Squatting: A criminal offence?

September 07, 2011, 10:51 PM GMT+0

4 out of 5 Brits think that the law should be changed to make squatting a criminal offence, our poll shows. ‘Squatting’ is defined as entering an uninhabited building without breaking in and without the prior consent of the building’s owner, and occupying that building without paying any kind of rent.

The legality of squatting is complex, but put simply, if the means of getting into the house are illegal, squatters are subject to prosecution; otherwise squatters are currently subject to ‘squatter’s rights’ which allow them to squat in uninhabited houses legally (although squatters can be removed by the property owners once they are discovered).

  • 79% of Brits think that law should be changed to make squatting a criminal offence
  • 15% think that the law should be left as it is
  • A significant 85% of the 60+ age group think that the law should be changed compared to 68% of 18-24 year olds

If made illegal, squatters could be evicted by the police when discovered whereas now a court order of eviction first needs to be obtained in order to evict squatters. With the rising prices of rental properties and financial pressures, squatting is deemed by some an alternative to homelessness.

‘Squatting is not a crime’

Squatting has hit the press in recent months, as in March of this year, the London home (pictured) of threatened Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, was occupied by squatters in protest over on-going events in Libya.

Meanwhile, the squatting debate has been reignited again even more recently, as Judge Fiona Henderson requested that Camden council make available a list of empty houses to a squatters’ website, despite admitting that releasing the list could ‘increase the number of properties squatted’ and ‘be of use’ to criminals.

To a tribunal on the matter, Henderson commented that she ‘did not consider [there to be] any perceived social disadvantage of living next door to squatters’, and stated that ‘opportunistic crime is not related to squatting’. ‘Squatting is not a crime,’ she said.