The newly introduced law which has finally made squatting in a residential property an illegal offence is a long overdue move that has been welcomed by many, but does the legislation go far enough to protect some landlords?
With changes to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishments of Offenders Act 2012, squatting in residential property could now carry a sentence of up to a year in jail or a £5,000 fine. But, Ian Bythell from Petty’s has warned the commercial property market not to be caught off guard and insists further clarification of the law is required.
Ian said: “The new law is too narrow, as it only applies to residential buildings which have been ‘designed or adapted, before the time of entry, for use as a place to live’ and commercial properties are still very much at threat. There is also concern that this previously civil issue will not be prioritised in criminal courts, and without the serious threat of imprisonment or financial penalty, it will not be taken seriously.”
“Owners of empty commercial buildings need to be particularly careful as squatters start to search around for a new place to live. Sheds, office blocks, retail units and industrial buildings will all become fair game for squatters for whom the risk of ‘getting’ on to their particular residential property ladder is too great.”
Whilst the whole industry is pleased to see the government recognising squatting as the devastating problem it is, there is a risk that the lack of clarification and transparency means the threat still very much remains, and everyone needs to be prepared for this.
Ian added: “We have to discourage the view that squatting is somehow harmless or victimless. It is bad enough in residential properties – something the new law is intended to prevent – but commercial properties will continue to go unprotected. There are examples of where squatters have caused tens of thousands of pounds worth of damage to commercial property including small retail units. It is not just big warehouses and sheds which can be damaged. The impact of squatting on the entire property sector should not be underestimated and we hope in time that the government will consider whether commercial property should also benefit from protection under law.”