Big Debate: Should the law, section 144, criminalising squatting be repealed?

Richard Lambert, CEO of the National Landlords Association

Richard Lambert, CEO of the National Landlords Association - Credit: Archant

After a law was introduced by the government last year criminalising squatting, we ask whether the law is working or should be repealed.

Myk Zeitlin, a volunteer at Advisory
Service for Squatters

Myk Zeitlin, a volunteer at Advisory Service for Squatters - Credit: Archant

Under section 144, squatting in England and Wales is now punishable by up to six months in jail and fines of up to £5,000. Last September saw a 21-year-old man become the first squatter to be jailed under the law. Here the chief executive of the National Landlords Association, Richard Lambert, sets out why he thinks the law is needed while Myk Zeitlin, a volunteer at the Advisory Service for Squatters, explains why he thinks it should be scrapped.

Chief executive of the National Landlords Association, Richard Lambert, said: “Commonly a landlord will not leave a property empty for any extended period of time in which it is likely to become occupied by squatters.

The letting of private residential property is a business; other than to have restoration work on the premises undertaken it doesn’t make financial sense to leave a property empty between tenancies as it is an insufficient way of generating rent.

However, when it does happen it can often take upwards of three months for a landlord to lawfully regain possession of their property and the process can be a very stressful and complicated time. The rights of property owners should be at the centre of the issue and landlords should be able to automatically regain lawful possession as soon as possible.

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Squatting affects some of the most vulnerable people in society and, where possible, landlords can work with local authorities to bring empty and disused properties back into use.

However, the UK is struggling to meet housing demand so there must be a continued focus on building more homes to support those who might otherwise have no other option than to squat.

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The National Landlords’ Association (NLA) represents the interests of 1.4million landlords in the UK, ranging from full-time landlords with large property portfolios to those with houses-of-multiple-occupancy or with single bedroom flats. The NLA seeks a fair legal and regulatory environment for both landlord and tenant, and actively lobbies the government at all levels on behalf of its members.”

Myk Zeitlin, a volunteer at the Advisory Service for Squatters, said: “Section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO), criminalising squatting in residential property was sneaked through Parliament, tagged on to a law already about to be passed.

The rationale was a media campaign making out that people’s homes were being “invaded”.

Squatting people’s homes was already a criminal matter. That this was just an excuse is shown by the same politicians now wanting to extend criminalisation beyond residential properties.

Of the responses to the government’s “consultation” on the law change, 96 per cent were against it. Even the Metropolitan Police said that “the current law provides an appropriate framework of offences for dealing with incidents of squatting”.

The architects of the law argue that homeless people would not be affected and are somehow different to squatters, even when they take shelter in empty properties.

The Advisory Service for Squatters has been advising homeless people and others for 38 years. They need somewhere to live and to be in control of their lives, without being beyond their means or beyond reasonable expense.

There are thousands of empty properties, many of them long-term empty. There is no reason why people should not be making use of them. In the 1970s squatting helped keep London habitable for poorer people, resisting the domination of office building, creating short-life housing co-ops, pressuring councils to buy up and use empty properties. Conditions for most people have again become impossible and need to change.”

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