If you are facing an eviction, currently homeless, or fancy getting out of the rat-race, then squatting offers a viable housing solution, with a number of benefits and possibilities (see “5 Reasons Why Squatting is Great”). The more people squatting, the stronger squatting will become. The following is a basic guide to start you off on the road to your squatting future.
Another, more definitive guide to squatting in England and Wales, can be found on the Advisory Service for Squatters (ASS) website: “Squatting made less simple“.
Before You Start
Meeting People – One of the first major challenges is finding a group to squat with. For newbies, without the experience or links, this can be the hardest part, especially since established crews are unlikely to take people out of the blue.
- 2nd and 4th Tuesday of the month @ 56a InfoShop, 56 Crampton Street, SE17 3AE
- 1st and 3rd Tuesday of the month @ LARC, 62 Fieldgate Street, E1
Practical squatting nights provide a good introduction to squatting, informing people what you need to know to start, and a platform for skillsharing.Alternatively, seek out other friends that want to squat, speak to squatters, and ask around if people have spare rooms at their squats – don’t be offended if they say “no”.
Skill Up – Since squatting involves a number of legal steps, and squatters are exposed to a number of criminal offences, you should be be fully aware of what you should, and shouldn’t (get caught) doing. From the point of first entering a building till eventual eviction, knowing the legalities avoids being forced out before a civil court hearing, and knowing the legal timeframes means you can plan your next move in good time.
The Advisory Service for Squatters (ASS) is a voluntary-run, one-stop shop for legal information you need to know when squatting.
The Squatters Handbook is a mainstay of collected squatting knowledge, from making an entrance to doing the plumbing. The handbook is not hosted online for a number of reasons, but you can get a copy from ASS, as per their instructions:
“If you’re in London, come into the office to pick them up. Otherwise, write, phone, or email for your copy. Send us your name and address along with a cheque for £2 written out to ASS, or four 50p stamps, or a postal order(although they’re a bit of a rip off) and we’ll get one in the post straight away.”
Opening a Squat
1] Scoping – look around for a potential space, on a midnight cycle or daytime stroll. Check important considerations like 1) are there any signs of life in the building at various times in the day (lights on/off, dust on the windows), 2) could the building be considered residential, 3) where are the best access points, 4) where are the neighbours situated, 5) who might own this building?2] Checking up on potential buildings – there are a number of online tools which can help checking up on buildings:
- Land Registry – the land registry holds the title deeds for much private property in Britain. On the title deeds, will have the name and registered address of the landlord, as well as any restrictions on the land. Be aware: you will need to create an account with the Land Registry (free) and title deeds (“Title Register”) for the property cost £3 a pop.
- Local Authority Planning Applications – local authorities all have an online planning portal on their websites. By typing in the address of the property, you will be able to access previous planning decisions and applications, which can tell you the story of the building, who might own it and even floor plans for the building. Free. The Planning Portal website allows you to type in the postcode of the property and the site will direct you to the local borough’s planning portal.
- Local knowledge – ask around the neighbourhood, and find out what people know about the building and/or the owners. Useful information about how long the building has been empty, what happened to previous squatters/ occupants, etc can be found out.
3] Getting In– once a suitable building has been found, you will need to assemble a crew to “crack” the space. Have a midnight scout to look for open windows and when you find one, get someone inside. Once in the building make sure to change the locks, secure entrances with barricades, and put an updated Section 6 notice up on all entrances, which prevents the landlord breaking in illegally.
4] First Days – The first few days of a new squat are the most difficult and riskiest. Occupiers will need to be on the look out for attempts by the landlord to take back the building illegally, visits from the police who may try to illegally/legally enter the squat, etc. When talking to officials –
- Never let them in; talk through the door to them and ask the specifics of their enquiry;
- Never go out to meet officials on your own; ensure you have backup and someone to guard the entrance;
- Know your rights, and make these clear to whoever you are speaking to (eg “It is a criminal offence for you to break in, under section 6 of the Criminal Law Act 1977.”)
- Don’t be intimidated; often official-looking people will try to trick you into leaving the building, or make you think their visit is an eviction. Stand firm, and take down what they are saying; the paperwork will be more informative.
- It is a good idea to have supporters on the outside, advocating for the occupants/ occupiers, during visits from the police, bailiffs, security, etc. Groups like Eviction Resistance or NELSN can help if there is an illegal eviction in progress.
What is the Law Regarding Residential Squatting?
