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16th September 2012

New law puts pressure on squatters

As of 1 September 2012, squatters will no longer be able to claim the right to stay in a residential building without the permission of the owner without facing the possibility of criminal conviction.

As of 1 September 2012, squatters will no longer be able to claim the right to stay in a residential building without the permission of the owner without facing the possibility of criminal conviction. Section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 creates a new criminal offence if someone enters a residential building without permission, knowing that they should not be there and intending to live there for any length of time. The maximum penalty for committing the offence will be imprisonment for up to six months, a maximum fine of £5,000 or both. The offence will apply to squatters who entered a building before 1 September 2012 and remain in occupation as well as to those who did not go into occupation until after the new law came into force. Property owners can now report squatters to the police who have the power to enter the property and arrest people who they believe to be squatting. The new law does not apply to anyone who is holding over after the expiry of a lease or to a tenant who has fallen behind with their rent or even to a tenant who simply refuses to leave at the end of the tenancy. Nor does it apply to any property other than residential property. In these circumstances a claim via the civil courts for trespass remains the landowner’s only route to obtaining possession. It is yet to be seen how the new law will work in practice and how effective the police will be in enforcing their powers under the legislation. It will not be difficult for a squatter to assert to the police untruthfully that permission from the landowner has been given for them to be there. Police will then need to make an immediate judgment about the truth of the squatter’s claim and may choose to avoid getting it wrong by simply declining to exercise their power to evict. Another concern is how willing the police will be to respond to a landowner’s request to attend to squatters in light of the ongoing budget cuts and limited resources available to them. In any event, residential property owners can be reassured to know that, should the police fail to deal with squatters they will be able to turn to the tried and tested procedure in the County Courts to successfully regain possession of their property. If you have any concerns about unauthorised occupation of your property or would like further information please contact Kate Harris on 01223 532762 or kateharris@hewitsons.com

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