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Well the decorations are up, Regent Street’s Christmas lights are officially on and most stores are already in full Christmas mode seeking to tempt shoppers back to the high street.
Unfortunately, however, rogue traders are also hoping to cash in on the Christmas spirit. So at a time when vacant retail premises are at all-time high, property owners and retailers need to take extra care of their empty units or there is a risk that they will fall victim to ‘fly traders’ looking for the ultimate in rent-free “pop up” shops. These traders break into vacant units with the specific purpose of trading for the Festive period, usually vacating after the January sales. In the meantime, owners are faced with the dilemma of what to do with their new unwanted occupiers.
It’s not only property owners with vacant property who need to be vigilant. So do retailers with surplus stores that are currently unoccupied since they remain responsible should squatters occupy them. This can present an additional problem for landlords of tenants that will not or cannot take responsibility for unoccupied units. For instance retail chains that have gone into administration or are undertaking store closure programmes. In those cases, the landlord may want the trespassers out, but has no right to take action because the property is still leased to the tenant.
So what can be done about unwelcome occupiers? Unfortunately, the criminalisation of squatting introduced in 2012 only applies to squatting in residential premises – although the lobbying for the extension of the law to commercial premises is gaining pace. We are left therefore with a range of options with fewer teeth. These include:
Sadly none of these options are ideal. There is no guaranteed way to secure eviction just as we can never quite be sure of snow on Christmas Day. As always, prevention remains the best cure and in the run up to Christmas it is always far better to ensure that your vacant premises are properly secured against unwanted guests.
This blog first appeared in Retail Gazette. Reproduced with the kind permission of Retail Gazette.
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