Your Chance to Influence the ‘Squatters Rights’ Laws

Squatters Rights

I came across a consultation by the British government yesterday asking for people’s opinions on squatters and that current situation where the police don’t get involved because Trespass is a civil (not criminal) matter. But when your house is possessed and trashed by squatters, like Julia High’s (right) was when she went away for the weekend, it seems pretty criminal I’m sure!

The full consultation document is here, but here’s the short version. The options are:

  1. Create a new offence of squatting in buildings
  2. Expand existing offence in section 7 of the Criminal Law Act 1977
  3. Repeal or amend section 6 of the Criminal Law Act 1977
  4. Leave the criminal law unchanged but work with the enforcement authorities to improve enforcement of existing offences
  5. Do nothing: continue with existing sanctions and enforcement activity

To get involved in the decision making process and respond to the consultation with your thoughts and feelings, you just have to email this address: squatting.consultation@justice.gsi.gov.uk My personal preference is for Option 4. My reasons are explained in the response I sent yesterday:

Dear Sir / Madam,

I would like to respond to the consultation request regarding squatting. I have no particular prior experience of this and am not affiliated to any associated group or organisation. As such I perhaps represent the silent majority, from whom responses to consultations are probably rarely heard.

I’d like to start by saying that this review and consultation is long overdue. Only a very tiny minority of society condone the behaviour of squatters and their “squatters rights”, whilst an overwhelming majority consider it unbelievable that in our civilised society, you can go out for a family meal and come home to discover you’re homeless for the next few months as some squatters have decided to move in while you were gone. This is clearly not right and something that the police should feel they are empowered to resolve immediately.

As a member of the silent majority, I don’t have enough iron in the fire to answer all the questions you have asked or give answers to each proposal in turn, so will jump straight to the point and say that I prefer Option 4. Creating a new offence is overkill and is one of the things the last Labour administration was infamous for. I believe Labour created over 4000 new offences since 1997. Let’s not continue that trend.

What ordinary people want is the squatters removed by the police. Enforcing current laws should accomplish this. Even if the squatters are not charged, at least arresting and removing them accomplishes what the property owner wishes. Then it’s a matter for the CPS to press charges as appropriate, but from the moment they are in police custody, the main problem is solved. It is common sense that a squatter has committed one or more of the following criminal acts:

1) Criminal damage. Until the property owner has regained access to their property, what is broken may not be obvious. Arrest the squatters and allow the property owner to determine the extent of the criminal damage. If none is subsequently found (unlikely), so be it. The problem is still solved as the squatters have been removed. Bear in mind that criminal damage could be something as simple as a bit of dirt on the carpet or a broken blade of grass. Where someone’s property is concerned and the police are trying to find the legal hook with which to do the right thing, then the letter of the law should be used in the extreme, in order to aid the property owner and bring about a just conclusion.

2) Theft of electricity. As soon as a light is switched on, or mobile phone charged, or fridge used, electricity is being stolen. Arrest the squatters for theft, how much can be determined later.

3) Theft of gas. Using the heating or cooker is theft. Arrest the squatters for theft, how much can be determined later.

4) Theft of water. It can be safely assumed that the squatters will at least flush the toilet or get a glass of water. Arrest the squatters for theft, how much can be determined later.

5) Even if none of the above apply, how about theft of air. I own everything in my property, including the air that’s in it (I believe). If a squatter is breathing, he’s using my oxygen!

I know the last point sounds silly, but the point is that there are already lots of criminal offences that a squatter has / could have committed, certainly enough to justify an arrest, which is the aim of the property owner. Common sense should be applied and the police should enforce what 99%+ of the population would consider the “right thing to do” in the spirit of the law and natural justice. Even if there is just the allegation of theft by the property owner, then in this circumstance the police should arrest the squatters, so that they can be interviewed properly about the allegation down at the station. Again, problem solved.

Just to pick up on one last point, your consultant document paragraph 34 says: “the people inside might claim the damage occurred before they arrived at the property.” in which case benefit of the doubt should always be given to the property owner, not the squatters.

