Mr Ramsey’s squat problems in London!

Mr Ramsey’s squat problems in London!

You may have read in the press that Gordon Ramsey has found himself in an unenviable position, in that his vacant London pub has become occupied by squatters. These squatters vow to remain and have boarded up the windows and put up a “legal warning” outlining their occupation of the pub.

So, what do you do when you get squatters in commercial premises? The position with commercial buildings is less straightforward than residential, as it is not a criminal offence to squat in commercial premises. Of course, they cannot damage it, steal from it or use any utilities but they can simply occupy it. What you will find yourself needing to do (if the police won’t help, which often, they won’t) is turning to the civil Courts.

If you have a right to possession you can apply for a possession order. You will need to establish to the Court that the occupation is without your consent and front load your claim with witness evidence surrounding the squatters’ occupation. A claim is usually required to be made against “persons unknown” as the identity of the squatters is often a mystery. Once the claim is issued by the Court, it is down to you (or your legal representatives) to ensure it is properly served. The service provisions for claims against persons unknown is onerous and requires the claim and notice of hearing to be attached to the property or attached to stakes on any open land.

Often, that is not enough to convince squatters to leave and attendance at a possession hearing will be the next step. If possession is granted, and the squatters still do not leave, you can apply for a bailiff to attend, with a locksmith, to empty and secure the building. You can apply for possession and a bailiff in either the County Court, or the High Court. A claim in the High Court for possession requires there to be a substantial risk of public disturbance and serious risk of harm to persons or property – which is a higher bar than in the County Court, but might be quicker.

This process can be time consuming, particularly in the County Court, with proceedings sometimes taking months to resolve. There is a faster option, though, provided you act quickly – but it is not without its own issues. This is known as an interim possession order. This requires the claimant to have an immediate right to possession and a right to possession for the entire period that the squatter has been in occupation. This might pose an issue for freeholders who have let the property under a lease for a period of that occupation. You must make this application within 28 days of becoming aware of the squatters and serve the claim within 24 hours of the application being made. If the order is made, it must be served within 48 hours. The Court does have jurisdiction to set aside an interim possession order if it later transpires that it should not have been granted.

Failure to comply with an interim possession order is different to a normal possession order, in that failure to comply means you can call the police who will arrest the squatters. However, the willingness of the police is not a certainty which makes it a quicker, but slightly more risky, option. This is probably why Mr Ramsey, via his company Gordon Ramsey Holdings International Limited, went for a possession order through the High Court.

It is not known at this stage whether Mr Ramsey will instruct bailiffs to empty and secure the property. The squatters have erected new signs which suggest that the group have “made a deal” and will be staying put, so who knows what will happen next!

The key to dealing quickly and efficiently with squatters in commercial or residential premises is to act quickly and seek early advice. If you have any queries or concerns about  your own property, please do not hesitate to contact Molly Frankham (pictured) or any member of the Ellisons’ Property Litigation team – https://www.ellisonssolicitors.com/services/dispute-resolution-for-individuals/property-and-land-disputes/.