On the 1st September a court ruled that squatting in a residential building was now a criminal offence. This includes if the person is staying without invitation in a residential building and therefore is officially a trespasser. This also stands if they have entered the premises as a trespasser, and if they are aware, or should be aware, that they are trespassing, either briefly or if they are living in a building or intend to reside there for any amount of time.
The court order is primarily to protect homeowners. Whereas previously, residential homeowners who wanted to evict squatters – who would claim squatters rights, would have to go through fairly expensive possession proceedings in order to get the property in question back. However now there is another option, although many have drawn attention to the fact that possession proceedings may still be quicker than taking squatters to court.
Squatting is now a criminal offence and the punishment for being found guilty is either a fine of up 5,000 or up to 51 weeks in prison, or potentially both depending on the severity of the offence. So if you return home from a holiday or business trip to discover that squatters have moved in, what do you do? The first step is to call the police and report the crime. Unfortunately owners cannot removes them forcibly due to section 6 of the Criminal Law Act. Therefore the owner of the property that is occupied must either issue civil proceedings or alternatively they can now take advantage of the new criminal procedures and recover possession that way.
But with many abandoned buildings lying empty and useless and the gradually growing number of homeless living on the streets the new ruling hasn’t been welcomed with unanimous support. Many liberals, creative types and those with activist tendencies argue that a lot of squatters are making use of previously uninhabited properties that would otherwise be going to waste. And isn’t it better that the plethora of homeless living on the streets of every major city have a roof over their heads? Of course this doesn’t apply to the homes of people which have been invaded while they’re on holiday, but it does seem to make some sense considering the amount of empty buildings there are.
The new developments ruling against squatting does not apply to occupying commercial properties, so it will be necessary for business owners and those that have companies in commercial premises will have to continue to rely on the existing civil laws to keep out squatters.
Hopefully the new laws will help protect those that need it, such as home owners who find their properties occupied by squatters, and make it both quicker and easier for them to reclaim their buildings.