Since September 1st 2012 squatting in residential premises is a criminal offence, punishable by a prison sentence of up to 6 months or a fine of up to £5,000. This is as a result of S 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 coming into force.
Some people consider this to be a long-overdue reform that will help end the serious problem of squatters occupying residential premises. However it does not address a similar problem in commercial premises and may, indeed, lead to more squatting taking place in such premises.
S 144 provides that a person commits an offence if:
- The person is in a residential building as a trespasser, having gained access as a trespasser.
- The person knows, or ought to know, that they are a trespasser.
- The person is living in the building or intends to do so.
A building is residential if it is '...designed or adapted, before the time of entry, for use as a place to live'. This is an important definition as it means that an offence will not be committed if such adaptation takes place AFTER the time of entry.
This means that commercial premises will be outside of the new offence, and commercial premises owners will not be able to rely upon this new legislation if faced with squatters in their premises. They will therefore have to continue to rely upon existing civil procedures to evict squatters unless they commit a criminal offence, such as:
- Causing damage when entering the property.
- Causing damage while in the property.
- Not leaving when they’re told to by a court.
- Stealing from the property.
- Using utilities like electricity or gas without permission.
- Not obeying a noise abatement notice.
Ref Government, Squatting in non-residential properties.
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