Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Why Do Squatters Have 'Rights'?

'We've just moved in Yer Honour
Can our Wayne borrow the car tonight?'

I've never understood the term 'squatters rights'.  What right does anyone have to enter into someone's home without their permission?

Fortunately I've never had the sordid experience of trying to evict squatters from my property but I remember it happening to a work colleague many years ago.  She had only been married for a couple of years and they had spent all their spare cash lovingly refurbishing their two-up-two-down end of terrace in one of the London boroughs.  They'd won a weekend at a posh hotel as a raffle prize and because they hadn't had a holiday since their marriage, both were looking forward to the break.

On the Monday she telephoned to say she needed the day off to see to urgent personal matters and we were concerned.  Upon her return to work the next day she told us the horrific story.  Squatters had broken into their home during the weekend and refused to move out.  The police could no nothing she said and they were now living with his parents while they started the lengthy process of going to court to seek an eviction order. They spent thousands on legal fees and the stress caused her health problems.

When they finally managed to gain their home back the destruction was beyond belief and they had no strength left to begin again, so they sold the property and moved into rented accommodation. Whether they ever bought another house I don't know but, having witnessed first hand the mental damage squatters can do, I could understand if they decided never to buy a house again.

All these years later squatters appear to still have 'rights'.  They are criminals and should be treated as such.  Breaking and entering is a crime yet somehow squatters manage to evade that legislation.

The Westminster government is 'considering' changing the law to ensure squatting becomes a crime.  How many more people will have to endure the horror of finding their house occupied by a stranger before the politicians act?

22 comments:

Clarinda said...

I think we are different here in Scotland through some Trespass Act making it illegal to lodge without permission on another's property?

How England and Wales have managed to accept, so apparently meekly, squatters 'rights' when the police cannot evict unless there is proof of a break in is quite remarkable - as I believe.

No doubt a legal expert will correct me.

Woodsy42 said...

The decision not to treat all domestic squatting as breaking and entering and deny police help has to be politically directed. It's appalling to condone by innaction a crime that can so devastate someone's home and health.

Dioclese said...

Apparently the trick is that you are not allowed to force an entry but you are allowed to enter if the property ids not secured.

To achieve this you get your mate to break in for you and you return the favour for him.

I thought perhaps the victims could do something similar and get other victims to set about their squatters and then return the favour.

Or you could do what a mate of mine did - buy a load of balaclavas and pickaxe handles and pay them a visit at three in the morning. Needless to say, the police where unable to find anyone to prosecute...

What a shame.

James Burr said...

It is strange that squatters have rights.

But then I always assumed these only applied if they entered a property that was unsecured. I didn't think they could claim squatters' rights if they broke in. Am I wrong on that?

RMcGeddon said...

I think Clarinda is correct and we have different laws in Scotland. I think it's treated as common burglary or trespassing.
I think things will get worse in the future with this new initiative by the 'charity' Shelter. It's a website where local councils list all of their empty homes. Squatters and indeed burglars can browse the website and select a property that is most suitable for them.

http://www.thecourier.co.uk/News/National/article/16748/slow-take-up-so-far-for-report-empty-homes-website.html

tris said...

Squatting is a criminal offence in Scotland, punishable by a fine or even imprisonment. The owner or lawful occupier of the property has the right to evict squatters without notice or applying to the court for an eviction order, although when evicting, they cannot do anything that would break the law, for example, use violence

Demetrius said...

Too right, the laxity shown is a gathering disaster. Some of these people are decidedly nasty.

Michael Fowke said...

I'd like to see them break into the wrong person's house - a gangster or someone like that.

subrosa said...

Aye Clarinda, I had a wee google to see about rights here and there was little around, but I think you're right, although I've heard of squatters in Dundee in the not so distant past.

It is remarkable that this is allowed to go on south of the border and cause so much grief, both physically and financially, to so many.

subrosa said...

It's seemingly 'under consideration' by the Westminster government Woodsy. It's a no-brainer to me.

Edward Spalton said...

When you consider that New Labour created something over 15,000 new criminal offences, it is amazing that they did not get round to giving people the right to defend or and quickly reoccupy their own homes.

Some years ago I knew a chap who was the prime mover in a neighbourhood association (whatever the list of committee members might say). He was known as "the sergeant" from his commanding ways.

There was a very pleasant stretch of common ground which some gypsies (or should I say "members of the travelling community"?) decided to occupy and four of five caravans with assorted other vehicles appeared on it.

"The sergeant" quickly organised a group of the largest men with cans of petrol who turned up and said it would be a pity if there was a fire.

The caravans disappeared as quickly as they had come. But this was before the days of mobile phones etc.

subrosa said...

Ah, so that's the definition of rights then Dioclese. Many thanks.

subrosa said...

It is strange James and even more strange that politicians haven't amended the law to protect people's homes.

subrosa said...

RM I missed that and I agree with you, it will be misused.

Thanks for the link.

subrosa said...

Ah thanks Tris. The problem is here that applying to a court takes time. The police should be able to remove them immediately.

subrosa said...

Not all squatters are homeless Demetrius, by all accounts, many are professional squatters who could well work for a living. But why bother when you can use another person's property which radically reduces your outgoings.

subrosa said...

Me too Michael. I'm sure it has happened but hasn't made the MSM.

Woodsy42 said...

Yes Subrosa I know the government here want to make it illegal. The problem is do we trust them not to spread the net with legislation? They usually do. Will we find kids straying onto a building site, or ramblers in the countryside straying off a footpath criminalised? Thus solving one problem at the expense of something else.

Observer said...

Squatting is a perfectly acceptable form of tenure in my opinion if squatters are using empty houses. The pressure for housing in London is something that no one in Scotland can understand. We don't have it.

What I fail to understand is why the law in England has not been amended to distinguish between occupied residences & empty ones.

I don't see why that should be so hard.

But I would argue against changing squatters rights in respect of empty houses.

Observer said...

Woodsy 42 I don't think establishing residence in a property should be difficult to define.

There is already legislation which enables Councils to re-possess abandoned property & that lists what is proof of residency.

Anyone who can provide that should be able to call upon their local authority to evict the squatters, by force if necessary.

That would not affect anyone else, it would not turf people out of genuinely empty houses lying to waste, & I don't think anyone could argue with it.

subrosa said...

Therein lies the problem Woodsy. Must admit we can blame politicians for over-reacting though.

subrosa said...

'Occupied' appears to mean a property with a human being inside Observer rather than a property possessed by an owner.

I would much prefer the homeless to be given rights to empty houses.

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