Dealing with trespassers at your place of work can be a tricky business. Contrary to popular belief, the fact that someone has entered your property without permission does not grant you free reign to deal with them as you see fit. There are many different reasons that a person or group of people may trespass on your business premises, from petty vandals and ex-employees to travelers and protesters, and different cases must be handled in different ways. Below, we will highlight some of the things commercial property owners should be aware of when dealing with situations involving trespass.
Trespassing is usually a civil matter and in most cases the first action if someone trespasses on your property should simply be to ask them to leave. It is only if they refuse that you have the right to use reasonable force. The difficulty comes in determining what reasonable force constitutes as the circumstances will determine how much force is necessary. If the person does not pose a threat to the premises or persons present, then any use of force may be considered excessive or unnecessary.Therefore,property owners will often call the police to deal with the situation rather than risk liability. Trespass is not a criminal offense so police will not arrest trespassers unless they believe they are committing or intend to commit aggravated trespass; a further act beyond the actual trespass intended to “deter, disrupt or obstruct”the lawful business taking place.
This is also true in the case of travelers who take up residence on your land. Although it is against the law for travelers to occupy land which has not been designated for this purpose, it is not a criminal offense to occupy private or council-owned land so responsibility lies with the landowner and the police are not usually involved.Most of the time, the issue can be resolved by speaking to the travelers and agreeing a date by which they will move on. However, if a reasonable agreement cannot be reached, the landowner will usually have to take legal action. This generally means applying to the County Court to serve an order to leave the site. This can take around 10 days to process and the landowner will be charged legal and court fees.
As well as the issues surrounding proper removal of trespassers, landowners should also be aware that they in fact have a duty of care towards trespassers. If you fail to notify trespassers of potential hazards on your land, you could be liable if they are injured on the site even if you have not given them permission to be there. This is particularly pertinent for commercial properties, which generally tend to be more hazardous than domestic dwellings. For adult trespassers it is usually sufficient to put up a fence or perimeter and post warning signs near the entrance. However, for children, who may not be able to read or understand the signs, the landowner may still have to pay compensation for any injuries caused by avoidable hazards on their land (e.g. sharp tools left out).
In order to avoid the legal intricacies that come with dealing with trespassers, many landowners choose to take precautions to prevent trespassers from entering in the first place. Building fences or barriers is the simplest way to do this. For example, many landowners will place concrete blocks in the entrances to vacant land to stop vehicles getting past or a building owner may put up spiked security fencing or barbed wire. Deterrents like these along with private property signage can be enough to keep trespassers away from a site. Businesses which are more exposed to trespassers may also hire security guards or doormen who are trained to deal with trespassers either through reasoning or through employing reasonable force where necessary. The mere presence of security guards can act as a very effective deterrent. Whatever methods you choose to employ, it is important to understand where you stand legally when dealing with trespassers and if you are in any doubt, you should always contact a qualified legal professional.