A new offence of squatting in a residential building comes into force next weekend (1st September 2012).
The offence will be committed where a person is in a residential building as a trespasser, having entered as a trespasser, the person knows or ought to know that he or she is a trespasser and the person is living in the building or intends to live there for any period.
The maximum penalty for the offence is six months’ imprisonment, a £5,000 fine or both
The offence will protect owners and lawful occupiers of any type of residential building. This includes homeowners and lawful occupiers who might have been excluded from their homes by trespassers, but it will also protect landlords, second homeowners and local authorities who discover trespassers in any residential property that they own or control even if no one is living there at the time the trespassers occupy the building.
The offence will not apply to tenants who entered a residential building with the permission of the property owner, but later withhold rent or refuse to leave at the end of their tenancy. Such persons are not ‘squatters’ for the purposes of this offence. Landlords should continue to follow established eviction processes to regain possession of their properties in such circumstances.
The offence will not apply retrospectively. People who are known to have squatted in the past will not be liable to prosecution. The offence will only apply to people who are squatting in residential buildings on or after 1st September 2012. This includes trespassers who entered the building prior to commencement if they remain there on or after the 1st September.