heritage stretching back more than 300 years.
RAC, which is owned by Aviva, provides breakdown and insurance services for individuals and businesses and has around seven million customers.
Aviva is carbon neutral worldwide, and is ranked in the top 10% of socially responsible companies globally by the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index. In 2009 we invested £3.8m into the community. Read our corporate responsibility report at www.aviva.com/cr.
Aviva’s global Street to School programme is working in partnership with Railway Children in the UK to get children living on the streets back into education and everyday life. Find out more at www.aviva.co.uk/street-to-school.
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* based on gross worldwide premiums at 31 December 2009
** Source: ABI data released August 2010