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.
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?