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Squatting becomes a criminal offence

Occupying non-residential buildings remains civil offence in balanced compromise

31 August 2012

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Squatting in residential buildings becomes a criminal offence tomorrow (1 September 2012), punishable by a maximum prison term of up to six months and/or a £5,000 fine.

Under Section 144 of the LASPO Act, a person commits the offence if he or she

‘is in a residential building as a trespasser having entered it as a trespasser’ and ‘the person knows or ought to know that he or she is a trespasser’ and ‘the person is living in the building or intends to live there for any period’.

The offence is not committed by people ‘holding over’ after the end of a lease or licence, even if they leave and re-enter the building. A building is residential’ if it is ‘designed or adapted, before the time of entry, for use as a place to live’.

The MoJ held a consultation on criminalising squatting in the summer of 2011, and, in October 2011, issued a response saying that it intended to go ahead with the measure in relation to residential properties “as a first step”.

Justice minister Crispin Blunt said at the time that stopping short of criminalising squatting in non-residential buildings represented a “balanced compromise”.

He went on: “Squatters who occupy genuinely abandoned or dilapidated non-residential buildings will not be committing the new offence, although their actions will rightly continue to be treated as a civil wrong and they can still be prosecuted for offences such as criminal damage or burglary.

“Neither will students who occupy academic buildings or workers who stage sit-ins to protest against an employer be caught by the offence.

“But the offence will provide greater protection in circumstances where the harm caused is the greatest – squatting in someone’s home. This behaviour is unacceptable and must be stopped.”

Housing minister Grant Shapps said today: “For too long, hard-working people have faced long legal battles to get their homes back from squatters, and repair bills reaching into the thousands when they finally leave.

“No longer will there be so-called ‘squatters rights’. Instead, from next week, we’re tipping the scales of justice back in favour of the homeowner and making the law crystal clear - entering a property with the intention of squatting will be a criminal offence.”

A spokesman for the Home Office added that the new offence would protect home-owners or legitimate tenants who have been excluded from their homes.

“It will also protect those who own residential buildings that they don’t live in, such as landlords, local authorities or second home owners,” he said.

“Previously, their only option was to seek a civil court order to regain possession of their properties, which could be time consuming, expensive and stressful.”

Meanwhile, the number of applications for interim possession orders to evict squatters in two of the courts covering London’s wealthiest areas greatly increased last year.

According to figures from legal publisher Sweet & Maxwell, the number of applications increased from 16 to 29 at Central London County Court, which covers parts of Knightsbridge and Mayfair, and from four to 17 at Willesden County Court, which covers Regent’s Park and Notting Hill.

However, there were only five applications at West London County Court, the same as in 2010.

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