Haigh, Squatting is Now Illegal

The Evening Standard is reporting the sentencing of the first person under the new anti-squatting provisions in the LASPO Act.

Alex Haigh received 12 weeks in prison. Unfortunately Mr Haigh appeared to be unaware that squatting was now an offence and admitted to Police that he was a squatter.

I am not going to repeat the various comments we have made about this legislation and its implementation. The most recent post on the topic is here.

I am also not going to comment on the Standard article except to highlight this phrase from the article:

The law was brought in amid a squatting crisis in London as organised eastern European gangs and other squatters targeted family homes.

Really? Crisis? Clearly the severity of a crisis has been downgraded recently.

I am now going to have some lunch or, for Evening Standard reporters, alleviate my food crisis.

Posted in FLW article, Housing law - All, Possession and tagged , , , .

About David Smith

David is a solicitor specialising in landlord and tenant matters with Anthony Gold Solicitors. He particularly specialises in newer legislation and has written widely on the Housing Act 2004.

25 Comments

  1. Squatting is illegal under some circumstances. It already was but the circumstances have massively increased.

    Squatting is still legal in non-residential properties. It is still legal if there is a licence (in which case maybe it isn’t squatting, but…)

    We need to make sure people know it can still be done but people will need to be more together

    • Squatting in non-residential properties is not currently a criminal offence. But it was and remains a civil offence – trespass for which a claim for possession and damages can be brought by the title holder of the property. If there is a licence then it isn’t trespass at all, or indeed squatting.

  2. MyK

    Surely you are confusing the issue of whether squatting is now a criminal offence with whether it is illegal. For instance, it may not be a criminal offence to be squatting in non-residential properties but it does not mean it is sensible to label such squatting “legal”. I doubt whether a squatter of non-residential premises would get very far in trespasser possession proceedings brought by the owner of the premises if his defence was based on an argument that squatting in non-residential properties was legal.

    • Semantics eh? He means “legal” as in “not illegal” – something that (at least commonly) refers to criminal law.

    • The report doesn’t mention any aggravating factors. 3 months simply for trespassing in a property that L&Q had left empty seems absurd and Draconian.

      It appears Mr Haigh was not represented. I wonder if an appeal against sentence might happen.

  3. It illustrates plainly I suggest how wrong the new law is and how the Criminal Law Act 1977 offences provided a fair balance.

    It should also be an offence where the Sentencing Guidelines Council should look at appropriate sentences ASAP .

  4. 1 How on earth did he get three months?
    2 How did he manage to get convicted??
    3 Who will help him appeal?

  5. Lots of PR and propaganda:

    Guardian: “Empty for a year”.

    “The squatters’ rights group Squash (Squatters’ Action for Secure Homes), which campaigned against criminalisation, condemned the sentencing as “deeply disproportionate and unjust”. It said the building the men were occupying had been empty for more than a year.”
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/sep/27/first-squatter-jailed-new-law?INTCMP=SRCH

    SQUASH:
    ” The building had lain empty for over a year.”
    http://www.squashcampaign.org/2012/09/campaigners-condemn-%E2%80%9Ccrazy%E2%80%9D-squatting-law-after-first-person-jailed/

    Inside Housing, Quoting the Quadrant HA who own it:
    “The L&Q property became vacant on 19 August and its staff were showing people round it on 24 August when they discovered people were squatting there.”

    More tactical lies, as advised by the Advisory Service for Squatters and the Squatter Handbook?

    I’m not commenting on the sentence, which look heavy, but I’m foursquare behind the law as a necessary culture change.

    I’m expecting underlying issues which have been ignored to come to the surface and need proper action, though.

    There’s an account of the new law in use from a Letting Agent against a previously evicted person who had broken back in here:
    http://www.propertytribes.com/first-eviction-under-new-squatter-law-t-6439.html

    • You didn’t give a link to the Inside Housing story. I L&Q’s account doesn’t add up in that case, as they were reported as having begun civil proceedings, which would not have happened between 24 August and 2 September. Moreover, if they had an intended tenant, they would be a protected intended occupier under the CLA and the police could have been asked to intervene at that stage, assuming L&Q (and the police) actually understood the law.

      As for ‘tactical lies’ what would be the point of such a lie when it makes no difference whatsoever to the offence committed under the new law?

      I am curious as to what you mean by ignored ‘underlying issues’. Care to elaborate?

