The criminalisation of squatting has been amongst the government’s most controversial moves.
Following a consultation in which the majority of responses opposed criminalisation, Justice Secretary Ken Clarke announced that a new amendment to the law would make the squatting of residential buildings a criminal offence.
The new law has now gained royal assent, and has clear implications for landlords.
What is squatting?
Squatting is the occupation of an empty property without the permission of the owner.
There is a long tradition of squatting in the UK, and the practice remains widespread. In 2011, the government estimated that there were some 20,000 squatters across the country.
How has the law changed?
Historically, squatting was not a criminal offence. Occupation of another person’s property was not, in most cases, a crime – although crimes sometimes occurred during the process of gaining entry.
In 2011 the coalition began to publicly consider the options for criminalising squatting. In July it launched a consultation and, despite 90 per cent of the responses urging no change to the law, an amendment to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill was made, effectively criminalising the practice in residential properties.
From September, an offence is committed if a person is in or enters a residential building “as a trespasser” with the intention of living in it. Offences are punishable by a fine or imprisonment.
It is vital to understand that this amendment specifically does not apply to cases in which a tenant has remained in a property after the end of a tenancy.
What should I do if my property is squatted?
Although the new law has gained royal assent, squatting in a residential property will reportedly not be a criminal offence until September. As the situation currently stands, this remains a civil matter.
If you simply want to regain possession of your property, you can apply for an interim possession order (IPO). These orders were designed to provide a quick way for landlords and occupiers to regain possession, following criticism of the previously lengthy court process. Squatters must leave within 24 hours of being served with an IPO. If they fail to do so, it becomes a criminal matter.
Consider protecting your rental property even when it’s empty by adding unoccupied property insurance to your landlord insurance policy.