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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?

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?

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?

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.

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.

Pauline Hopkins says:
6 August 2011

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!!!!

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.

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”

Lord Byron says:
7 August 2011

Information is money, but data is squat.

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.

Sue Shaw says:
8 August 2011

I agree with Nigel and Uzume. Just yesterday I past 3 properties that have been empty for years and completely disgusting. It must be awful for the neighbours. What is wrong with the decent homeless moving into these places as long as they tidy them up and be good neighbours. There are a lot of people out there who have no where to go (except a hostel) and would not have a chance of ever reaching the top of the council housing list. At least the new housing benefit will be capped so that you don’t get a families with lots of kids they can’t afford living in luxury homes in affluent areas where most of us hard working citizens would only dream of.

Sue, where does it say that you are entitled to steal someone else’s house just because you don’t have one?
How is that different to stealing TV’s from Tottenham shops? or stealing a car?

There are too many socialists in this country, people need to accept that in with a capitalist model comes people who can afford to be flagrantly wasteful. I don’t deny or agree with the waste, but that is down to the individual to do something about it rather than private individuals becoming charities for the underclass.

If someone has paid for their house, it is their right to do with it what they want, no amount of social engineering will change that and no laws will be passed.

Also squatters only tend to go for the really expensive large houses in affluent areas, I wonder why that is? Why do they not go and squat in somewhere like Hemsworth or any of the old Yorkshire mining villages?

Squatters deserve absolutely no rights because they are just petty thieves stealing peoples homes, outrageous

Hi Dean, squatting is not stealing someone’s house, it is occupying an empty property. You can read the full guidelines on squatting here on the Government website: http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/HomeAndCommunity/WhereYouLive/Derelictbuildingsandsquatters/DG_10022452

Also, your assertion that squatters only tend to go for expensive properties in wealthy areas is untrue. You may have been mislead into thinking this because those are the stories that grab headlines and make sensational tabloid tales. But in reality, squatting happens everywhere and often goes unnoticed because on the whole it causes no problems for the community- I’d argue it often actually improves local areas.

Some squatters were recently evicted from a house opposite mine. They were a family who had been taking great care of the place. After about 4 months of them living their, I watched them be forcibly evicted with their belongings thrown out onto the street. The house has since been boarded up for 6 months and counting. The front garden that the family had been tending to is now full of litter and has become a popular fly tipping site. And the property owner is nowhere to be seen.

I agree with Nigel, there are more pressing matters than further protecting the rights of negligent landlords.

Just thought I’d chime in here. I am friends with a few people who have squatted and generally agree with Uzume – it should be taken on a case by case basis – as Cathy says in the piece, there are lots of different types of squatters.

Of the squatters I do know, one took over an empty house and actually improved it – the owner was so pleased that he let them stay in there. He didn’t want to go back into the house due to its history, but was happy to let them stay there rent free. They would have moved out if they were asked by the owner.

This advice should be taken on so many issues – don’t paint everyone with the same brush, even if they’ve been given the same label (eg. ‘squatters’)

Trespass is a criminal offence in Scotland. there are no sqatters rights. how civilised. A persons house is his castle

ChristiannPeper says:
9 August 2011

Basic civil rights are gone in America. I have a very hard time feeling sorry for the bankers that now own abandon homes and complain about squatters because they got greedy and made predatory loans that they knew would not be repaid. Americans are not allowed to do the most basic self-sustaining activities that were taken for granted a generation ago. Americans cannot grow a garden in many areas, can’t eat non-genetically modified foods, can’t use plants like psilocybin mushrooms that CURE OCD and depression, cant worship how they please if their worship includes a plant that the government classifies as a drug, and can’t even assemble without fears of ending up in a government “homeland security” data base. I say that squatters have MORE rights to abandon homes than the government or the banks.

Russ says:
12 August 2011

No squatters should not have rights. I watched the documentary they send in somebody a few hours befire to break open a door or window, later on squatters turn up and say the door or window was open so they have squatters rights. As usual the law is never on the side of the victim in this country

Anonymous says:
9 October 2011

people should think before making squatters look bad instead try and put your self in their position. just emagine being on the street homeless no one nothing having to sleep in snow rain the lot and it so happen that you find an empty property that is being lived in, i think to try and take that from a person in such situations is cruel and wicked. i was homeless for nearly 2yrs and i wish i had found somewhere to squatt because now i wouldnt be as ill as i am. you people dnt get and why would you, i mean sitting in ya’ll big warm houses with your high paid jobs who are you to judge.sometimes its good to take a step down fron ya’ll throne and put your self in a squatters position

Anonymous says:
9 October 2011

i think the law should protect squatters i mean for yrs growing up i seen empty properties just growing bush all over them and there are people in dyer need of them. so many empty properties so many homeless people the solution is right there in front of oz government should demand councils to rent these places to the homless regardless. its like these people are silently being murder slow with each day in freezing cold rain after rain come pneumonia ive seen feet amputated from being thru blistering weathers its just all wickednes and i dnt condemb them no because i kn wat its like to be homeless and need someone to care just that much

Anonymous says:
1 November 2011

The problem with your idea is this. Squatters don’t pay, they freeload on society.

If houses were taken because of being empty for a certain amount of time has some merit, but what is a fair amount of time?
If houses are taken, these houses should then generate rent as per any house, not given to Squatters.
If it doesn’t, then put me at the top of your list as I want one of these free houses. While your at it can you throw in a car and promise me that while I’m out squatters won’t move into my nice NEW FREE HOME. I want FREE FREE FREE just like squatters and I don’t want to pay taxes either, can you sort that.

They are criminals and should be treated as such