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To not understand squatting laws?

(52 Posts)
saadia Mon 05-Sep-11 21:29:19

How can it be legal to break into someone's home, change the locks, start living there using their stuff and their gas/electricity and trash their home. There have been lots of horrifying cases in the papers lately - am baffled at the sheer injustice.

Kayano Mon 05-Sep-11 21:31:05

I'm watching homes from hell atm. £50K in legal fees to get the right to live in his own house?! WTF?!

MillyR Mon 05-Sep-11 21:33:48

I don't know what the squatting laws are exactly because they have changed, but:

1. Most 'squatters' are people who are living in a house where they were formerly tenants but have fallen behind in their rent/their contract has come to an end. They have not broken into somebody else's house.

2. You can't use somebody else's electricity. If you are the occupant of the house, even as a squatter, you have to pay for the electricity or it is theft.

3. If the house has an occupier, you can't just move in; you can be removed immediately.

4. You cannot break in if you damage something; it is a criminal offence.

CointreauVersial Mon 05-Sep-11 21:34:05

Shocking isn't it? I don't understand how they get away with it either.

I would go mental if someone did that to my house.

saadia Mon 05-Sep-11 21:36:53

But there have been loads of reports in the papers of squatters who cannot be budged without legal proceedings apparently because it is a civil matter and because there is no evidence of their having broken in.

MillyR Mon 05-Sep-11 21:39:47

Well yes, if they are not damaging anything, not stealing anything, and nobody else occupies the house, then they are presumably not committing any crime.

Talker2010 Mon 05-Sep-11 21:47:25

and nobody else occupies the house

This seems to be the sticky point in some recent cases

If someone dies and the family are waiting for the will to prove before putting the house up for sale ... why would it be okay for others to "move in"

If I go away for work for 2 weeks/a month/6 months/etc ... at which point does it become okay for someone else to simply live in my home

MillyR Mon 05-Sep-11 21:53:36

Obviously if you go on holiday from two weeks and come home to find somebody had moved into your house, they would be removed by the police.

There may be very rare cases where a relative dies and a squatter moves in. That is a risk of owning an unoccupied house. You either put a family member/friend in to avoid that situation or take the small risk.

I think risks like that are worth society taking, because to tighten up laws around squatting further would mean that families who were squatting their former tenancy because their housing benefit had been delayed and so they had defaulted on their contract could be arrested by the police.

buggerlugs82 Mon 05-Sep-11 21:55:46

As a Housing professional, basically, what milly said.

Its not EVER as cut and dry as it seems. Believe me.

Talker2010 Mon 05-Sep-11 22:03:45

I think risks like that are worth society taking, because to tighten up laws around squatting further would mean that families who were squatting their former tenancy because their housing benefit had been delayed and so they had defaulted on their contract could be arrested by the police.

I disagree ... the laws could change to differentiate between houses that have been let and houses that have not ben let ... or to differentiate between people who have, prior to the squatting, been legal tenants of the property

Talker2010 Mon 05-Sep-11 22:05:31

Obviously if you go on holiday from two weeks and come home to find somebody had moved into your house, they would be removed by the police.

Once the people have been served notice to leave ... there was an example of exactly this over the summer ... they then have (AFAIK) 48 further hours to comply ... what does the legal owner do in this time

BigHairyGruffalo Mon 05-Sep-11 22:16:19

Is this thread prompted by this article?

www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23983870-youre-putting-my-unborn-baby-at-risk-mother-to-be-tells-squatters.do

I agree that it is shocking that the owners are treated so poorly in cases like these.

MillyR Mon 05-Sep-11 22:20:10

As dar as I understand it, if an occupier asks you to leave, and you don't, you are immediately commiting a criminal offence and have to leave, or you can be arrested by the police.

I don't know why somebody would be given 48 hours. If that was the case when there was an occupier, anybody could move into your house while you were in the garden hanging out your washing.

There possibly could be laws put in place to protect properties where the owner has recently died. That is rather a different issue to what was proposed by the OP - that somebody can move into a house and start legally trashing a house and using their electricity. Those are criminal offences - criminal damage and theft.

SouthernFriedTofu Mon 05-Sep-11 22:23:22

YANBU, I can see certain circumstances like Milly described being lawful but can't understand why general squatting is accpetable and why the court can't differentiate

SouthernFriedTofu Mon 05-Sep-11 22:26:08

yikes just read the aritcle. The couple offered the squatters £500 to move out but they demanded more. Neighbours fear the group had been "casing" other homes. [schock]! I wonder what would happen if they hired someone to remove them and then got back in to their flat asap? Night clubs are alllowed to hire doormen to keep people out and kick people out.

MillyR Mon 05-Sep-11 22:38:57

Ultimately though, this couple have somewhere else to live for the moment, and we know absolutely nothing whatsoever about the squatters. The couple are not homeless.

