Squatters’ rights

Until today, if you were squatting in an empty property in England, you were not breaking the law. It was a civil matter and if the owner of the property wanted you to leave, they may need to go to court. From today, it is now illegal and if you are squatting in an empty property you are breaking the law, can be arrested, charged, and either fined or sent to jail.

I find myself slightly unsure of what to think of this. I’m all for social justice and being decent to those who are in unfortunate circumstances. I’m just not sure why it’s acceptable for someone to live in a property without the consent of the owner and without paying any rent. If they leave when asked and don’t do any damage, that might be regarded as fine. If the owner has to go to court (and pay fees) and has to pay for repairs resulting from the occupation by squatters, that seems a little unreasonable. Why should an individual or a private company have to essentially pay to house people who are in unfortunate circumstances?

Having said the above, I do understand that there are people who are not in a position to pay rent and don’t have family and friends who can help. In a decent society, we should be aiming to help such people. If there are lots of empty and unused properties, I can understand why people who have nowhere to stay could see it as being acceptable to move into such a property. Why should they sleep out in the rain, when there is an empty and unused property right there? On the other, people and companies are allowed to own properties that they may choose to leave unoccupied. Why should they then be expected to make these properties available, free-of-charge, to those who do not have somewhere live and don’t have the ability to pay for a room or a small flat?

I guess I feel that society should be trying to helps those who are essentially forced to squat in unoccupied properties due to their circumstances. I also feel that changing the law over-night may not be ideal. I heard nothing about this until today. Simply making something like this illegal, without thinking of how to help those who are currently squatting seems a little short-sighted. We don’t really want to fill up our jails with these people and they probably can’t afford substantial fines. On the other hand, if there are some who are squatting because they think it’s fun and they’d rather squat than pay rent (even thought they could afford it), I’m less sympathetic.

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