The Squatter Debate – UK Property Rights vs. Housing Shortages

Assorted Color Wall Paint Apartment

Squatting provokes heated debate between defenders of absolute property rights versus activists seeking to requisition empty buildings to ease homelessness. The unauthorised occupation remains illegal, but housing shortages and rising activism are resurrecting arguments around squatter rights. Will growing public sympathy and civil disobedience override strong protections for owners? Understanding the issues fuels an informed discussion.

What is Squatting?

Squatting involves illegally occupying and living in a residential building without consent from the owner. This may be done for political reasons, out of desperation for shelter or opportunistically for free accommodation.

Some squatter movements deliberately target empty investment properties or second homes as political statements about wealth inequality and unused assets.

The act of squatting itself confers no legal rights to occupy, use or acquire a property. But it remains a tactic deployed by housing rights campaigners.

Current Legal Position on Squatting

Laws prohibit squatting in England and Wales under both civil and criminal law

  • Entering and occupying any building as a trespasser is illegal under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.
  • Trespass is a civil offence allowing owners to get court orders for immediate eviction and regain possession.
  • Squatting in residential buildings is now a criminal offence punishable by up to six months imprisonment.
  • Councils and police also have powers to seize property used for squatting or evict via Interim Possession Orders.

The combination of criminal penalties, civil remedies and accelerated eviction powers aims to deter squatting attempts.

Arguments Around Squatters’ Rights

Debates around squatting provoke strong emotions on both sides

Arguments against squatters’ rights

  • Infringes property ownership rights.
  • Allows unjust enrichment from others’ assets.
  • Deprives owners of quiet enjoyment of their property.
  • Removes housing stock from purpose-built rental markets.
  • Creates neighbourhood nuisances and eyesores.
  • Enables antisocial elements and criminality.

Arguments for squatters’ rights

  • Addresses urgent housing needs.
  • Highlights under-utilisation of vacant properties.
  • Provides shelter as a fundamental human right.
  • Represents civil disobedience against wealth inequality.
  • Motivates investment in affordable housing.
  • Could enable licensing deals, not outright seizures.

This complex issue has understandable logic from both moral standpoints.

Drivers of Increased Squatting

While illegal, economic and housing conditions still drive some to squat

  • Shortages of affordable housing, especially in cities like London.
  • High levels of income inequality and homelessness.
  • Cycles of economic depression and recession.
  • The concentration of property ownership among the small elite.
  • Government incentives that encourage buy-to-leave investment.
  • Protests against under-occupied luxury investment flats.
  • Large numbers of vacant buildings awaiting demolition or redevelopment.

Desperation leads some to disregard laws prohibiting squatting when they lack alternative shelter options.

Public Attitudes Towards Squatters

Periodic squatter occupations flare up the public debate over appropriate rights and responses

In favour of squatters’ rights

  • Homelessness should not be criminalised.
  • Utilising empty buildings provides shelter at no public cost.
  • Effective civil disobedience draws attention to housing crises.
  • Property laws overly favour wealthy owners, not societal needs.

Against squatters’ rights

  • Rewarding law-breaking encourages more criminal acts.
  • Property owners’ rights should remain paramount.
  • Other solutions like social housing should be implemented instead.
  • Buildings are vacant for valid business reasons.

Public views vary among age groups. Younger activists often sympathise more with squatters’ causes than older homeowners.

Potential Future Legislation Around Squatting

As housing shortages continue to be a pressing issue in many regions, there is growing advocacy for legislative reforms aimed at addressing the problem of squatting while also promoting more efficient use of available housing resources. Here are some potential future legislative measures that could be considered to deal with this complex issue

Licenses Model

Instead of prosecuting squatters, this model encourages property owners to sell underutilised or vacant properties or provide temporary licenses to those in need. It offers a more cooperative and less adversarial approach to addressing the housing crisis.

By offering licenses, property owners can both monetise their underutilised assets and contribute to housing solutions. It allows for a win-win situation where squatters gain legal access to housing, and property owners benefit economically.

Use Obligations

This approach involves imposing regulatory penalties on property owners who leave buildings vacant for extended periods without a legitimate reason. The aim is to discourage the under-utilisation of properties and incentivise owners to maintain or make them available for occupancy.

Use obligations could be enforced through periodic property inspections and fines, thereby compelling property owners to either use or release vacant properties for housing.

Compulsory Sale Orders

This legislative measure grants local councils the authority to force the sale of persistently vacant properties to provide housing solutions. It could be particularly effective in areas where housing shortages are severe, and there is a significant number of long-term vacant properties.

Compulsory sale orders can help channel underutilised properties into the housing market, thus increasing the availability of homes for those in need.

Adverse Possession Changes

To encourage the use of abandoned or underutilised properties, some regions might consider reducing the qualifying periods for adverse possession. Adverse possession laws typically allow individuals to claim ownership of a property if they have occupied it openly and continuously for a specified period.

By reducing the qualifying period, potential squatters or those seeking housing can have legal avenues to acquire abandoned properties, which may ultimately lead to their productive use.

Derelict Site Taxes

Imposing financial disincentives on property owners who allow their buildings to remain unoccupied and deteriorate can be an effective strategy to address housing shortages.

