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So a few months ago there was a spout of stories in the UK papers pertaining to squatters, and the fact that they have just been breaking into houses and changing the locks whilst the owners had been on holiday. This was apparently resulting in the squatters being able to legally stay due to some laws that allowed this.

So whilst in a conversation yesterday the subject came up and one of those people went off on a rant how it's "absolutely ridiculous" and "totally absurd that out government can allow strangers to take our property, when it's OURS!". I hadn't really given this much thought until now but am of the opinion that if you have enough money to own multiple houses that lay vacant for most of the time, I really have no pity for them if they discover some less-fortunate people are living there.

It was the holiday thing I had a problem with, my in-built lie detector was going off something wicked at the idea that someone could acquire your property legally whilst on holiday. I am assuming, for the moment, that this is a dreadful media spin to perpetuate nationalism and segregation as most of the squatters were from less affluent countries. But as we all know personal opinions and speculation don't mean anything outside our own heads.

So what's going on here?

  • You're talking about the UK presumably. – ChrisW May 19 '11 at 13:09
  • Yes, sorry I forgot to specify. – user2869 May 19 '11 at 13:09
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    I personally can't believe that you would loose your own house you live in just because someone broke into it and changed the look while you are on vacation. This must be an exaggeration. Maybe people living in empty houses for a while receive somehow a tenant status and have therefore some protection against the landlord. I heard stories from landlords in Germany about people moving legally in, but never pay any rent. They still have legal protection and you have to sue them out on your own costs. – Martin Scharrer May 19 '11 at 13:30
  • Not entirely baseless. Something very similar happened to my parents neighbor. Her ex boyfriend broke in when she was away and took over her home, and the police refused to evict him. (EU but not UK) – MSalters May 20 '11 at 8:23
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    igneo - Please remove the commentary and make the question less argumentative/subjective/class warfare-y and just keep it to the on topic question of whether or not the law really supports the squatting. – Russell Steen May 23 '11 at 16:16
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You can only enter a building and claim squatters rights if there is no forced entry, i.e. if there is a window open, and they can get in, without breaking and entering, then I believe they can claim squatters rights.

However, there's been several cases where squatters have committed breaking and entering and repaired the damage and said to the authorities, that the door was ajar. Hard to prove otherwise.

Laws have changed since the early 80's, when it was ridiculously easy to claim squatters rights, but you still can. I actually lived briefly in a squat in London in the early 80's; a council block of flats due for rebuilding. Was a bit of fun for a few weeks, but no water,m no electricity, etc, wasn't all that after a while.

I think the courts are far likely to side with a home owner nowadays. I have a large alarm on the house now, which reports B&E when i am away, if it were to happen, so I have a legitimate legal come back; I have rights now which allow their easy removal due to proof there was a Breaking and Entering, not a door, or window ajar.

Land Registration Act 2002 Allows squatters to apply to own the property if they have lived there for 10 years. http://www.propertylawuk.net/adversepossessionsquatters.html

Under the terms of the Land Registry Act 2003, "squatters" are permitted to enter an uninhabited property and apply for ownership after the 7 year period under the following conditions:

(1) They did not break in to the property (doing so is a criminal matter and they could be prosecuted). Basically, they have to have to entered the property by simply opening the door.

(2) They have to prove that they have lived in the property for that time and produced gas, electricity and water bills and dated pictures.

(3) They have to have a key to the property, allowing them unhindered access in and out of the building.

(4) The property cannot have been furnished by the "previous" owners, prior to them inhabiting the property.

(5) They can proove that they reasonably believed that the property belonged to them during this time.

(6) The owners are notified and have the right to fight them in court.

Most importantly though, Occupiers of non-residential properties and those who are not displaced residential occupiers or protected intending occupiers of residential properties can’t force their way into a property when someone there opposes entry.

What that means is that if you live in the house, come back and find someone in there, you are a displaced resident and can apply to the police to get them removed, which could take a few weeks. However, if you own rental property's, and don't live there, you cannot force the door down and remove the squatters.

