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TV personality and chef, Gordon Ramsay, hit the headlines over the weekend, but not for the usual reasons. Instead, he is now facing a legal battle after one of his leased gastropubs, currently on the market for £13m, was taken over by a group of squatters. In this update, we delve into the facts of this dispute and consider how to evict a squatter lawfully. 

A group of at least 6 people have boarded up windows and put up a “legal warning” defending their occupation of the Grade II-listed York & Albany hotel and gastropub near Regent’s Park. It is understood the occupiers wish to use the space as a community art café.

 The “legal warning” affixed to the property by the occupiers states that:

  • they have a right to occupy the property on the basis it is not a “residential building”; and
  • if the owner wishes to evict them from the property, they will need to issue a claim for possession in the county court or in the High Court.

But who’s right and is it a criminal offence to squat?

Here, the property is non-residential (as it is not designed to be lived in). Simply being on another person’s non-residential property or land without their permission is not usually a crime. The police can take action if squatters commit other crimes when entering or staying in the property. Therefore, the only option is to issue civil proceedings in the court.

In contrast, squatting in residential buildings (like a house or flat) is illegal. It can lead to 6 months in prison, a £5,000 fine, or both. That situation can also lead to civil dispute, though, if the occupier claims that it had a right from the owner to live in the property.

So, what can Gordon Ramsay do?

Part of the “legal warning” is incorrect: the occupiers do not have a legal right to occupy the property. The reference to the need to issuing a claim for possession is partly correct as the owner (being either the freehold or leasehold owner) must usually secure an order for possession as to avoid a potential claim for unlawful eviction. And even with an order for possession, the occupiers might still fail to leave (or keep returning), so a Writ of Possession may also need to be obtained and enforced by specialist bailiffs. There are quicker options available, such as an Interim Possession Order, but such steps must be taken without delay to persuade the court to grant the same.

We previously wrote about our successful experience evicting so-called “Professional TikTok squatters” from a vacant former pub in the East End of London: Tick tock, time is up for professional TikTok squatters.

Other implications of squatting

Having squatters isn’t great PR, and if you are leasing the property, like Mr Ramsay, you are likely to be in breach of your lease obligations. For properties of this value in particular, it is, therefore, critical to ensure you are taking the necessary steps to evict the unlawful occupants as soon as possible.

The same can be said for trespassers of properties managed by property guardian providers, whose primary purpose is to occupy and protect the property on behalf of the building owner. Having squatters may, therefore, also cause reputational damage.

Our Property Disputes team has outstanding experience in evicting unwanted occupants of buildings, including groups of squatters like those in this scenario. We can also help with practical strategies to mitigate the risk of illegal occupants in both residential and non-residential properties. Gordon, if you (or anyone else) need expert advice, please get in touch.  

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