Eviction: removing trespassers living on your land
Get off my land
13 February 2017
Steve Wood explains how to remove trespassers who are living on your land
It is a landowner’s nightmare: an influx of uninvited guests setting up home on your land. The threat? Tension with neighbouring residents or businesses, disruption to your customers and your company, littering and defecation and, eventually, the potentially stressful and violent confrontation of an attempted removal. The presence of trespassers is not something that any landowner would relish. But eviction does not need to be a long and drawn-out process.
The first mistake that many private and commercial landowners make when considering evictions from their land is that they have to adhere to the Human Rights Act of 1998.
Councils certainly must: they have a duty to comply with relevant legislation, and this will remain the case even if we introduce a British bill of rights following our exit from the European Union. In this instance, government guidelines state that local authorities should obtain a court order to remove trespassers. Before doing so, they also have to undertake impact assessments, assess the welfare of groups such as children and the sick among the trespassers, and so on – all of which are time-consuming activities that nonetheless protect them from reputational damage and allegations of inhumanity.
Commercial and private landowners, however, are not bound by the same constraints, and their legal status as regards the removal of trespassers is quite clear. And though the temptation may be to get solicitors involved, we would advise against this – lawyers are costly in term of money and time, neither of which are commodities worth wasting on something that is actually quite straightforward, legally speaking.
Using Common Law
What many do not realise is that Common Law rights – specifically those set out in Halsbury’s Laws of England, vol. 97 (fifth edition, 2010) – allow landowners to remove trespassers summarily.
If the trespassers have entered peaceably, landowners will first need to “request” that they leave and on refusal they can use “no more force than is reasonably necessary”. If, however, the trespassers have entered with force and violence then the landowner can bypass the initial phase of the eviction and remove them without having previously asked them to leave.
The relevant area of Common Law here is the tort of trespass against property, meaning that landowners can evict people from their land but also seek damages for the trespass and obtain an injunction to prevent further trespass.
So how is this done? Clearly most landowners will have neither the will nor the personnel at their disposal – which is why they have recourse to civil enforcement officers.
As officers, all we actually need is a telephone call from the landowner, proof of landownership – usually available very simply through the Land Registry – along with written authorisation to proceed and an indemnity.
Figure 1: Steve Wood and the team at Able Investifations and Enforcement Solutions
The “use of reasonable force” is an important consideration when evicting trespassers from a commercial or privately owned site. What counts as “reasonable” depends on the individual circumstances, but comes down to the fact that the landowner or their agent must honestly believe that they only used the amount of force that was reasonable to complete the eviction and no more.
This can be very difficult to judge in the moment, especially for those who are not used to dealing with this kind of situation. So it is another reason to retain a private bailiff to carry out the eviction on your behalf, as they will have both the experience and the cool-headedness to judge what is reasonable under the particular circumstances.
Recently, we have started using video cameras to record our evictions. This has a dual purpose. First, they have the effect of deterring any aggressive behaviour on the part of the trespassers – people are less likely to behave badly if they know they are being recorded. Second, in the case of any dispute, we have video evidence to demonstrate we have behaved in a manner that is proportionate to the situation.
If you are planning on using your Common Law rights to remove trespassers yourselves, you should notify the police of your intentions. They can then send officers to be present during the eviction to prevent any breach of the peace. The police can advise you on whether they feel the particular circumstances at the time mean that it is safe to attempt an eviction or not.
Occasionally, bailiffs will also call in police support if we feel that criminal activity such as assault is likely from those we are seeking to evict. Again, this has the bonus of deterring the trespassers from any thought of escalating violence.
In April 2016, an insurance broker based near the M48 Severn Crossing, just outside Bristol, contacted Able Investigations to help with a group of travellers who had occupied their company car park. It was private land and 26 caravans had been parked there. As it turned out, we had evicted the same group from the BAE site a few miles away in Filton earlier in the week, so we knew those involved.
According to protocol we asked the group to leave peaceably, at which point some of them became extremely aggressive towards our enforcement team, making repeated threats of violence. We were called “monkeys in suits”, sworn at repeatedly and threatened with pickaxe handles before the threats escalated and we were pelted with faecal matter.
At this point we decided that a police presence was required and we contacted the local forces for assistance. Fortunately, the police were not required to act but their presence gave us the support we needed and the group soon began to leave the site.
We were pleased that, having dealt with the group previously, we had managed to remove them for the second time in a few days without any major disruption to the client, save for the temporary reduction in available parking spaces.
This is the result we always seek – a quick resolution of the matter with minimal disruption for the landowner and preferably without the need for police action.
Our changing profession
Many professions are modernising as a result of 21st-century technology and standards of business culture, and ours is no different. Gone are the days of heavy-handed staff in leather jackets managing evictions. In an increasingly litigious society, there is no benefit to be gained from this type of behaviour.
We are enforcement officers now, not bailiffs. We work professionally and quickly, with rapid response teams available around the clock, aiming for evictions within 24 hours. This normally means on the same day and, depending on the locality, within three or four hours.
You should make sure that the enforcement agencies you use for your evictions are properly qualified – all officers now need to have a minimum of a Level 2 qualification from the Chartered Institute of Credit Management. You should also be certain that enforcement officers have the correct certificates, that their insurance is valid, and that they have a £10,000 bond. We cannot work without such an insurance policy.
Of course, if you decide to do it on the cheap then there are budget options available; but we would certainly advise against it. Cases of serious trespass are likely to be few and far between, and cutting costs is only likely to cause you greater expense and headache in the long run than using the professional option.
Evicting travellers from your land can be a complex procedure if not done properly. Using an enforcement agency to assist with an eviction means your land is recovered quickly and legally. Operating under Common Law or, if necessary, the relevant sections of criminal justice and local government legislation, our team can respond quickly and legally.