Finally the day has come. From today, helping yourself to anothers entire property, the garden shed, the kitchen sink, and everything in between, with out the owners permission, will become a criminal act. If you take a car without the owners consent, it is classed as theft. If you break into a house and steal a computer it is classed as theft. However, if you break into that house, refuse to leave and claim ‘squatters rights’, you can steal the whole damn thing and it’s classed a civil matter. Now where, I ask you, is the logic in that?.
Squatting in a residential building in England and Wales becomes a criminal offence on Saturday, meaning squatters would face jail or a fine.
Ministers said it would offer better protection for homeowners and “slam shut the door on squatters once and for all”.
The maximum penalty will be six months in jail, a £5,000 fine, or both.
Good. This really is a ludicrous situation that has been allowed to continue for far too long. Just because you lack something, it does not give you any kind of right to simply take what you want, or need from another.
But campaigners warned the new law could criminalise vulnerable people and lead to an increase in rough sleeping.
No it won’t. It will only criminalise those that chose to commit crimes, everyone else can go about their business, just like they did before, be they vulnerable or otherwise. As for the increase in rough sleeping, well, who knows, this law may actually help to reduce the amount of vulnerable, homeless people. From today, all a rough sleeper needs to do is try and steal a house and they will be offered free room and board for 6 months. Sounds like a win/win to me.
Catherine Brogan, from the campaign group Squatters’ Action for Secure Housing, told the BBC: “What we need is to tackle the housing crisis and not criminalise some of the most vulnerable people in our society.”
As far as I can tell there is no housing crisis, no shortage of houses. There are plenty of them. Where ever you look, there they are. Every street I walk down is chock full of houses. There’s millions of the bloody things. I think what Catherine actually means is there is a shortage of houses people can pay nothing, or very little for, which I admit is probably true. We may need a solution to this crisis/shortage. Allowing those that don’t have a house the legal right to steal one from those that do is not it. I notice there is a shortage of ‘affordable’ Bugatti Veyrons, which means I can’t have one. Does that mean I am entitled to go help myself to Simon Cowells?. No it bloody well doesn’t.
Again, the police aren’t going to suddenly round up and arrest every homeless person because of this law. They will only arrest those that get bored/tired of being homeless and think they can resolve the situation by trying to steal someone elses house.
Leslie Morphy, chief executive of the homeless charity Crisis, said legal provisions were already in place for removing squatters from people’s homes and the new offence could leave vulnerable people facing jail or a fine they cannot pay.
She said: “It will do nothing to address the underlying reasons why vulnerable people squat in the first place – their homelessness and a lack of affordable housing.
“Ultimately the government needs to tackle why homeless people squat in the first place by helping not punishing them.”
Legal provisions that take months/years, cost the rightful owner thousands in legal fees, not to mention the cost of repairs and does nothing to deter ‘squatters’ from simply moving on to the next property they believe they have the right to steal. This law is not designed to address the ‘underlying causes of homelessness’, it is there to protect the property of people that aren’t homeless, from those that are. There is plenty of help out there for homeless people, really there is if this article is anything to go by.
A little story to round this post off. I live in a house but I don’t own it. I rent it, privately. I have rented various properties from my landlord over the years. Last year I was due to move to a new property. The builders, electricians, painters, carpet fitters etc went in and did their stuff. Two days before moving day I got a surprise visit from the Landlord. There was a problem. You guessed it, Squatters. Somehow they had managed to gain ‘lawful’ entry to the property, through an ‘open door’ and were refusing to leave. Having contacted the police and been told it was a ‘civil matter’ my landlord decided to be very civil about it.
The following day, armed with nothing more than a clip board, a tape measure, a high vis jacket and a camera he spent a couple of hours standing in various gardens, close to his own property, photographing the houses opposite and writing stuff down. All the time he studied the coming and goings of the squatters as they wandered in and out of his house. He made a point of engaging them in conversation. ‘Morning, nice day, moving house is a pain, isn’t it?’ and such like, all the while snapping away and writing stuff down.
Finally he arrived at his own house. He knocked on the door. It was opened by a youngish woman. ‘I’m sorry to bother you, I was wondering if you minded me standing in your garden for a couple of minutes, I need to photograph the house opposite?’. The woman shrugged ‘What ever’ and shut the door. A few minutes later he knocked on the door again, ‘I’m so sorry, I can’t fit the whole of the house opposite in my lens, would you mind if I stood in your doorway, it will only take two seconds and then I’ll be gone?’. The woman shrugged again ‘Fine, but wipe your feet before you come in’ and disappeared back inside, leaving the front door wide open.
And in strolled the Landlord, wiping his feet on the way. Having gained lawful access to his own property, through an ‘open door’, the first thing he did was make some phone calls. Within 20 mins the house was filled with builders, electricians, carpet fitters and painters, about 40 in all. The second thing he did was have one of the electricians disconnect the electric supply, the gas fitter disconnect the gas supply and a friend nip outside and turn off the water. They then ordered pizza and sat around, eating, laughing and asserting their ‘squatters rights’. The anger of the woman and the other ‘householders’ was quite something, I’m told. It took less than 3 hours for them to admit defeat and leave. No laws were broken, nor property damaged. By all accounts, it was all terribly civil.
The squatters phoning the police to complain about squatters, only to be told to ‘take it up with their lawyer’ was very comical and is still talked about over a year later.