- You trespass in a residential building, and
- You entered the building as a trespasser (rather than e.g. by invitation), and
- You know or ‘ought to know’ that you are a trespasser, and
- You are living in the building or intend to live there (for any length of time)
It is not a crime to remain in a building after the end of a lease or licence, even if you leave and re-enter the building. The law only applies to ‘residential buildings.’ A building is “residential” if it is designed or adapted, before the time of entry, for use as a place to live – in other words if commercial premises are squatted and turned into residential premises by the squatter, the law won’t apply. Its still legal to squat empty unused commercial buldings,eg :factories,shops,churches,community centres,warehouses,pubs,land for eco villages,etc.derelict/unused space.
Penalty: If convicted of this offence by the court, the maximum penalty is Imprisonment for 51 weeks Or a fine not more than £5,000 Or both a fine and imprisonment
Police powers: Police can enter and search squatted premises to arrest a person for squatting.
- Building” includes any structure or part of a structure, including a temporary or moveable structure
- The fact that you got title to the building from a trespasser, or have permission to be in the building from a trespasser, does not mean you are not a trespasser.
However, there have been a number of successful political occupations of residential buildings in the past few years. These have involved people who do not “live, or intent to live” in the property, but are holding it to make a political statement. They include:
Once In a Building
Putting up section 6 notices is an essential tool for preventing landlords, the police, security and others breaking in to kick you out. Be aware that section 6 notices have been updated since the new law, s144 LASPOA (2012), relating to squatting in residential properties. Remember to have someone in occupation at all times, or you will lose the building; it is best practice to have at least two people in the building in case anything goes wrong.
Contact With the Police –
Inform the police to read the Section 6 notice on the door, and tell them: “This is a civil matter and not a criminal act. The matter needs to be taken up by the landlord.” Most of the time, they will leave if they can’t get in, and log it as a civil complaint.
Electricity – get your own electricity account with an electricity company, saying that you have just moved in and would like to change supplier. Record the readings of the electricity and the gas meters, and keep any correspondence from the new supplier. Keep this information handy, and use it as proof if the police accuse you of extracting electricity (which gives them the right to break into the building and make arrests).
Residential – gather any proof you can that the building is commercial (eg council tax status, land registry, local history) and have this printed out and ready. If the residential building has been occupied as a political protest, then explain this to the police at the door (plus a banner outside doesn’t hurt).
Charges used by the police against squatters, include: Criminal Damage & Burglary – make sure there are no obvious marks, or debris, of damage to the building made by previous occupants; make sure not to be caught carrying any tools in the vicinity of the building.If you are arrested:
- Contact ASS and SLN for a list of Recommended Lawyers;
- Make a “No Comment” interview;
- Get word back to your crew, who will support you from the outside.
Contact with the Landlord or their Agents
At some point, the landlord will make contact, either in person, or through an agent. Once they know you are squatting the building, they may:
1] Demand you leave the building – tell them: “You will need to get a valid possession order from the county court”.
2] Attempt to negotiate – try to come to a deal to stay as long as possible; highlight the positives about letting you stay. Don’t enter into anything that jeoprodises your autonomy and independence, as in Ryan Gigg’s Manchester hotel.
3] Attempt an Illegal Eviction – landlords may try to shortcut the legal process, and hire thugs to throw you out illegally; be prepared for such an eventuality, and call the police if the situation is dire. Report incidents to the Squatters Legal Network, who are collecting information on these unlawful practices. Examples of illegal evictions include:
- Common Law evictions – a group of hired thugs, in bailiff outfits & fake papers, will attempt to burst their way into the squat and intimidate people into leaving.
- Sieging – security staff will patrol the private property directly outside of a building, preventing people coming in or food being delivered.
- Other Examples include, builders breaking in, as at the Mare Street occupation (2012).
Contact with the Courts
If you decide to go Court
- Contact the Advisory Service for Squatters as soon as you can, give them your legal papers, and they will provide you with a legal defence to challenge the possession order.
- Put these arguments into a Legal Defence Form, and return it to the County Court before the hearing; if time is short, bring it along to the hearing instead.
- Arrive at the court half an hour before the stated time, to check which court room you will be in. Present the Legal Defence Form to the Court Usher, who will take a copy for the judge & the landlord’s lawyers, and let you know when to enter the court;
- Have a spokesperson who will sit in the front, communicate with the judge and make/ read out the defence’s (your) argument. It helps to practise on your fellow squat mates before, know the argument well, and have discussed out what outcome you can best hope to get (eg two weeks extra time, another court date). Have any witnesses, as set out in the Witness statements in the Defence Form, present in the court;
- Expect the proceedings to be conducted in legal language, often hard to interpret (unless you are a lawyer), but just make your arguments as best you can when directed to by the judge.
- After hearing both sides, the judge will make a ruling. The case may be adjourned for a week or two, buying more time, or (more likely) the judge will 1) grant possession immediately (“forthwith”) to the landlord, or 2) grant possession for some future point eg one week’s time. The Landlord will only be able to book bailiffs once the possession order has been issued by the court.