Property owners may be subject to increased property taxes or fines if their buildings are not maintained or made available for occupancy, creating a financial incentive to keep properties in habitable condition or sell them to those who can.

Potential future legislation surrounding squatting is evolving to address housing shortages more comprehensively and proactively. These measures aim to strike a balance between property rights and societal needs by encouraging property owners to either utilise their properties more effectively or contribute to housing solutions. While these legislative proposals may differ in their approach, they all share the common goal of alleviating housing shortages and fostering a more equitable housing market.

While unlikely currently, wider housing crises could force a reconsideration of squatting enforcement approaches.

Cultural Shifts on Views Around Property

Among some millennials and Generation Z, attitudes towards property ownership are changing

  • Rejection of property as an investment and store of wealth.
  • Seeing unused space as a wasted resource that others should access.
  • Quest for experiences and mobility over physical possessions.
  • Dismissal of property wealth as an unearned generational privilege.

-Belief unused assets like second homes should be redistributed or shared.

If these sentiments grow more mainstream, public sympathies could lean more towards squatters’ stances over absolute property rights.

But significant legal change remains improbable given the strong protections enshrined for owners.

Effective Solutions Beyond Squatting

Housing campaigners do have alternative options beyond illegal squatting

  • Lobby local and national government responsibly for more social and affordable housing.
  • Utilise lawful channels like petitions, protests and media campaigns to raise awareness.
  • Propose tax reforms to incentivise productive use of property over speculation.
  • Advocate for under-utilised public buildings like disused schools to be adaptively converted to affordable apartments.
  • Push reforms to short-term lets like requiring planning consent for Airbnbs to free up rented housing.

Channelling activism into lawful policy reform solutions allows progress without violating others’ property rights.

Ways Owners Can Protect Against Squatting

Responsible owners can and should take preventative measures

  • Avoid leaving buildings vacant for extended periods where feasible.
  • Apply for planning consent promptly after purchasing a property.
  • Maintain buildings in occupied condition – do not allow them to become derelict.
  • Install security systems like CCTV and alarms to detect break-ins.
  • Ensure regular oversight from neighbours or caretakers when vacant.
  • Explicitly prohibit trespass via secured access and warning signs.
  • Insure against risks like vandalism and property damage.

Small investments of time and money can prevent far larger problems down the line.

Key Things to Do If Squatted In

If squatters do illegally occupy your property

Gather Evidence
The first step when dealing with squatters in your property is to gather evidence that can support their removal and potential legal action. Take clear and comprehensive photos of the squatters’ presence and any damage they may have caused. This evidence will be crucial for documenting their illegal occupation.

Seek Immediate Court Orders and Police Assistance
Once you have evidence of squatters on your property, it’s essential to take legal action promptly. Initiate court proceedings to obtain eviction orders, and seek assistance from the local police to ensure a lawful and peaceful eviction process. Providing them with the necessary evidence and court orders is vital.

Hire Lawyers to Issue Trespass Notices
Engage the services of legal professionals who can help you issue formal trespass notices to the squatters, demanding their immediate vacating of the property. A legal notice adds weight to your demand and makes it clear that their occupation is unlawful.

Address Issues Responsibly
While it’s essential to assert your legal rights and seek the removal of squatters, it’s also advisable to address any issues or concerns the squatters may raise responsibly. Open communication can help avoid escalating confrontations and may lead to a smoother resolution.

Install Security Improvements
After successfully evicting the squatters, it’s crucial to take steps to secure your property to prevent future incidents. Install security improvements such as robust locks, alarms, and surveillance systems to deter unauthorised entry and protect your property from further squatting.

Consider Preventative Measures
To minimise the risk of future squatting incidents, consider implementing preventative measures. This may involve having temporary caretakers or property managers in between lets to ensure that the property is consistently occupied and well-maintained. Regular inspections and maintenance can also help prevent properties from appearing vacant and vulnerable.

If your property is illegally occupied by squatters, it’s essential to act swiftly, following a legal and systematic approach. Gathering evidence, obtaining court orders, seeking police assistance, and involving legal professionals are key steps in securing the lawful removal of squatters. Additionally, addressing their concerns responsibly and taking preventative measures to protect your property can help you avoid similar situations in the future.

With proper documentation and legal procedures, most squatter occupations can be resolved quickly.

In Summary

Squatting provokes impassioned debate between property rights and housing needs. However, current laws uphold the rights of owners to protect their assets and evict trespassers. For policy changes to enable any squatter rights, extensive democratic debate and process would be required. Housing crisis solutions should focus on expanding social housing availability, not legalising seizures of private property. While economic conditions motivate some to squat, this occupation does not create legal rights in the UK law. Both activists and owners share the responsibility to behave reasonably. Ultimately a balanced system upholding both human dignity and property protections continues to serve society’s interests best.

We are proud members of...

  • NAPB
  • RICS
  • The Property Ombudsman
  • Trading Standards

We are proud to be the most regulated property buyer operating in the ‘Quick House Sale’ industry. We are an active member of the NAPB (National Association Of Property Buyers) and are RICS regulated, which means you can have every confidence of selling your home with us quickly & easily.