When squatting becomes a crime, the police will be able to arrest homeless people. The exact implications of that depend on how the law is changed. If somebody is a teenager who has run away from an abusive home, gone to London, sheltered from the snow inside a derelict building, the police will be able to arrest them and put them back out on to the streets, possibly to freeze to death. The same is true for other vulnerable people - old people with serious mental health problems, learning difficulties etc who are seeking shelter. These people don't appear in the newspapers because we would rather sympathise with a couple who are wealthy enough to own two properties at the same time.

I think that there are going to be very tragic consequences to putting money and inconvenience to owners over people having a roof over their heads. It is also very badly timed when housing charities are predicting a rise in homelessness because of the cuts.

CustardCake Mon 05-Sep-11 22:48:03

I disagree MillyR with the "where's the harm" view. It would be very upsetting to have squatters move into a dead relative's house for example especially if the family hadn't got round to clearing the house out and wanted to leave it until their grief subsided a little. Just because the family are not actually living in the house at that time doesn't make it O.K for someone else to come and move in and stop the owners from being able to come and go as they please. Even if they do zero damage (unlikely) it is a huge intrusion and costly and upsetting and opportunistic and totally unjustified. It should be illegal. Squatting in any owned domestic property should be illegal.

Squatting in a derelict warehouse is a whole different thing and there it can be seen that the benefit to somebody (ie not freezing on the streets) outweighs any niggle the owner might have. Its nobody's home or livelihood or sentimental attachment. Yes its somebody's property and there should be a way to get squatters out if the owners want to sell it / repair it and rent it out but if they're happy to leave it neglected and squatters are happy to make use of it, I can see in those circumstances it would be no harm done all round. But not in houses - not at all.

SouthernFriedTofu Mon 05-Sep-11 22:53:03

because we would rather sympathise with a couple who are wealthy enough to own two properties at the same time. when asked about upsetting a pregnant woman who just wanted to move in to her home they were told to "fuck off" the band were practicing. No sympathy here I'm afraid

lachesis Mon 05-Sep-11 22:58:51

Squatting is illegal in Scotland. Don't see why it is still permitted in England and Wales.

The security adviser on the show told them how it's done. The squatters deliberately case places. One kicks in the door or smashes a window - criminal offenses. Then runs away.

Then another of the group enters the home and claims 'squatter's rights'.

lachesis Mon 05-Sep-11 23:01:13

Really don't sympathise at all with people who do this. They trashed the place on the show. So what if the owners could afford two places, that doesn't mean they deserve to have their home taken from them and treated like that. WTF?

The other group of squatters had also trashed the home and were engaging in illegal activity in there and anti-social behaviour.

NO ONE should have the 'right' to occupy a space they have not legally acquired.

MillyR Mon 05-Sep-11 23:05:58

Custard, I'm not saying there is no harm. It is just very difficult to create laws on the basis of sentimental attachment, the politeness of the squatter, or the attractiveness of the property. As a consequence most people who will be impacted by making squatting illegal are people who have nowhere to live or who have insecure housing options.

The situation you are suggesting is pretty much the law as it stands. If you are an occupier of a property or you have evidence that your move into the property was due immediately, the squatter is effectively making you homeless and is commiting a criminal offence.

If nobody is due to occupy the property and you want them removed, this requires a civil court case as it is primarily a financial matter.

If nobody wants the property back immediately, then nothing happens.

If a squatter damages a property they are committing an offence. The fact that the police have not gone and arrested people like this is part of an issue of police not dealing with crime. It doesn't require a change in the law that will put vulnerable people at risk; it simply requires the police to enforce existing laws.

I think people should make judgements about housing based on research into housing and the law, rather than on a tv programme that highlights a very uncommon way of occupying a property that is not yours.

MillyR Mon 05-Sep-11 23:08:45

NO ONE should have the 'right' to occupy a space they have not legally acquired.

No kind of space at all? Not even a park bench or a railway arch? Where do you want homeless people to go? On to prison ships?

FabbyChic Mon 05-Sep-11 23:18:11

30 years ago I had to squat as to not do so rendered me on the streets, I'd already slept in a park for two nights and I was 17 and alone.

I used a coat hanger to gain access to a council flat, i.e I bet it and opened the door, I did not break in.

I lived there in the empty flat for three months before they issued eviction notices, I then moved to another flat and they done the same.

Sometimes there is no alternative, I certainly had no alternative. I did however work full time whilst squatting in a Bank.

lachesis Mon 05-Sep-11 23:26:52

'No kind of space at all? Not even a park bench or a railway arch? Where do you want homeless people to go? On to prison ships?'

Oh, please, Milly. Spare us. Where do I want homeless people to go? Let's see, I was homeless a couple of years ago and now live over a flat used by the council to house the homeless.

Squatting is illegal in Scotland.

So you go to Shelter or the council and they house you in temporary accommodation.

You can't just squat here, that's not an option, it's illegal.

The homeless, ourselves included, find ways to live that don't involve taking over someone else's property.

reelingintheyears Mon 05-Sep-11 23:27:41

Fabby...you were squatting in a bank grin?

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