I hope that you have found my reply to be constructive.

Beat regards,

Colin McNulty

If you have any opinion on this matter, I would urge you not to leave all the responses to a vocal minority, and let the law makers know directly what you think. This is Democracy in action, what our (and others’) troops are dying for right now in foreign countries.

{ 5 comments… add one }

  • Ian Sturrock 5 September 2011, 12:39 am

    There’s something extremely fishy about that Evening Standard article, as one of the commenters points out. The owner would be a Displaced Residential Occupier, so the supposed squatters would already, under existing law, be committing a criminal offence just by remaining in the house if she asked them to leave. Certainly any damage they did is covered by existing laws.

    Please don’t add to the government and media scaremongering on this one. In the vast majority of cases, squatting doesn’t do any damage, and can actually enhance both a property and the surrounding area. I’m not even convinced the case you linked to really happened, certainly not in the way it’s been presented by the newspaper.

  • Colin McNulty 5 September 2011, 10:53 am

    I knew I’d get your attention with this one Ian. ;-) Thanks for commenting.

    The case I linked to was just an example. I stuck “Squatters” into the News search on Google and that was the top hit. Here’s another link with more details: http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23978575-squatters-said-i-was-dead-as-they-drank-my-wine.do What’s fishy about it?

    You back up my point though, that we don’t need more laws or more criminal offences, just the current laws being enforced properly. In the case above for example, she should never have needed to get a court order when the squatters were clearly guilty of a range of offences.

    What evidence / statistics do you have to back up your assertions that “In the vast majority of cases, squatting doesn’t do any damage and can actually enhance both a property and the surrounding area.” I can see how that would be true of squatting in derelict properties, but my main issue is with people squatting in people’s homes or commercial properties. Bear in mind that economic damage occurs by simply depriving the legal home / property owner access to their property.

  • Ian Sturrock 5 September 2011, 11:05 am

    Hmm, that article is interesting.

    Squatting is generally done either out of necessity (nowhere else to live, no way to raise money for deposits etc.) or to make a political point. The (clearly already criminal) case in the main article is very unusual, as I mentioned, and I’m still not sure how accurate it is (we have her side of the story — not much else — and we know how much the press tends to distort stuff, I hope).

    As for the other squats mentioned though:

    The first is a landlord/tenant dispute. I know there are dodgy tenants out there, but there are at least as many unscrupulous slum landlords, and again, we’ve only got one person’s side of the story — just not enough info to make a decision on.

    The Brixton squats, where the people had been for more than a decade, sound very much like the usual situation of councils not maintaining council flats, the flats being empty for ages, then squatters moving in because they have nowhere else to go. What’s wrong with that?

    The final case of the squatted luxury mansion was political activism — it was owned by one of the Gadaffis!

    http://www.times-series.co.uk/news/8902362.Gaddafi_squatters_doing_it__for_the_Libyan_people_/

  • Colin McNulty 5 September 2011, 11:07 am

    I will agree that the media often hams up these stories though. I was just found the story of Suzy Butler, a charity worker who returned from Peru but couldn’t get into her property because of a squatter, and was forced to live in a tent in a friends garden. A story I remember reading in the Metro here.

    But a bit of digging put a whole different light on it, which if true, casts significant doubt on it as a reliable example.

  • John 14 September 2011, 4:41 pm

    I dont understand why Julia High’s squatters arent charged as burglars under Sect 9 Theft Act 68?

    They have entered a building, or part thereof, as a tresspasser (without the owners consent) and have clearly committed criminal damage to her property.

    In the consultation part above it mentions theft of electricity by charging a phone/laptop etc, this is called abstraction of electricity and is an offence under Sect 13 Theft Act 68, so again should be charged as burglary as they have entered a building as a tresspasser and have abstracted electiricty, therefore surely the offence of burglary is completed?

    But then again burglary doesnt look good on a forces statistics, and we must always remember the perpertrators Human Rights even if the victim is a little old lady with nowhere to live or a pregnant woman.

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