      Your linked example seems a straightforward case, but as a requirement of s.144 is that the offender must have entered as a trespasser, knowing they are a trespasser, with an intention to remain, how effective do you believe it will be in practice? Mr Haigh apparently admitted he was a squatter to police straight away. Your example is of someone re-entering after execution of a warrant. But what if the occupiers have a ‘tenancy agreement’? It may be demonstrably fake, but for s.144 to bite, it would have to be certain that the occupiers knew it was fake. I suspect this is a decision that few police will want to make on the spot. ‘It is a civil matter’ as a police response will not have gone away…

      • Thanks for the reply. This is long but I’ll keep it as short as possible.

        >You didn’t give a link to the Inside Housing story.

        Added in an extra comment :-). In the comments IH confirm that they have checked with Quadrant.
        http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/care/first-person-jailed-for-squatting/6523974.article

        “L&Q informed us other reports were incorrect and the property had only been void since 19 August.”

        >I L&Q’s account doesn’t add up in that case, as they were reported as having begun civil proceedings, which would not have happened between 24 August and 2 September.

        Why is that – were the County Courts all closed? Perhaps they mean starting the process internally or with a solicitor?

        >Moreover, if they had an intended tenant, they would be a protected intended occupier under the CLA and the police could have been asked to intervene at that stage, assuming L&Q (and the police) actually understood the law.

        I don’t think “showing the flat” counts as a Protected Intended Occupier? Surely they would need a signed tenancy agreement for a T?
        http://www.letlink.co.uk/letting-factsheets/factsheets/factsheet-14-squatters-and-the-rules-for-obtaining-possession.html

        >As for ‘tactical lies’ what would be the point of such a lie when it makes no difference whatsoever to the offence committed under the new law?

        It’s about the bigger picture – political marketing and building a narrative about the injustice of the the new law. The Squash campaign is as much about politics and media as about law, since politics and media are how you start the process of getting laws changed.

        “Alex Haigh occupied a property which had been empty for more than a year” plays to the idea of evil, incompetent landlords leaving properties empty to rot while they could be used for the homeless, and makes squatters the good guys.

        “Alex Haigh occupied a Housing Association property which had been vacant for 5 days and was being shown to new tenants” is Alex Haines occupying a social housing unit and keeping the homeless, homeless.

        Having read the Squash report and publicity on this, and being familiar with the Squatter Handbook, I’m well aware that the whole culture is saturated with tactical lying.

        >I am curious as to what you mean by ignored ‘underlying issues’. Care to elaborate?

        Sure. All the politically difficult housing questions which governments tend to avoid, and therefore avoid needing to fund or tackle. Tolerating squatting provides a buffer to allow homelessness to be ignored to an extent (referring to the ‘on street’ figures which have been increasing), for example, as people are not so prominent on the lists. Another similar “buffer” is provided by Local Councils forcing Section 21 tenants to ignore the COurt ruling until the Bailiffs arrive. Without such buffers there is more pressure to be more effective on long term empty-homes, unblocking the housebuilding jam, releasing some more land, and facing down some nimby protestors.

        Perhaps someone should create a real programme for ‘likely squatters’ to be allowed in long-term empties officially and by agreement?

        >Your linked example seems a straightforward case, but as a requirement of s.144 is that the offender must have entered as a trespasser, knowing they are a trespasser, with an intention to remain, how effective do you believe it will be in practice? … I suspect this is a decision that few police will want to make on the spot. ‘It is a civil matter’ as a police response will not have gone away…

        I honestly am not sure about that, but from my point of view it is a start which needed to be made. So far the police seem to be responding.

        As an LL, I think the law is also critical because more and more Local Authorities have taken to publishing lists of rented houses on the internet, thereby identifying targets.

        • I am doubtful civil proceedings were underway by 2 September as – from the ‘discovery’ on 24 August, there would have been four days to file a possession claim. While this is not impossible, I have never known a housing association to act that fast! Beginning the process is not ‘proceedings underway’.

          ‘Showing the flat’ is different to what appeared in the original stories, which was that L&Q had someone to go in.

          Your allegation of ‘lying’ is frankly unsupported. The original stories reported that the flat had been unoccupied for a long time. I doubt that the campaigners had any better source of information than the rest of us. But in any event, it is obviously true that the new law would also apply to properties left empty for long periods. There is no shortage of these, some 279,000 left empty for over 6 months in 2011 (http://www.emptyhomes.com/statistics-2/). I am aware of another set of arrests in London for squatting in property emptied by the local authority and awaiting demolition, though no idea if charges have been brought in that case. The point being there is no need to lie about a specific case to make the political point you identify.

          I have no brief for those occupying social housing without permission, or unlawfully subletting while living elsewhere, as shown elsewhere on this site. However, I do not support criminalising trespass by the homeless to vacant properties.