• Court receptions often try their best to get your real name, continue to use “Person Unknown” or another. Court officials may not let a posse of squatters into the court room, or sometimes proceedings will held in private (ie secret) – supporters may have to wait outside till its over.
• If you go get the court case adjourned, the Judge will demand that someone is “Bound to Court”, ie someone will need to give a real name, becoming liable for court costs if you lose the next case. It is worth thinking about who is willing to volunteer this information.
• Arguments the judge is unlikely to consider include moral arguments, threat of homelessness, running a social centre, etc. However it is worth mentioning them briefly if the judge is sympathetic.
Eventually, the landlord will receive a Possession Order from the court. This Order states that registered bailiffs are legally sanctioned to seize the building from the current occupiers, and return it into the possession of the landlord. The Possession Order may come in a number of forms; check ASS’s website for more information on types of possession order and what they mean –
- Interim Possession Order (IPO)– a fast-track eviction, which allows landlords to hire High Court Bailiffs, who that can be booked within 24 hours of the possession order being granted by the court. It is also a criminal offence to hinder High Court Bailiffs. When faced with an IPO, it is advisable to get your stuff ready to move if you are not resisting.
- Standard Possession Order – once the possession order is granted, it may take a week or two before the landlord can book bailiffs, giving the occupiers extra time, for tasks like moving out, etc.
Once Possession has been granted by the courts, there are a number of decisions the squat will need to make regarding the eviction, such as: • Do we resist the eviction or not? • If we decide not to resist, when do we move out? • Where do we go from here?
Call the court to find out which bailiffs will be carrying out the eviction, and then call up the bailiff company to find out when they are booked for. Generally bailiffs want you gone before they arrive, and will let you know the date and time (take this as a rough estimate). However, in the case of High Court Bailiffs, it is often impossible to find out when they will be coming.
A standard eviction will run something like this –
- The Bailiff(s) will turn up to the property, generally (but not necessarily) on a Monday morning.
- They will present you with a Writ of Restitution, which gives them the legal right to take back the property, and restore it to the landlord’s possession;
- Check their paperwork and credentials thoroughly before you let them in – many landlords employ security firms to take back the building, who do not have a legal right to reclaim possession;
- If you decide to let them in, then the “nicer” (?!) ones will generally give you up to 2 hours to remove your possessions from the property. Best to be packed and ready to transport everyone’s things to where they need to go next;
- At some point the bailiffs will start to deny people entrance, and shut up the building with sitex, and security. At this point the building has been temporarily lost.
However, this does not always happen in this way, and bailiffs, police and others can make the eviction process unnecessarily painful and distressing, as in the case of Well Furnished.
There are many arguments why resisting evictions makes sense, including holding the building, and housing the homeless, for longer, and costing the landlord more money – see “Against Apolitical Squatting” (SHA, 2015).
If you do decide to resist, make sure you’re prepared. You can get help and support for resisting evictions from: NELSN & SHA (call-outs, skill shares), Eviction Resistance (call-outs, general advice and support), and Squatters Legal Network (legal advice).
Some of the ingredients for a successful resistance include – getting local support, mass call outs, creative barricading, ballsy actions, solidarity actions, filming police and bailiffs, having legal observers on site.
If the eviction resistance is successful, the bailiffs/ security/police will leave the area, and the building will still be held by the occupiers. Nevertheless, it is likely they will return at another point in the future.
Here is another useful illustrated guide to evictions and bailiffs from the Occupied Times:
Advisory Service for Squatters (ASS) – can offer legal advice, support during occupation, and other practical help. Details: Angel Alley, 84b Whitechapel High St London, E1 7QX //// Open Monday to Friday 2-6pm //// Tel: 0203 216 0099 //// Fax: 0203 216 0098 //// advice [at] squatter [dot] org [dot] uk //// www.squatter.org.uk
Squatters Legal Network (SLN) – can help when people are arrested and prosecuted for “squatting” offences (eg section 144 LASPOA). Details: sln [at] aktivix [dot] org //// 07925 769858 //// www.network23.org/squatterslegalnetwork
Squatters & Homeless Autonomy (SHA) – can give advice about doing an eviction resistance. Details: https://www.facebook.com/squatterhomelessautonomy /// @shacollective
Eviction Resistance – useful resource for those seeking to do an eviction resistance. Details: http://evictionresistance.squat.net/ //// info[at]evictionresistance [dot] org [dot] uk //// @EResistance
North East London Squatters Network (NELSN) – does call-outs to help resist illegal evictions, holds squatting evenings, etc. Their flyer below: