As we see a move towards remote working as a result of Covid-19, many commercial properties are vacant, leaving them vulnerable to trespassers taking up unlawful occupation. Due to the damage which can be caused to property in these situations, understandably there has been increasing concern as to how commercial property owners and occupiers can remove trespassers during the pandemic.
On 27 March 2020 a new Practice Direction, PD 51Z, was introduced to the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR). PD 51Z stayed all possession proceedings brought under CPR 55 (which sets out the procedure which must be used in claims for possession of land) for a period of 90 days until 25 June 2020.
Unintended practical consequences
The intention of PD 51Z was to protect residential and business tenants from eviction in line with Government policy. However, it had unintended consequences.
As originally drafted, the practice direction meant that commercial property owners, or occupiers of commercial property, could not issue possession proceedings to evict trespassers from their land, the process for which is set out in CPR 55.
Recovering possession of land from trespassers can be done quickly, sometimes in a matter of days. PD 51Z therefore caused understandable concern and some questioned whether it was intended to have such wide reaching consequences. Landlords still had the ability to remove squatters by way of an injunction, but as this is a costlier process, this did not provide much comfort.
It has since been confirmed that the effect of PD 51Z on squatters was indeed unintentional. It has now been amended; trespassers of commercial property can now be evicted in the usual way in accordance with CPR 55, which is welcome news to many.