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Adequate protection from squatters & trespassers

Comment 14th August 2010

The vast majority of UK citizens are decent and law-abiding; the current set of laws does not adequately protect them from those who do not value or respect ownership. 

It is hugely unjust that ordinary families cannot call upon the law to protect them from strangers who decide to move onto their property, without a lengthy, costly process.  The stress, exacerbated by the feeling of complete impotence and dearth of common sense, should not be suffered by anyone; the laws of the land must be changed to protect the majority.

Why does this matter?

My cousin owns a small strip of land adjacent to a river.  Some months ago, a middle-class hippy family drove a caravan onto the land and despite months of pleas, have refused to leave. 

They even applied for planning permission to build a dwelling on my cousin's land, which has thankfully been turned down.  It should be noted that my cousin was unaware of the application;  incredulously, the current law dictates that the landowner does NOT need to be informed if an application is submitted to build on their land.  Regardless of whether or not the application will be refuted via due process, surely this needs to be changed?

However, given that they are living in cramped, unhygienic accommodation, the squatters now have the ‘right’ and have indeed applied for permission to build a so-called 'comfort' dwelling, comprising 2 bedrooms, an office, bathroom facilities etc.. 

Furthermore, because they have taken this action, my cousin has been advised that he will face a minimum £10,000 legal bill  in the  unlikely event that the squatters turn up at court at the first hearing.  Realistically the figure will increase to £30,000+ in legal fees, as each hearing is adjourned when the squatter deliberately fails to attend.  

After the statutory number of hearings, the judge will see sense, apply the law, and provide the necessary legal go-ahead to facilitate an eviction.  Full legal costs will be awarded to my cousin, but in reality the family will seek to repay the costs at a minimum level – let's say £5.00 per week – and my cousin will effectively be bankrupt.  Therefore he simply cannot afford to pay for due processes in order to secure the eviction. 

The police will not act, as they consider this a 'civil' matter.  Social Services have been involved as there are 3 young children living on the land; they will not act because the family uses a local relative's facilities to wash etc..    

How in God's name can it be right for someone to trespass onto someone else's property, and the land owner not have the full and practical backing of the law to swiftly and peacefully remove the trespasser?  How can it be right and fair in this evolved, mature legal system of ours that a trespasser is fully within the law to apply for planning permission on someone else's land, with neither the latter's permission nor their knowledge?

This scenario has almost a Monty Pythonesque quality of utter madness about it. 

To add insult to injury, the squatter has just purchased a farm with 2 acres of land in another county, yet has stated that he and his young family intend to remain on my cousin's land.  They will presumably rent out their newly purchased property, and live rent-free on my cousin’s land.  This is no desperate, destitute family who have been let down by the Welfare system, yet the principle of the law should be to provide fair, just and logical guidelines to ALL citizens, regardless of their circumstances. 

It costs squatters precisely nothing to remain in situ – the owner must fund all attempts to remove them.  WHY?  Is it fair on any level for the financial and practical onus to be on the wronged party to resolve the situation?

Few could argue that the action of squatters taking over a long-abandoned building, restoring it to some extent in order to make it habitable is fair, particularly when rents and property costs in this country are so astronomical.  After the sub-prime debacle, financial institutions will for the foreseeable future be hugely selective about who they provide mortgages to, so one expects an increasingly large number of people will be taking over abandoned buildings.

However, the situation I’ve described herein is entirely different.

One hears of families who have discovered strangers living on their property, in a shed or garage for instance, yet the current set of laws means they are effectively powerless to remove the trespasser.  The trespasser even has the law on their side – despite being the aggressor in terms of wrongdoing – if the property owner endeavours to get them off their property. 

My cousin, his wife, plus friends and extended family have countless sleepless nights about the utter injustice and frustration of this situation.   Indeed, there must be thousands of others facing a similar set of circumstances in the UK, some with a significant amount of land, others like my cousin with a small strip, yet the law and every agency including the Police fails to protect them in any way.   The rich can fund evictions; those with insufficient funds suffer insurmountable mental anguish at the injustice of the situation. 

Does the Government really want victims of this injustice to take the law into their own hands, forcibly, perhaps violently evicting squatters – for some may feel that is their only option?  And in such circumstances, the Police would of course rush to protect the ejected ‘residents’, and the owner could be rewarded for their action with a criminal conviction.   This is a potential natural consequence of the current laws.

If the laws of the land do not justly and rightly protect citizens, then they may eventually conclude that anarchy is their only option.  Society can only be governed if the majority approve and accept the laws of the land.  The situation I’ve described, rather emotively because it causes blood pressure to soar, will increasingly become a problem.  Many of the huge flux of immigrants that came here under the previous irresponsible administration may feel they have no option, and more importantly, no barriers, to taking up residence on someone else’s property.   This is hugely unjust and problematic for both the squatter, and the owner.  There is a realistic potential for chaos in the courts and for the police, as an increasing number of people on this small island begin to fight – physically or via the courts – for justice. 

The only winners in this situation are the lawyers.  Up to £30,000, perhaps more, for a retired headmaster to secure support via the laws of this land.  He and others have been abandoned by the judicial system, the police, and the government.   If the trespass laws were solid and sensible, those intending to squat on another’s property might reconsider because they’d know they will be swiftly evicted by the police.  As the current situation stands, they can do whatever they please, and the owner is abandoned by the state and left to fight tooth, nail and a mortgage for justice.  How fair and just is that???

Given the apparent penchant for Human Rights, illegal squatting on land must surely be against the ‘human rights’ of the injured party, and laws must be changed to protect them.

The new coalition has injected some very welcome common sense into politics.  I sincerely hope that the fundamental tenet of timely and effective protection of UK citizens and their property is reintroduced, as soon as possible. 

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