DO SQUATTERS HAVE RIGHTS?

It is now a criminal offence to ‘squat’ in another person’s property, and predictably, the battle lines have been drawn between the property owners, who think it’s an excellent change in the law, and the squatters and their various camp followers.  These include Crisis and Squatters’ Action For Secure Housing.

My next door neighbour, who lives in South Africa, rents out his well appointed converted barn, and for the most part, without problems.  He engages the services of a reputable letting agency which is tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that the renters behave themselves, pay the rent when due, and look after his home and its contents.

Sadly, the outgoing renters were a landlord’s worst nightmare, and it has cost him £2500 to put right the damage caused.  He has retained, and spent, the renters’ deposit, but that was insufficient to cover the renovation costs, and unless he can get the difference back from the agency, he will be seriously out of pocket.

Imagine how much greater would have been his misfortune, and the cost to him, if the renters had been squatters. For my part, I simply cannot understand why squatters think they have the right to enter private property without the owner’s permission, and remain there until the owner has obtained a court order to evict them. In many cases, before squatting was criminalised, this would take months.  The cost of litigation would be borne by the owner in its entirety, as squatters have no disclosable assets, and almost invariably, damage would be caused to the property which, yet again, would have to be repaired by the owner at his own expense.

As long ago as 1628, the English Jurist Sir Edward Coke wrote: “Domus sua cuique est tutissumum refugium”, which has been loosely translated as: “For a man’s house is his castle, and each man’s home is his safest refuge”. 

I accept that in an ideal and compassionate society, everybody should have a roof over their head and comfortable accommodation.  I also accept the submission from pressure groups that the lack of affordable housing is a real concern and needs addressing.  What I cannot accept is that anybody, regardless of their personal circumstances, has the right to trespass on private property, whether they look after it or trash it.

As a case in point, one home owner described how, after an extended stay in hospital, he returned to his house to find it occupied by squatters.  Needless to say, polite requests to vacate fell on deaf ears.  It took him four months to get an eviction order, and as his house had been trashed, the additional cost of renovating it.  And to make matters worse, during those four months, he had to find alternative accommodation.  I suppose he could have squatted somewhere, but the thought never crossed his mind!

There is simply no excuse for squatting, full stop! I support the change in the law, which now empowers the police to evict squatters without a court order and PDQ.