/ Home & Energy

Should squatters have rights?

Squatters' property

When someone mentions squatters, what do you think of? Homeless or poor people desperate for a place to live, people looking after an unoccupied building that would otherwise fall into disrepair or…

…members of a counter-culture living an alternative lifestyle as a form of protest?

In reality, squatters can be all these things, but what they have in common is that they are occupying a property without the permission of the rightful owner or occupier.

It’s an issue that was brought to our attention via an email sent to us here at Which? Conversation – the reader didn’t feel that current laws around squatters were up to task.

But although squatting is not currently a criminal offence in itself, there are already laws that deal with the issue.

Squatters’ rights

It is a criminal offence for a trespasser to refuse to leave a residential property if they are stopping the rightful occupier from living there. Squatters can also be dealt with by the police if they commit offences such as criminal damage or burglary.

Property owners can apply for a possession order through the civil courts to get the property back from trespassers or apply for an interim possession order, which is quicker but only temporary. However, these measures can take time and cost the owners money.

The idea of “squatters’ rights” may be quoted by squatters to try to protect themselves, but it’s often misunderstood.

Although it’s a criminal offence to use or threaten violence to enter a property where the person inside objects, this was created to protect legitimate tenants from unscrupulous landlords. It does not apply to someone trying to get back into their own home.

And if a squatter stays in a property for 10 years (12 in the case of unregistered land) they can in fact apply for ownership. In reality though, this can be difficult for a squatter to achieve.

The government’s consultation on squatters

The government has become concerned about the impact of squatting and recently issued a consultation on ways to tackle it. It also wants to find out how much of a problem it really is. Proposals include;

  • Making squatting a criminal offence
  • Expanding the offence committed when a trespasser refuses to leave a residential property to other types of property
  • Scrapping or amending the offence of using threatening violence to enter a property, as mentioned above
  • Making it easier for the police to enforce the existing criminal law
  • Or… doing nothing.

If you have experience of squatting or strong views about the subject you can access the consultation online. Responses can be submitted until 5 October.

But if you want to enter the debate right here – how do you feel about squatting? Have you ever had squatters in your property or squatted yourself? Do you think the law should be tightened up or would doing so disadvantage some of the most vulnerable people in society?

Comments
Guest
Nigel Whitfield says:
6 August 2011

There is a massive shortage of housing in the UK, and reputable organisations fear that some of the changes (eg to housing benefits) will create more homelessness. And while I’m not going to condone squatting, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see more of it, as a result of the combined effect of policy changes and the economic downturn.

It seems to me that actually, squatting is a tiny part of the housing issues, and while I appreciate that the current government will tend to act in the interests of the property owners, wasting parliamentary time on such a minor issue seems silly.

If time is to be spend on housing issues in Parliament, what about:

Removing any tax breaks on second homes
Doing something about the 8,000 empty homes owned by the MOD
Giving more secure tenure (like the continental models) to renters

There are lots of other ways in which it might be possible to ease the problems we have with housing, and the way the market is skewed, especially against the young; I’m sure many other readers can think of plenty.

And against all that, some think that what we really need to do is protect further the rights of people who want to leave houses empty?

Guest
Damn young says:
8 August 2011

A person might need a modest home where they work, as well as their main home. They should not be punished for that. What if the value of both properties added up to less than £250,000. Should they be punished, but a person living in one £500,000 house not be punished?

Guest
Anewpond says:
31 August 2011

Nothing can ever justify the occupation or possession of something that isn’t yours. If you steal from a shop, that is theft. Squatting is just another version of theft (they take possession of your house without your consent and deny you of it) and those who squat should be punished accordingly.
People who have worked hard to provide for themselves should not be penalised with little or no protection when their homes and property are wrecked by these squatters. Squatters have little or no respect for other people’s possessions, if they had morals they would rent a place honestly. Instead, you read about people who fly (!) to the UK from abroad to work and complain when their squat is repossessed.
The law should protect the honest and law abiding, not opportunistic, lazy, unscrupulous rogues like these.
While many people have sympathy for squatters, how long will their sympathy last when their own homes get broken into, possessions stolen and life turned upside down? Not so funny when the shoe’s on the other foot.

Guest
Phil says:
6 August 2011

It’s high time trespass was made a criminal offence as it is in other european countries. Squatters rights might be part of ancient common law but it’s become outdated.

Guest
Pauline Hopkins says:
6 August 2011

Sqautters-
They should have no right unless they actually own the building.
Some scupulous ladlords seem to be watching when a property is empty,
and just put immigrants into them.
Stop the immigrants and then we would have a better view of how many properties
that we need for our own people.
They do not have human rights to live in someone else’s house!!!!

Guest
Uzume says:
7 August 2011

I think it should be on a case by case basis. For example, squatters in a person’s home who are away or trying to sell it, absolutely no right to stay. Squatters in an abandoned building with no plans to house anyone or be used in any way, why not?

Some squatters cause huge problems for individuals and communities but some do not. I used to know a group of people who squatted in an old mill. They were very decent folk and even the council admitted if they hadn’t been there to maintain the building, it would have fallen into greater disrepair and been a hazard.

There is not really any one ‘type’ of person who squats and there are numerous reasons for people being in such a desperate position.

Guest

I was a rating officer for Westminster (covering the City to the slums of Soho). My job was to ensure premises were occupied or empty and rating paid accordingly. I saw all sides – places kept empty for tax reasons – places occupied without paying rates – squatters actually improving derelict property – squatters gutting good properties.

As far as I’m concerned – Property should be empty for renovation only – or taken over by councils for temporary accommodation Not left empty simply to allow property to increase in value.

Squatters should have no rights whatever – let them squat in tents in prison.yards being charged for food and fuel – I have little sympathy for the illegal occupation..

Any form of unauthorised occupation should be punished – including deportation of immigrants and migrants.but particularly illegal landlords – Unless the punishment fits the crime – no changes will be effective.

This is not directed at the other homeless who need help to become sheltered due to circumstances. But not a hope with this “government”

Guest
Lord Byron says:
7 August 2011

Information is money, but data is squat.

Guest

Every squatter I’ve ever met has been a crusty hippie who doesn’t wash, work or contribute anything to society.

To say I have a prejudiced view of them is an understatement, but I’ve never been proved wrong.