Interestingly, there are no 'squatters rights' in Scotland.

http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/HomeAndCommunity/WhereYouLive/Derelictbuildingsandsquatters/DG_10022452

Can squatters take ownership of a property?

The process for someone who isn’t the legal owner of a property to take ownership after living in it for a certain amount of time is called ‘adverse possession’. It is very rare for squatters to be able to do this because they have to stay in a property without the owner’s permission for at least 10 years.

The amount of time a squatter needs to stay in a property before they can get ownership depends on whether the land is registered or unregistered.

If the land is unregistered, a squatter would generally need to occupy it for 12 years to get ownership. If the land is registered and a squatter lives there for 10 years, they can apply for registration. The current registered owner will be able to object and in most circumstances will be able to stop squatters from taking ownership.

Adverse possession

Section 6 of the Criminal Law Act 1977 makes it an offence to force entry to a building which is occupied, and this includes squats.

Squatting is legal because trespassing is not a crime in English and Welsh law. Trespassing is a civil issue, a dispute about who has the right to the land or property, to be settled between two individuals in a civil court. It has nothing to do with the criminal law.

Squatters also rely on section six of the Criminal Justice Act 1977, which makes it a criminal offence for anyone to break into a squat or any other home as long as someone is inside who is opposed to their entry. The police have no more power to enter a squat than any other home.

Finally, hit is a legal defintion of what are squatters rights:

Squatters rights

I think that should cover it all.

  • Yeh, that's the sort of thing I was thinking, the repairing of the damage would seem like what is happening here. The papers also don't do any follow up story, like how the squatters were taken to court and lost, badly. But that wouldn't make much of a story would it. – user2869 May 19 '11 at 15:14
  • It kind of reminds me of those stories maybe a couple of years ago now where there were the cases of robberies happening and then the criminals taking the home owners to court because they were assaulted. People lapped up that story too. Of course there were no follow up stories where they explained that in only very rare cases where home owners use extremely excessive force can the criminals get some form of compensation. People man... – user2869 May 19 '11 at 15:16
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    –1, sorry but this is missing relevant references. As it stands, this is just any old claim and this isn’t acceptable on a site where every claim is subject to skeptical scrutiny. – Konrad Rudolph May 19 '11 at 15:46
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    Too much "I think" and "I believe". – mmyers May 19 '11 at 15:53
  • Also, it doesn't address the issue of what the rights really are. – David Thornley May 19 '11 at 23:56
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It is something that we at the nearly legal blog sometimes write about, for instance:

http://nearlylegal.co.uk/blog/2010/10/squatters-make-good-stories/

A squatter does not, strictly speaking, have any "right" to be in a property (unless they obtain ownership of it by adverse possession which takes a long time and requires inaction by the owner). The foundation for the "right" is section 6 of the Criminal Law Act 1977 which makes it a criminal offence to use violence to secure entry to premises when you know there is someone on the premises who is opposed to your entry.

But - and this is the important but - it does not apply to a displaced residential occupier or a protected intending occupier.

In the situation you envisage - a person going on holiday - you would be a displaced residential occupier and you could use force to re-enter and have a common law right to use reasonable force to remove any trespassers from the premises. While it might be wise to have police around (to prevent a breach of the peace for example) there is no need to do so.

If you are a displaced residential occupier, the squatters are almost certainly also committing an offence against section 7 of the same act which makes squatting in those circumstances a criminal offence.

So, squatting is really only sustainable in empty properties which no-one intends to occupy in the near future.

  • I believe that the rules about residential properties don't apply to commercial properties. So if you squat in an empty shop then the owners have a much harder time evicting you than if you squat in someone's house. – Paul Johnson Oct 30 '16 at 18:42
  • That's right. Since I wrote that answer, squatting in residential properties has been criminalised anyway. – Francis Davey Oct 31 '16 at 13:35

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