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?