Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Empty Homes

When I were a lad, there was widely believed to be something called "squatters' rights", the ability of homeless people to take over and set up home in unoccupied property. It was open for aggrieved owners to seek repossession under the civil law. However, two items of legislation, one passed by a Labour government and the second quietly by this coalition, makes squatting in residential property a crime. Under the Criminal Law Act 1977 it became an offence for a trespasser to enter residential premises and refuse to leave when asked to do so by a “displaced residential occupier” of the property. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 means that it is now an offence to actually squat in residential premises in addition to not leaving when asked to do so. Further, the police will be able to use powers under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 to raid a building on suspicion that it is being occupied by squatters and then eject or arrest them. - See more at: http://www.wslaw.co.uk/e-gen-articles/e-gen-november-2012/the-end-of-squatter’s-rights/#sthash.deMtGvTs.dpuf.

It may be thought that an incentive to owners of empty property to bring it back into use has been removed. It should be pointed out that the legislation does not apply to commercial property. (This should not be taken as encouragement to take over vacant office buildings, such as the unfinished block on the old Liberal Club site in Victoria Gardens).

There is a positive initiative: www.ecology.co.uk/emptyhomes. The Ecology Building Society, in cooperation with the Empty Homes Agency (link has embedded audio) and government, both local and national, has launched a loan scheme to bring empty homes back into use.

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