In October last year we highlighted the Government’s consultation on residential squatting and the difficulties facing residential landlords trying to protect their property. Since then, a formidable new weapon has been added to the residential property owner’s arsenal in the form of a new offence of squatting 1, which came into effect on 1 September 2012.
Although under section 7 of the Criminal Law Act 1977 it was already an offence to refuse to leave a residential home when required to do so, this was rarely enforced and residential property owners were left with no option but to pursue expensive and sometimes drawn out proceedings in the civil courts, with little chance of recovering either the costs of the proceedings or compensation for the damage caused to their property, from the squatters.
Since the new offence came into force, a squatter discovered in a property in Pimlico belonging to a London Housing Association has already been jailed for 12 weeks, another individual found at the same property was fined £100 and recalled to prison on breach of licence and a third is currently awaiting sentencing.
The offence only relates to squatting in residential buildings, and an offence is committed if:
- the person is in a residential building as a trespasser having entered it as a trespasser;
- the person knows or ought to know that he or she is a trespasser;
- the person is living in the building or intends to live there for any period.
The maximum penalty is six months’ imprisonment, a £5,000 fine or both.
The offence applies to trespassers remaining in occupation, who entered a building as a trespasser before the 1st September, but not those who have vacated by that date. The offence does not apply to individuals who entered a building with the consent of the owner - so where a residential tenant fails to pay their rent or refuses to leave at the end of their tenancy, a landlord would still have to pursue a claim for possession through the civil courts.
It is anticipated that the new offence will enable police to act quickly once they have received a complaint. However, should you need to report squatters to the police, it may speed up the possession process if you are able to provide them with proof that you are the registered proprietor of the building.
Although the Pimlico case is a promising indicator, it remains to be seen how the police will enforce their new powers on a wider scale, particularly bearing in mind the recent cuts to police resources, and their previous reluctance to become involved with residential squatters.