Is Squatting Legal? A Guide to Squatters’ Rights

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Is Squatting Legal? A Guide to Squatters’ Rights

Squatting can be a complex and controversial topic, often misunderstood. It involves people known as squatters living in properties (a squat) without the owner's permission. These properties can range from residential to commercial.

There is no single reason people squat. It depends on their circumstances and can include homelessness, activism, or creating their own space. If you find yourself squatting, understanding the legal aspects becomes extremely important to defend your rights and avoid complications.

At Bell Lamb & Joynson, we know squatting laws can be confusing. This blog explains your legal rights so that you are equipped with the correct knowledge to defend yourself.


What Are Squatters' Rights?

Adverse possession forms the basis for squatters' rights. It's a legal principle allowing individuals to potentially gain ownership of someone else's property if they openly, consistently, and solely use it without permission for a specified time.


The Elements of Adverse Possession

Claiming adverse possession involves several elements, including:


Open and Notorious Possession

Open and notorious refers to the act of occupying a property openly and visibly, without attempting to hide or conceal the occupancy. This type of possession is important in property law because it serves as a notice to others, including the legal owner, that someone is claiming ownership or possession of the property.

It can be a factor in establishing adverse possession, a legal framework that allows a person to claim ownership of land they have openly and continuously used for a certain period, typically without the permission of the legal owner.


Continuous Possession and Statutory Period

You must maintain uninterrupted possession for an extended period of 10 years, and 12 years for unregistered properties.


Hostile or Adverse Claim

Your use of the property must be without the owner's permission and you must intend to live there as if you own it.


Exclusive Possession

Exclusive possession means that you possess the property solely and are not sharing it with anyone else, including the actual owners.


Statutory Period

The occupation must satisfy the time required by local laws. Meeting these conditions for the required time may allow a squatter to claim legal ownership through adverse possession. However, it's challenging, can take years or decades, and is not guaranteed.


Understanding Trespassing

Many equate squatting with trespassing, but they differ. Trespassing is intentionally entering or staying on another's property without permission. Squatting generally involves residing on a property without permission.

Trespassing is almost always illegal, and law enforcement can typically remove trespassers. However, squatting's legality depends on local laws and circumstances.


The Importance of Property Ownership

Property ownership provides individuals with security, control, and exclusive use of their space or investments. Owners generally have the right to exclusively use and enjoy their properties.

Squatting challenges this by having non-owners occupy the property without permission. Owners often feel squatters violate their rights, leading to disputes and confrontations.


Different Approaches to Squatting

The approaches to squatting vary in different countries and regions. While some areas consider squatting to be a crime, others may take a civil approach or consider a balance of rights. Read on to gain a better understanding of how these approaches vary.


Criminalising Squatting

Some areas make squatting a criminal offence under the Criminal Law Act 1977. As a result of this legal act, squatters may face fines, eviction, or imprisonment for occupying empty property, or areas of land.


Civil Matter

In places where squatting is a civil matter, owners need to take legal action to evict squatters. Seeking legal support for this can provide significant guidance.


Balancing Rights

Some jurisdictions balance owners' rights with homelessness and housing needs. This means that there is some legal protection in place for squatters. It is vital for property and landowners who reside in places that take this approach to be aware of their legal rights.



The Role of Adverse Possession

Gaining ownership through adverse possession by squatting is not straightforward. Meeting all requirements is challenging and can take years. Adverse possession does not guarantee a right to ownership. Not all squatters successfully claim property this way.


Squatters' Rights Myths

Regarding the legal rights of squatters, there is often confusion and typical misunderstandings that squatters and property owners must be aware of. Some common myths include:


Squatters Can Claim Any Property

In reality, specific legal requirements apply, and not all properties qualify for adverse possession. This means that technically, not any property will qualify. Regardless, property owners must do their research or seek professional support to understand if their property would qualify.


Squatters Can't be Evicted

Property owners can legally evict squatters. It is advised to seek legal support with this, as the process usually involves the help of law enforcement.


Adverse Possession is Quick

Adverse possession is not a straightforward process and it usually takes considerable time and effort to gain ownership this way. However, it is still possible.


Squatters Always Break Laws

While some may view squatting as a legal wrongdoing, there are protections in place. With this being said, squatters do not always break laws.


Evicting Squatters

To evict squatters, owners must follow a legal process. In essence, this includes giving notice, proceeding to court and involving law enforcement. Below is more information on this process.



A "notice" refers to legal documentation served by a property owner to a squatter, informing them of the owner's intention to reclaim the property. It is important because it formally starts the legal process for eviction, providing the squatter with an opportunity to challenge the eviction or negotiate terms to vacate the premises.


Court Proceedings

Court proceedings concerning a squatter who hasn't vacated after receiving notice typically involve the property owner filing a lawsuit to obtain a court order for the squatter's eviction. This legal process allows the owner to present their case.



If the result of the court proceedings is successful, the court then issues an eviction order enforced by law enforcement to remove the squatter from the property.


The Legal Landscape

It's important to emphasise that adverse possession laws are complex and differ significantly between jurisdictions. Not everywhere recognises adverse possession, and rules/requirements vary where it exists. Some places have stricter conditions, making claims more difficult.


Consulting a Legal Professional

If dealing with adverse possession or squatting, consulting a qualified solicitor like Bell Lamb & Joynson is advisable. We can provide tailored guidance on your area's specific laws, ensuring you understand your rights and responsibilities. Attempting a claim without legal counsel risks confusion and complications.


Squatters' Rights Explored

"Squatters' rights" stem from a legal concept with the potential to grant property ownership under certain conditions. However, adverse possession depends on many factors, including local laws.

Squatting touches on property rights, housing insecurity, and principles like adverse possession. Consulting a professional will ensure you fully understand your rights and obligations.

With over 200 years of expertise, Bell Lamb & Joynson is a trusted legal name. When you choose us, you can be confident that we will prioritise your best interests. Reach out to our team today by calling 03444124348 or emailing here.