/ Home & Energy

Do we really need new squatting laws?

New proposals will make it illegal to squat in residential properties, even if they are vacant. If passed, squatters will risk prison sentences of up to a year and/or a fine of £5,000. But are new laws really necessary?

Last week, the justice secretary Ken Clarke announced new proposals to make squatting in residential properties illegal (non-residential properties, like factories and warehouses, won’t be included).

At the moment it’s only illegal if a squatter refuses to leave a home that’s occupied or due to be occupied.

Ken Clarke has said that the new proposals, which will be debated in parliament this week, will ‘end the misery of homeowners whose properties have been preyed on by squatters’.

You might remember our squatting debate in August this year – in fact these proposals are in response to the public consultation we talked about then.

If you’re thinking that this has come around very fast, you’re right. The consultation only closed on 5 October, a fact that didn’t get past Labour MP John McDonnell who has accused the government of ‘bypassing democracy’ to try and push reforms through. If passed, the new rules should come into force by early next year.

Squatters in the news

There have been a number of high-profile cases of squatters overtaking properties, such as a group who moved into the West Hampstead home of a neurologist and his heavily pregnant wife in September. The couple had planned to move in just days after the purchase of their new home had been completed. Eventually, the squatters moved out of their own accord.

Quite a large chunk of commenters previously argued that cases like the above prove that squatters currently have too many rights, like Anewpond:

‘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.

‘The law should protect the honest and law abiding, not opportunistic, lazy, unscrupulous rogues like these.’

However, some of you disagree and have said that you’re in favour of squatting in legitimately empty properties, such as Sue Shaw:

‘Just yesterday I passed three 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?’

Have current laws been misrepresented?

Politicians have previously been accused of misrepresenting current squatting laws in order to push through new reforms. An open letter signed by 160 leading legal figures was sent to the government in September, claimed that debates around squatting had been ill-informed and sensationalist. No change is needed, the letter says, as current laws are already sufficient.

One of the letter’s signatories, housing solicitor Laura Coyle, added in a statement:

‘These properties should not be left empty. It is fair enough that people should be able to move in when they are in dire housing need and you have feckless landlords.’

So, do we really need a change in squatting laws, when residential properties that are either occupied or to be occupied are already covered? Should the homeless be able to squat in empty homes without the threat of prison or a large fine?

Comments
Member

These people aren’t “homeless”, they are workshy cretins who have absolutely no right to steal someone’s house. I’ve known many a squatter over the years and they prey on the grey-areas in societies laws to take advantage for themselves, whilst offering nothing in return. They then hope that they stay there long enough so that the ownership gets transferred to them.

Just because someone is homeless through their own choice, doesn’t mean that they can steal someone else’s home. The issue is with second home ownership, NOT a scumbag’s right to rob you of it.

Member

I don’t think all homeless people are ‘workshy cretins’ or are ‘homeless through their own choice’. I can see that there are strong arguments against squatting, but I don’t think any would be based on these misconceptions.

I personally find this a really difficult subject – I don’t see any reason why homes should be sitting empty, but at the same time I have a lot of sympathy for people (like in the example that Patrick mentioned above) who have their homes taken over. However, if a house is sitting empty for a long time, and there are people with no roof over their head, who would treat the house well – why shouldn’t they live there as long as it’s available?

In my opinion, looking after the most vulnerable members of society is one of the key measures of how well any society is functioning. Yes, there is a need for laws to regulate how this is done, to avoid situations like the one above. But if we’re going to create more legislation around squatting, how about considering what the best use of long-empty properties might be, and how we can make sure that those who need housing most can get it?

Member

By the same token, if you’ve paid for a car and it just sits on your drive, should car-less people be able to steal it without fear of recrimination?

Absolutely not.

Forget all the airy-fairy about people needing it the most, everyone needs a house and it’s not the responsibility of a person who has worked hard for their money to give free handouts to people for whom the system has failed.

Show me a squatter who has a job. Show me a squatter that contributes to society. My friends brother was a squatter, all his friends were squatters and they did nothing, all day, bar take and sell drugs. Most of them were actually just rebelling against their rich parents.

I have no sympathy for them whatsoever. True homeless people genuinely make an effort to improve their situation, squatters do not.

Member

Not really, though, because not everyone needs a car – it’s a very different proposition. I’m not advocating the ‘sharing’ of all property, but what I am saying is that I feel like it’s a huge waste for homes to be left sitting empty when there are people who have nowhere to live.

I’m not sure what distinction you’re making between ‘true homeless’ people and squatters, but I’m willing to bet that people squat for a multitude of different reasons. And yes, people who do it well as well as badly – some look after the houses well and do their best to get on in the local community, and some do cause misery for those they live near.

