From 1 September 2012 squatting in residential premises will be a criminal offence for the first time, as set out in section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.
The offence will not apply to commercial premises, but a residential building may be a temporary or moveable structure, and a building will be classed as residential if it is designed as a place to live.
Criminal residential squatters could be liable for six months’ imprisonment, and/or a fine of up to £5,000. However, they will not be found guilty unless:
The person is in a residential building as a trespasser, having entered it as a trespasser;
The person knows, or ought to know, that he or she is a trespasser; and
The person living in the building or intends to live there for any period.
Therefore, tenants or licensees holding over after the end of a lease or licence will not be caught by the new offence, and nor will those who enter a property in good faith but without the right to occupy, those occupying commercial or academic buildings in order to protest, or those occupying genuinely abandoned or dilapidated non-residential buildings.
The Act will have retrospective effect, and although it stops short of criminalising squatters in non-residential buildings it is hoped it will provide a powerful and effective means of recovering residential property from possession by squatters, where there is public concern that they cause great harm.
by Amy Rogers, Associate