A new crime of squatting has been proposed by Justice Minister Crispin Blunt as part of a range of proposals designed to protect both home and business property owners from the problem.
The options up for public consultation could make squatting a criminal offence for the first time and abolish so-called 'squatters' rights’ which currently prevent rightful commercial property owners from using force to break back in.
Justice Minister Crispin Blunt says:
"Far too many people have to endure the misery, expense and incredible hassle of removing squatters from their property. Hard working home and business owners need and deserve a justice system where their rights come first.
'"Today’s consultation is a first step to achieving this. I am clear that the days of so-called ‘squatters’ rights’ must end and squatters who break the law receive a proper punishment.'"
The consultation paper 'Options for dealing with squatting' asks for people's views on various suggestions for overhauling outdated laws on squatting, some of which date back to the 1970s.
It follows Ministry of Justice proposals last month to stop squatters getting legal aid to fight eviction as part of reforms to civil legal aid.
I hope local councils will respond positively to the consultation. There is some suggestion that making squatting harder to pursue will increase homelessness. But as major landlords councils and housing associations are often victims of squatting. Of course one answer is for the state to minimise the time its properties are left empty. But the legal delays in removing squatters (who might be in well paid jobs and quite able to afford to rent privately) means those properties are unavailable for those on the waiting list.
One section in the consultation is a bit wet. It frets that the proposed "new criminal offence of squatting" defined as "the unauthorised entry and occupation of a building" could:
….cover student protests in academic buildings, workers who stage sit-down protests in commercial buildings and squatters who occupy the home of political figures as a form of protest. Some may
argue that the disruption this causes to the property owner may justify criminal sanctions while others may argue that certain types of squatters should be exempt.
So we can squat in the homes of MPs but nobody else? Provided we explain it is a "protest." I don't think politicians should be above the law – but I don't they should be exceptionally disadvantaged by it either.