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27 April 2020

Trespassers: Covid-19 Property Law Update 

In this article, Damian Pitt reviews the changes brought in by the Coronavirus Act 2020 in relation to the Civil Procedure Rules (the CPR) and related claims against “persons unknown” for trespassing.

The Courts have recently released a welcome up to the Civil Procedure Rules on the suspension of possession claims during the coronavirus outbreak, see our previous article highlighting advice for landlords during Covid-19.

The new practice direction introduced in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak suspended all possession claims for 3 months. But the practice direction did not draw a distinction between claims for possession of properties from tenants or licensees from claims for possession from trespassers. It, therefore, seemed as though property owners would not be able to quickly remove trespassers who had entered the land without lawful authority.

The practice direction was clearly not intended to give trespassers free reign to squat in properties in the knowledge that the landowner was prevented from evicting them for 3 months, so a change has now been made to the practice direction.

The change which has been made is that the 3-month suspension of possession claims does not apply where CPR (Civil Procedure Rules) 56.2 applies (which relates to claims against “persons unknown” for trespassing) and where an application is made for an interim possession order.

Trespassers “persons unknown”

This means that where trespassers are “persons unknown” then the land owner can still bring a claim for possession and have it heard in the normal way without there being an automatic 3-month suspension of those proceedings.

But how about where the landowner knows the name of the trespasser? It would seem odd that simply knowing the name of the trespasser would prevent the landowner from seeking possession. This is where the exemption for applications for interim possession orders comes in. A land owner can still make an application for an interim possession order irrespective of whether the application is against persons unknown or not. An interim possession order is a quick way of obtaining possession of a property or land and, whilst called an “interim” possession order, it is often the end of a matter as it is rare for a Court to order a trespasser is allowed back into a property at the final hearing of the possession case. But it is important for land owners to note that a claim for an interim possession order can only be made within 28 days of the date he or she first knew (or ought to have known) the trespasser was in possession of the property. If a land owner knows who is trespassing on his or her land, then it is important he or she takes action within 28 days of becoming aware of the trespasser’s presence to apply for an interim possession order or else he or she could well be stuck with the trespasser for over 3 months!

Our property litigation team has extensive experience at dealing with removing trespassers from property. If you have found that trespassers have started squatting on your land with the onerous impression you would not be able to take action against them for at least 3 months then please get in touch with us urgently so we can assist with evicting those trespassers.

If you would like any further information regarding Covid-19 and Trespassers, our Property Law update, please do not hesitate to contact the Property Litigation team by emailing disputes@steeleslaw.co.uk or calling 01603 598000, who will be happy to assist.

*The information provided in this article is designed to provide useful information on the subject, not to provide specific legal advice.

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