Squatting is an issue of real concern to residential landlords although it is a relatively rare problem. Squatters occupy empty properties without the permission of the owner, the managing letting agent or the legal tenant.
It is almost impossible for landlords to claim for the often thousands of pounds worth of damage caused by squatters as they often have limited financial means.
However there is some good news for landlords as at the end of 2011 the UK Government finally took action against squatters adding a new clause into the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill 2011 which makes squatting a criminal offence.
If it is passed, in the forthcoming debate in the House of Commons, anyone who enters a residential building as a trespasser and the lives there, will be guilty of a criminal offence.
“I welcome this bold move by the government,” said Terry Lucking owner of Belvoir Cambridge one of the leading lettings agents in Cambridge. “Squatting can wreck a landlord’s business and is a very difficult, and expensive problem to solve. Regaining legal possession is often a long and drawn out process and also creates real problems when trying let the property to a new legitimate tenant.”
“Whilst squatting is not widespread in and around Cambridge, it is a growing problem nationally and an issue Belvoir has taken a close interest in, on behalf of our landlord customers.”
Scotland does not have the problems as squatting has been a criminal offence for over 150 years with those found guilty facing a 21 day jail sentence. Unfortunately in England and Wales this is not the case and owners must resort to civil courts to enforce their rights.
In 2010, there was a 40% rise in squatting eviction cases and an astonishing 132% rise in squatting since 1995 according to a UK Bailiff Company report.
Belvoir who have 140 other Belvoir offices throughout the UK, has been involved with a long running lobby to get the law changed in favour or legal owners of property. Spearheaded by the UK’s largest industry bodies, the National Landlords Association and the Residential Landlords Association the campaign was taken up by MP Mike Weatherly, who proposed a motion in March 2011.
“The decision to criminalise squatting is extremely welcome and we continue to actively support our industry bodies in their campaign” added Terry Lucking who specialises in residential property lettings in Cambridge “Further clarification is still needed on issues surrounding fast re-possession of property. Landlords must be able to build their property portfolios without disruption by trespassers.”
“Whilst these measures are good there is still the question as to whether they address the root cause of the problem. Hence we would continue to advise Landlords to remain vigilant and take sensible measures to protect their property.”
“If circumstances make this difficult then use the services of a maintenance company, or a residential lettings specialist Belvoir, to do it for you.”
“Preventing squatters invading an empty property is not easy,” added Terry. “the best solution is to let out the property as quickly as possible and we can certainly help with that as we always have tenants waiting”
Belvoir Lettings Agency in Cambridge are lettings only specialists and provide a full range of services including property management, tenant find, investment and wealth management advice, fit-outs and renovations and investment property insurances and mortgages.