“FACT: squatters cause damage, are frequently anti-social, delay buildings being developed and avoid the daily expenses we all have to pay. They are usually politically motivated and anti establishment. Any suggestion that squatters are only looking for a place to stay the night or that they run round with a Hoover before they leave is simply wrong.
Before I looked into the issue several years ago, I imagined a close connection between squatting and homelessness. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The squatters that I have spoken to are highly organised. They are web-savvy and resourceful to the point of submitting Freedom of Information requests to local authorities to obtain lists of empty buildings. Squatting is their profession and, more often than not, a lifestyle choice at everybody else’s expense.
I think that it is incredibly unfair that a property owner has to jump through all sorts of hoops to gain access to their own building in the event of it being taken over by squatters. There is no penalty to squatting – which is why it needs to be criminalised so serial squatting can be stopped.
With that in mind, I have little time though for property investors who leave their properties empty and neglected. That is why I have been running campaigns to bring empty buildings back into use as well.
Squatting is a form of trespass so it is unlawful. However, it is not a criminal offence so the police are powerless to get involved. A property owner has to spend considerable amounts of time and money to recover what is already theirs. They are not allowed access to their own buildings once occupied. Once removed, squatters then move on to the next building to inflict more damage and pain. This is just not right.
Locally Brighton & Hove City Council is working hard to reduce the number of empty properties. In 2007, 200 council-owned properties were long-term empty but this is now down to just 28. Putting resources into removing squatters and paying for the damage which they cause inevitably puts strain on all council services, including housing. Last year the Council paid over £30,000 in legal bills alone and one particular property was left with a £40,000 repair bill – which we all have to pay in our taxes.
By damaging buildings which are in the process of refurbishment, there is less housing available for those most in need of it. And the only way to stop professional squatters is to criminalise it. Holding them to account in law, in the same way any other form of theft, is the only way we can get control of this antisocial activity.”
Mike Weatherley MP