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With the battle between Basildon Borough Council and the travellers at Dale Farm, Essex having been at the forefront of the media, private landowners are now questioning what protection the law offers to them as individuals. 

Who is responsible for privately owned land?
Security of privately owned land is matter for individual land owners.  The council owes no general duty to private landowners to remove unwanted occupants.  In fact, the council may bring proceedings against the landowner for illegal encampments should they fail to take appropriate steps to evict tresspassers from their land.  Landowners can also be left with the responsibility of huge clear up costs when the unauthorised campers eventually leave. The police may not be much assistance either as unauthorised camping is not a criminal offence. 

So how can private landowners protect their land?
Firstly, the land (if possible) should be secured.  The Police can take action if there is clear evidence of forced entry onto the land.  Under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 the Police have limited powers to evict unauthorised campers from any land if they have caused damage to property, used threatening behaviour or have six or more vehicles on the land.

In most circumstances, however, it is the landowner who must take action.  A landowner, or an agent acting on their behalf, can get an eviction order through the civil courts requiring the removal of any trespassers.  The landowner must inform them of their intention to seek legal help to remove them and then apply for a court hearing date.  Unauthorised campers will be given a minimum of two days notice of the hearing date.
If an eviction order is then obtained from the Court, these are usually served on the unauthorised campers on the same day and eviction normally takes place within a few days.   On average the process takes between 10-14 days.

If you’ve been affected by this issue, feel free to drop Claire a note via Claire.smith@dbf-law.co.uk or give her a call on 0161 832 3304.

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