The New Laws on Squatting

It was announced on 01 September 2012, that squatting in the England and Wales had become an illegal act.  Looking into the Ministry of Justice Guidance, we can shed a little more light on the ins and outs of the new rules. 

The offence of ‘Squatting in a Residential Building’ will be actionable under Section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. The offence is designed to benefit owners, Landlords, and lawful occupiers of any residential property, note that the Act DOES NOT apply to business property. 

Building is defined under Section 3 as ‘(a)“building” includes any structure or part of a structure (including a temporary or moveable structure), and (b)a building is “residential” if it is designed or adapted, before the time of entry, for use as a place to live.” Therefore mobile homes and caravans will be covered under the Act.  Further covered are buildings designed or adapted from business to residential use, such as barns or factory conversions. 

The offence will be committed when:
(a) a person is in a residential building as a trespasser having entered it as a trespasser;
(b) the person knows or ought to know that he or she is a trespasser; and 
(c) the person is living in the building or intends to live there for any period.’

Note that the Act requires the person to enter and remain in the building as a trespasser, and thus will not apply to people who are legitimate tenants at the beginning of their occupation. Therefore tenants who fall into rent arrears but remain in the property will not be covered under this act. There must be an intention and knowledge at the point of entering that the person is a trespasser, if a person enters a property in good faith that they have the relevant permission, they may not be covered under this act either. 

The requirement to remain in the property intends to safeguard those who enter the property momentarily, i.e. to deliver a free newspaper. Even though they have no permission to enter the property, there is not the intention to remain there or live there and therefore they will not be considered as a trespasser. 

The offence carries a penalty of up to 6 months imprisonment, a fine or both. 

Further information can be found on the Ministry of Justice or the CPS websites. 

Published: 17 Sep 2012

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