Again, I’m not saying let’s open the doors to all empty houses and let anyone move in, but what I am saying is that saying that all squatters are ‘workshy cretins’ is quite a sweeping statement, and ignores the examples of positive change brought about by (admittedly a minority) of squatters, and also ignores the genuine hardships faced by many who are homeless.

Member

Fair enough, I may have a polarised opinion on this matter, but if you don’t make sweeping statements and generalise once in a while, posts end up being largely pointless and nothing ever gets solved. I guess it’s called democracy 🙂

But having personally met squatters and visited their “house”, I think I’m in a pretty good position to make that assumption.

In Holland, if they don’t move out, they’ll crane you out. I was once returning to the station and the Damrak was closed. Everyone had to take a detour via Woermerstraat so that the armed police could use the crane and literally crowbar the squatters and their radiators out of the top window.

It was great to watch, sadly not something that would happen in this country though. Interesting that we are all supposedly governed by the same human rights act. In the UK we take all rules from the EU far too literally

Member
Paranoimia says:
2 November 2011

You’re right that it’s a waste for homes to be left empty. However, it’s not right to let people live there freely just because of that fact, when everyone around them is paying rent, taxes etc. and – quite possibly in the current climate – struggling to do so.

Member
Phil says:
1 November 2011

Most people struggle and have to pay to put a roof over their heads I don’t see why anyone has the right to help themselves to free accommodation. If there are a lot of properties standing empty the councils need powers of requisition, I believe they can compulsory purchase at the moment but the trouble is that quite often the landlord cannot be traced.

Member

We definitely need these Laws. It must be a crime for someone to steal anyone elses property. If they stole a TV it’s a crime. To steal a house or flat is a bigger crime.

Member
Mac Fan says:
2 November 2011

So lets hypothetically put another position to you all;

1. Person is either unable to pay off their mortgage or to pay it
2. Person and family remain in the property
3. Mortgage company get an eviction order

… surely they are occupying a property that will be empty, why can that person NOT remain in the property after all they may have lived in it for longer than the law allows for one to claim ownership.

What is the difference as they are already settled and are looking after that property

Member
Sophie Gilbert says:
2 November 2011

I don’t think that it is right that anyone should help themselves to property of any sort just because they happen to need this particular item at the time, house, car, whatever, and just because the item appears (in italics) to be unused at the time they help themselves to it. Full stop.

At the same time there seems to be real problem with a number of buildings remaining unused for years and years and years. Perhaps a certain time limit on “lack of use” should be imposed after which the local authority could expropriate the owners and put the building to good, public use, for example to house the genuinely needy.

Finally, a degree of compassion is required for the needy. Tarring everyone with the same brush and more or less implying that they are vermin is worthy of Goebbels rhetoric. This should be steared away from even if the intention is to spice up a debate.

Member

Someone who owns a property has the right to do whatever they like with that property. If they so wish to leave it unoccupied, then that is their right as the owner, and who knows or even needs to know their reasons for this. Nobody should have the right to take over “empty” properties. I myself cannot afford to buy a property, but let me tell you, when I do become a property owner, I would like to know that I can do with it what I like, and if for example I wanted to leave it empty for a period of time while living overseas or something, I would like to know that I can do that, without fear of it being taken over. The current laws are just ludicrous, and do need to be amended. There are more appropriate ways to address homelessness, and if you really want to house them in empty properties, approach the owners and ask their permission. It seems logical to me, because until you have asked, it is theft.

Member

There are hundreds of houses standing empty and unused across the remoter parts of Norfolk because nobody wants to live there [no work, no public transport, no local services] and many of them have been on the market for ages; auction prices are derisory. The owners [often executors] would often be willing to sell these properties to the government if they could be used to house the people Dean describes. In general I concur in his sentiments. Such squatters are well-suited to a place with no work. In fact, if all the people who live in London and cannot work or will not work were to come and live in Norfolk, London’s housing crisis would be greatly relieved [although I wouldn’t say the same for the population of Norfolk who generally have no time for those who will not apply themselves to anything useful].

Member

Quite scary that the housing charity Shelter is predicting that 35,000 people could lose their homes by Christmas – that’s 630 people a day. Clearly, there’s a housing crisis when this many people can’t afford to keep up rent or mortgage repayments, and there just isn’t enough affordable housing for everyone.

For me, this piece in the Evening Standard sums up my thoughts about squatting quite well, although still stereotypes some squatters unnecessarily.

Member
familly says:
8 December 2011

hi there we r family with 4 kids. we need a house coz we getting evicted next week, council dont want to help us,
if u know where is an empty property please send me an email.
thanks

Member

So, squatting in a residential building in England and Wales becomes a criminal offence on Saturday, meaning squatters would face jail or a fine: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-19429936

Good or bad news?