Squatting in a residential property becomes a criminal offence from tomorrow in England and Wales.
The maximum penalty will be six months’ prison and/or a £5,000 fine.
Trespassing will be where someone knowingly enters a residential building as a trespasser, and is either living there or planning to live there without the owner’s consent.
There will no longer be a requirement for the property owner to ask the trespassers to leave before being able to involve the police.
Police will have a specific duty to enter the property to arrest anyone suspected of squatting, and can ignore ‘squatters’ rights’ notices.
The new offence will make it harder for trespassers to claim trespassers’ rights, because their occupation will be a criminal act.
Squatting as a criminal offence will not apply to residential tenants who continue to stay in a property, despite paying no rent. They will still be subject to the normal eviction proceedings.
Nor will it apply to people who think they had permission to live in a residential property. Government guidance specifically gives as an example a situation whereby a bogus letting agent encourages an unsuspecting tenant to occupy someone else’s property.
The offence will not apply retrospectively, so people already squatting in a residential property by September 1 will escape prosecution.
The offence is part of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.