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News article

Squatters Rights About to be Wrongs

As uncertainty surrounding the housing market continues, there is one type of unwanted dweller that has seen an increase in recent months.

Squatters are no longer focusing their attention on abandoned old houses or derelict danger-zones; a new breed of educated ‘Mansion squatters’ is on the increase.

There are an estimated 100,000 instances of squatting in the UK each year, a number set to increase with the launch of dedicated websites offering help and advice on how to be a squatter, increasing the understanding of the law surrounding squatter’s rights.

In many areas where this had never before been a problem, people have begun noticing this strange new phenomenon. One of the main problems with squatters is that they have no incentive to look after the properties they inhabit. On top of this they pay no rent, mortgages, or other expenses related to the upkeep of the property.

Often, having squatters in a property can mean drugs and other similar vices, not to mention graffiti and property crime. In the more extreme cases these activities can spread into the neighbouring area, creating problems not only for the homeowner but also for the neighbours.

Even the rich and famous are not safe from this new breed of middle-class, well-educated ‘house sitter’ with Madonna’s ex-husband, film director Guy Richie, falling foul of squatters in his £6 million London home, even Colonel Gaddafi’s home in Hampstead could not escape this new invasion.

Squatting is becoming an increasingly serious issue and not a trend limited to the UK, there are increasing reports from America of more and more properties being taken over by squatters. There they have been dubbed ‘Mansion squatters’ as multi-million dollar homes are targeted.

Under current UK law, squatting is treated as a civil matter not a criminal act, whilst breaking into a property is a crime, entering and residing in a property that was not properly secure is not an offence.

The coalition government is acutely aware of the damage and misery squatters can cause and has vowed to make squatting a criminal offence, with the first motion, backed by 21 MPs, presented at Downing Street on the 4th of April. From 1st of September this year squatting will become a criminal offence following the legislation to protect homeowners being passed by Parliament on 1st May 2012.

Under the proposed changes, squatters will face up to six months in jail and a maximum £5,000 fine if they move into a homeowners’ property without permission.

This will be the first time that squatting has been deemed a crime and has caused uproar among charities and other campaigners who have complained that the legislation contained in the government’s Legal Aid and Sentencing Bill will increase the number of people living on the street and criminalise the homeless.

But homeowners do need more power to remove squatters and take back their homes; 1st September will see squatters rights turn into squatters’ wrongs.

31st May 2012

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