          Thanks for clarifying on what you meant by underlying issues. I agree. The s.21 point is tricky though. Personally I agree that a homeless application should not require possession proceedings, just the landlord’s confirmation that proceedings would go ahead. However, the tenancy is not legally ended until the enforcement of a warrant and eviction. Councils seek to justify advising the tenant to wait on the basis that i) the landlord may change their mind and 2) in the hope that the tenant will find somewhere else in the meantime. As you say, acts as a buffer.

          There were such programmes as you identify – the Lambeth Short Life schemes for example (which ended up lasting 20 odd years and with lengthy and significant litigation around their end).

  6. Squaring the SQUASH “Empty for 12 months” and Quadrant “became vacant in late August 2012″ circle.

    Two thoughts occur.

    1 – SQUASH are lying/dissembling, which would not be a surprise given the way they reported the stats on the replies to the legislation (forgot to mention that of the 2100 people against the law 1990 were from their own boilerplate campaign), plus their highly inventive £790m figure for the cost of the law.

    2 – That the T for the flat had paid the rent while it was empty for some months, in which circumstances the HA would not / could not intervene lawfully.

    Matt

    • It seems more probable that it’s L&Q who are lying about how long the place had been vacant for. Looking at the BBC material on the subject – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-19753414 – you can’t miss the yellow metal screens (‘sitex’) on the windows. I fail to believe that they secured the flat like that for such a short period (unless they really wanted it stripped/squatted).

      • Don’t think that helps either way – the photo was certainly taken after the arrest. At that point, L&Q might well have secured the property with screens.

        • Perhaps, but it’s extremely unlikely that squatters would have identified that house as empty without the screens being there in the first place. Especially if it were vacant for some days only. Or maybe they were very lucky, or got a tip from someone working for L&Q, or there was a ‘to let’ sign (in which case they would’ve been very dumb).

          But then, notice lack of matching metal door – squatters often take those off after changing the locks on the regular door. It’s of course possible that the sitex company had not finished securing the place at the time the footage was shot.

          Anyway, whilst all this is somewhat speculative, L&Q claims just don’t add up that much, and the discrepancies between various reports make me think that, for various reasons (PR?), their story changed over and over.

    • Dear Matt

      While squaring the circle, I’m afraid you’ve jumped the gun a little;
      1] The “boilerplate campaign” by SQUASH, which alerted people to the attempted stealth legislation to criminalise squatting, did get a lot of support, from squatters and non-squatters alike. Is the point of a campaign not alert the general public to issues, so that they can respond in a timely manner, such as responding to the MoJ “consultation”, which was geared to landlords alone. Apart from the 1900+ members of the general public who responded against the new law, there were responses from ACPO (the police) and the Law Society which supported our position. Anyway, it didn’t really matter in the end because the Con-Dems just tacked it onto the much more complex LASPO Bill, and it got through without too fanfair.

      2] Considering that the MoJ didn’t bother to do a thorough cost analysis of the new Law, SQUASH decided to do its own. A thorough methodology was put together and various options considered; the report took into account various indirect costs to the public such as the costs of imprisonment, evictions, resulting homelessness, etc. To see the report for yourself, go to: http://www.squashcampaign.org/resources/. The report (and methodology) was endorsed by Professors at the Universities of Leeds, Sheffield and Edinburgh, so to call the figure of 790k “inventive” is pretty funny. If you do have better figures, please let us know; we’re always interested in improving our methodologies.

  7. The problem with the new law is that whilst the measure has the right intentions in safeguarding a person’s home, it leads to an odd position, in that the reason for squatting must be because one is in need of a home, but in order to achieve that objective by so squatting under the new law one faces the prospect of imprisonment and subject to releases may have the option of exercising the right to priority housing assistance from the local authority since that individual can claim to be vulnerable, and therefore eligible for housing need.

    However, the whole point is that we must surely find ways to accommodate vulnerable young people from squatting, from getting a criminal record having an adverse effect of their future employment prospects, and then ending up by clogging the housing waiting lists. There are many empty and unused accommodations across the capital waiting to be utilised, there are many capital projects government’s can undertake to tackle the serious housing shortage if we are serious about homeless.

  8. Am I alone in finding an irony in that Mr Haigh, the first person to be jailed for self-help unlawful rehousing, is an apprentice bricklayer? I can only conclude that the “wrong turn” his mother says he took when arriving in That London from Plymouth was the one that took him past the unaffordable hostels, flatshares and B&Bs. I do hope he gets an appeal underway soon, and the public get a proper picture of the real consequences of this nasty and vindictive law.

  9. Pingback: Squash News Round, September 2012 – Squash Campaign

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