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Gordon's Kitchen Nightmare

Monday, 29 April, 2024

Gordon Ramsey's battles with squatters have ended – but how could he have avoided the drama?
On 13 April 2024, a group of at least six squatters entered into Gordon Ramsey's pub, the York and Albany in Camden, London. The squatters boarded the windows and posted warnings on the building's windows stating that as the building was a commercial building, they could not be prosecuted and would retain "physical possession" of the property. They signed the notice as "the Occupiers". 

Allegedly, the group's intention was to use the empty property to run an autonomous café and arts space for the local residents of Regents Park as a protest at the gentrification of the Camden area. 

The freehold owner, Mr Gary Love, film director, has confirmed that neither he, nor his team, has had any contact with the occupiers/squatters of the building, nor anyone that represents them. 

Bring in the bailiffs
In the early hours of 22 April 2024, bailiffs attended the property to remove the occupants, change the locks and secure the venue. 
With an increasing number of vacant properties on the high street, and a swelling waiting list for properties to become available, the risk of squatters entering a property without permission is a real concern for landlords. So, what are the risks and what is the best way of preventing squatters from entering a vacant building in the first place?

Occupying a commercial property without permission is not a crime (and is dealt with through civil proceedings), however the police can act if squatters commit other crimes when entering or staying in a property including:

  • Causing damage when entering or leaving the property;
  • Not leaving when they are instructed to do so by a court;
  • Stealing from the property; and
  • Using utilities without permission.

Dealing with squatters
If a squatter is found guilty of any of the above crimes, they can be sent to prison, fined or both. They can also be charged for causing damage to the property (i.e., by breaking a window to gain access). 

You should also be aware that if you know that a vacant property is unsafe (or have reasonable grounds to believe that a trespasser may be in danger at the property), you may have a duty of care to trespassers if you do not offer some protection. This means that if a squatter is injured at the property, and you knew there was a potential risk to visitors (even if they are visiting without permission), you may be at risk of a claim from that trespasser. 

How to prevent squatters
While it is possible, as Mr Ramsey has shown, to serve proceedings to remove trespassers from a property, prevention is often cheaper than the cost of such a remedy. The goal of prevention is to make the property as unattractive as possible to any potential squatter. 

Here are a few options to consider:

  • Securing entrances and windows: whilst it seems like an obvious point to make, ensuring that the trespassers cannot enter the property is the best way of securing the building. Making regular visits to the property to ensure it is secure means that squatters are unable to enter the property via any weak areas. 
  • Security: Landlords can arrange for the property to be monitored by security. Options range from wireless alarm systems and CCTV to manned security services. 
  • Commercial Property Guardians: Property guardians take the property, or part of a property, on a temporary license at discounted rental rates. They operate their businesses from the property whilst covering the apportioned costs of business rates and utility bills. In this way, the property continues to be occupied whilst a landlord arranges for the property to be sold or leased to a more permanent occupant. 

Although the options listed above will incur an ongoing cost, it is generally far more cost effective to prevent the trespassers from entering the property in the first place than the legal costs of removing the trespassers once they have entered the building. 

If you have any questions about strategy for removing squatters from your property, how best to secure your property or the legal implications for an unsafe building, please reach out to the Trowers Property Litigation team for more information.  

Trowers & Hamlins are proud to partner with Taste of The West, as headline sponsors for 2023 and 2024. 

Article written by Julia Iddon, Property Litigation team at Trowers & Hamlins, Exeter

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