When a judge delays squatter enforcement

By Alex Hill on

We have had two trespasser cases in recent months where the judge has decided to delay enforcement, a decision which proved pointless in both cases.

In the first case, a senior partner specialising in property litigation, accepted the plea of the “persons unknown” to enforce the order of possession after 14 days, believing that the trespassers would leave voluntarily. They didn’t and managed to cause significant damage to the premises in the intervening period, racking up a significant bill for the unhappy landlord.

In the second case, the client’s counsel attended court to obtain a forthwith possession against persons unknown. Some of the dozen or so trespassers defended in person.

The trespassers stated they were squatting in a church for religious purposes and had “mass” planned for the next two Sabbaths.

Persuaded by their arguments, or perhaps nervous of offending religious sensibilities, the district judge ordered that possession would not be enforced until after the second mass had taken place.

However, the weekend before enforcement was due, whilst the first mass should have been taking place, local residents reported that 40 to 50 were hosting a 48-hour rave in the building being squatted.

Our client, the acting solicitor was, needless to say, displeased with the decision to delay, considering the delayed enforcement was given as a result of insufficient knowledge of court procedures. The Queen’s Bench Guide 23.2.6 states “Stay of execution of writ of possession. It should be noted that the court has no power to grant a stay of execution against trespassers.” 

Our experience when it comes to squatters would be that there is often an agenda, perhaps a protest against the shortage of housing, and they have no intention of moving until they are forced to do so. Delaying enforcement only defers the inevitable, making the landlord wait longer to recover their property and increasing the risk of damage to the building.

After the Sabbaths had passed we were able to obtain the writ of possession and enforce the very same day, notwithstanding the traditional barricade and rooftop protest to attract the local media!

Alex Hill

Alex Hill is the Evictions & Security Manager at The Sheriffs Office

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