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New Law Will Not End Squatting Says Property Law Expert

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A Yorkshire based property law expert has warned that the new sanctions to criminalise squatting will not necessarily provide better protection for property owners. 

The new offence is contained in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 and came into effect from 1 September 2012. Sarah Burton, associate at hlw Keeble Hawson which is one of the region’s largest law firms, believes that the success of the measures rests with the willingness of police in any one area to consider the new offence and exercise their powers of arrest.

Ms Burton explained: “There is already an offence under the Criminal Law Act 1977 which covers failure to leave on request, but the latest provisions criminalise the act of squatting itself, creating a much more powerful deterrent to squatters and a proper alternative to the lengthy and expensive civil court process for displaced owners. However, the legislation only applies to residential property and it may be unrealistic to expect police to be able to become involved in every case.

“The threat of a £5,000 fine and six-month prison sentence is also a significant deterrent, but it remains to be seen just how many cases will be successfully prosecuted as ‘intent to live’ has to be proven alongside the more obvious trespassing offence.

“The general advice to all homeowners and landlords should still be to avoid leaving properties empty without stringent security measures, as having recourse to police intervention will not prevent the distress and expense caused if squatters gain entry.”

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