On 1st September 2012 the Government passed new legislation regarding squatters’ rights. Squatting has now become a criminal offence and can be punishable with a maximum 6 month imprisonment and a £5,000 fine.

A squatter is someone who lives in an empty or abandoned building which they don’t own, without the owner’s permission.

Since 1977 squatters have had rights which made it illegal for someone to threaten or use violence to enter a property where a squatter is present, with the intention of removing them. The law was introduced to stop landlords from using violence to evict tenants.

Homeowners were forced to go through a long-winded process which could cost thousands of pounds.

The introduction of these new rights for homeowners follows a Government consultation last summer. Justice Minister Crispin Blunt said: “For too long, squatters have had the justice system on the run. They have caused homeowners untold misery in eviction, repair and clean-up costs. Not any more.’

Housing minister Grant Shapps added: “No longer will there be so-called ‘squatters rights’. We’re tipping the scales of justice back in favour of the homeowner and making the law crystal clear’.

The government estimates there are currently 20,000 squatters in the UK but squatting groups say the real total is far higher.

Although the new laws have been welcomed by many, the homeless charity Crises has been quick to object; claiming the changes will criminalise people who are just trying to find a place off the streets and do nothing to address the underlying reasons why vulnerable people squat – ie. homelessness and a lack of affordable housing.

The measure is clearly a positive step for landlords who find their properties vulnerable to squatters during periods in between tenants, or indeed home owners who have had their homes ‘claimed’ by squatters.

To speak to a solicitor about squatters rights in more detail then please do not hesitate to get in touch.

By Ian Liddle, Commercial Property Solicitor