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Get Off My Land! – Landowner Rights

Get Off My Land! – Landowner Rights

Kristy Ainge of our Litigation Department discusses Landowner Rights.

The problem of illegal traveller camps is often a recurring one for land owners as the travellers' movements are to some extent seasonal. It can be a real nightmare for the landowner to get possession back and with the clean-up exercise to follow. In practical terms there is no likelihood of recovering any of those costs. As far as the law is concerned it is a private matter and unless a crime is committed in connection with the trespass (such as criminal damage to gain access to the land) the police will not normally get involved until after a Court order has been obtained.

Local Authorities have special powers to obtain an eviction order without having to give notice to the travellers but it is still a costly business for them as they own a large amount of open land that is vulnerable to trespass. Today's Coventry Telegraph (24 April) reports that a school in Nuneaton has been unable to re-open after the Easter holidays because of travellers on the site. I read recently that in 3 months during the summer of 2016 Nuneaton and Bedworth Council spent over £22,000 on removing and cleaning up after illegal traveller encampments.

We have acted for many private individuals and organisations to remove travellers from land. The first advice is of course to take steps to prevent the trespass in the first place but we have known locks to be broken on chained gates (the police were told "it was like that when we got here") and ton weight bags of hard-core used as barriers to have been towed away. In one instance the on-site caretaker of a sports ground left a gate open and unattended for less than an hour during which a dozen or so vehicles came on to the land.

In theory, a land owner has a common law right to remove trespassers from open land without a court order. Only Certificated Enforcement Officers (bailiffs) can do this but there are many private firms who offer the service. However, in the case of traveller encampments, there are usually so many vehicles and people and their knowledge of how to resist eviction means that it is not usually a practical option.

Most Local Authorities have a Traveller Liaison Officer who is likely to know something about the traveller groups in the local area at any time. They might be able to give some indication of the travellers' intentions and crucially when they are expected to move on and whether more are likely to arrive. Sometimes the travellers will say when they will be moving on: locally we use a process server to deliver the relevant eviction notices who is known to a lot of the traveller groups and he can often find out useful information for us from the travellers themselves. Of course, that information cannot be completely relied upon and the travellers are very familiar with the eviction procedure. They will often start to make plans to move on once they become aware that the eviction process is underway.

To enforce the right to evict trespassers it is necessary to have a Court order. There is a special procedure for trespasser possession claims which are listed at short notice. The travellers must be given at least 2 clear days' notice of the possession hearing (that doesn't include weekends or bank holidays) which is at the local county court. Normally a hearing date can be obtained within a few days and as I am a Solictor Advocate I prepare the court proceedings & attend the hearing myself without the need for a Barrister, which keeps costs down & avoids any unnecessary delay.

The possession order will grant possession forthwith which means that it can be enforced straight away but in practice it has to be served first and arrangements made for Certificated Enforcement Officers to attend if the travellers do not move on. In every case that we have acted in, the travellers have moved on before formal steps are taken for a physical eviction.

The process is costly (we normally estimate around £2,000 + VAT including court fees & bailiff fees) and although it is unusually swift in terms of legal proceedings, it will normally take a week or so from when we are first instructed to obtaining vacant possession. It might be tempting for private landowners just to suffer the temporary inconvenience and to wait for travellers to move on in their own time but that runs a huge risk that others will join them and that a transient encampment is established as other groups become aware of the "availability" of the site. Also, private landowners might in some circumstances have a legal duty to take steps to remove an illegal traveller encampment if public health and safety are at issue.

This is just a brief general summary of the issues faced by the owners of land that is occupied by travellers – every case is different & needs specific legal advice. If you are affected & require swift advice and action please contact me at or 024 7649 3105.

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