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Squatting in a residential building set to become a criminal offence

Posted on 18 February 2013

As of 1 September 2012 the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 created a new criminal offence of squatting in a residential building.

The new offence is committed when a person enters a residential building as a trespasser, and knows or ought to know that he or she is a trespasser and is living or intends to live in the building for any period. It applies to trespassers entering a building before or after 1 September 2012 meaning trespassers who were occupying a building before this date will be guilty of the offence if they meet the criteria mentioned above. The offence won’t apply however to an individual who at some point in the past had the prior consent of the owner to be there, even if they leave and re-enter the building, such as those who remain in occupation after a previous agreement has ended.

It is important to note that it has been a criminal offence to squat in residential properties since 1977 under the Criminal Law Act 1977. However, the 1977 offence is more limited in scope than the new offence since it covers only residential properties that are currently, or about to be, occupied. Under the 1977 Act, a squatter would commit an offence by remaining in the property if the squatter prevents an individual, who either occupied the property as a residence or intends to occupy the property as a residence, and has a signed document as evidence, from residing in the property and is asked to leave by that individual.

It is anticipated that the 1977 offence will be used less regularly, since the new offence has an extended scope. Also, under the new law the lawful occupier does not need to ask the squatter to leave before contacting the police. However, the 1977 offence will still be used in some instances as it has a wider definition of residential premises, including any building, part of a building or land additional to a building. The new offence’s definition of a residential building is limited to any structure or part of a structure including those that are temporary or moveable, so long as it was designed or adapted as a place to live before the squatter gained entry but does not cover land additional to the building, for example, garden areas.

In summary, homeowners and lawful tenants who were covered under the 1977 offence are now covered by both offences. The change is with regards to landlords, second homeowners and local authorities that discover trespassers squatting in a residential building they own. They are now protected under the new offence, where they may not have been previously, since no-one need be living or intending to live in the building at the time the trespassers occupy it. However, neither the new nor previous offence applies to non-residential buildings so owners of commercial property fall outside the scope of both laws. Such owners must use civil procedures and rely on the enforcement of criminal offences, for instance burglary and criminal damage, to resolve the problem of squatting in their commercial buildings.

Our property disputes team have a considerable amount of expertise in dealing with unlawful occupiers, whether they are squatters on land and/or buildings or travellers and their animals, together with their mobile homes.  For further information on squatting and the law, contact our property disputes solicitors or submit an online enquiry

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