Premature to celebrate victory for common sense
LAST Saturday may well yet be remembered as a monumental day for property owners and businesses alike with the introduction of new legislation which now makes squatting a criminal offence. Squatting for those who are not familiar with the term is generally where an individual or group of individuals take possession of a property or empty bossiness premises which in their eyes has been left untended and unoccupied for an unspecified amount of time.
This act is then used to highlight the fact that there are thousands of premises such as these which could be brought back into use and help the plight of the homeless who are struggling to find accommodation.
I have come across numerous types of premises throughout my time as a police officer which have been occupied by squatters. It has never ceased to amaze me that these individuals can in effect break into someone's house or business and live rent free, and not pay for any of the utilities they may use and be allowed to get away with it by claiming squatters rights and placing a bit of typed paper on the front door defining their legal right.
It is then at the expense of the property owner that a sometimes lengthy court case ensues to remove them and allow the owner to possess what was rightfully theirs in the first place.
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It all sounds so simple and yet until this legislation became law the onus was on the premises owner or the police to actually prove that the illegal occupants had committed an offence by breaking in, before we could do too much about it.
The squatters and their supporters claim that this new legislation will criminalise law abiding people and that where applicable the local councils should obtain compulsory purchase orders on vacant or derelict properties and bring them back into the mainstream arena for social housing, a fair argument for a politician but not for me. I uphold the law and it seems to me that common sense has at last prevailed.
But it will be up to the individual senior officers to decide when to act upon this new legislation.
Because there are several factors that now come into play when attempting to evict or arrest squatters. Using the new act, health and safety will be a major factor. Having the resources available to potentially enter a derelict property where there maybe a considerable amount of people inside and potential for significant public disorder will also be a major consideration.
After all there is legislation already available to stop illegal raves but they are at times allowed to continue whilst being monitored for the same reasons.
It remains to be seen what long term effect the new legislation will have on both the squatters and the police. But one thing I am sure about is that at present it maybe a little bit premature to celebrate a victory for common sense yet.