Wednesday, 16 March 2011
Why Theft in the UK Means Squat
It may not be minute by minute coverage, but at least you aren't paying me hand over fist to deliver politically-neutral news coverage whilst I turn out one-eyed Socialist claptrap. The more perceptive of you may point out with my slightly right-ist tendencies, the only real difference is that you're not paying me. And no-one's listening. And Emily Maitlis is easier on the eye. Fair points, all.
That said, today let's harp on a little more about freeloaders in society and how we have a system designed almost bespoke for them. No, we are not on welfare millionaires building swimming pools in the back garden of their council houses (can you afford to put one in your garden? - thought not; mortgage to pay), today we are going to have a quick chat about squatters.
I might start by asking anyone to comment below if they think they can justify squatting. I've racked my brain. I've even asked a couple of people for their opinions (whilst staring glazed-eyed at them running through my opinions in my head and smiling in a self-satisifed kind of way). I am struggling to understand at what point either trespassing or breaking into someone's house became legal.
Now the law that people tend to hide behind is that they didn't 'break', they simply 'entered'. Who cares? That's my house. Get out. Is there a requisite time period one needs to inhabit a property before one can claim squatters rights? 20 minutes? A day? A month? If you break in at night nice and quietly, is it yours by breakfast? Who cares? If it isn't yours, you don't get to live there. I'm pretty sure if I wander into my neighbour's house, he has a right to evict me. He can even call the police and they might help him. Why if I do it whilst he's at the shops then stick my own lock on the door do I get to say "Ner ner ner ner ner, finders keepers"?
It is absolute sodding madness. You will read about people going through months of litigation to get people to stop living in houses that aren't theirs. Bribe are paid to get them to leave, and then promises broken. Police are apparently helpless. I don't even understand how squatters' rights even exist, let alone how they can supercede deeds of ownership, the 1916 Larceny Act, the 1968 or 1978 Theft Act or the 2006 Fraud Act. If it's not yours, you shouldn't be allowed to stay there.
There are two little topics to talk about here too - a loophole and a caveat. Firstly - method of entry. Failing to lock your house before you leave might invalidate your insurance but it does not have any bearing on whether or not an unknown person seeking to enter your house without your consent to live there is trespassing or not. They are uninvited, therefore trespassing. Hooray if they didn't break a window, but it shouldn't matter - they are there illegally, especially after refusing to leave on being discovered. It also doesn't take much research to find that there are many people within the freeloading squatters community who advertise their ability to break in invisibly. How on earth this distinction matters is genuinely beyond me.
The second point is the caveat against the standard plea of "no-one was using it, why can't I". Firstly, it is clear that it is irrelevant if anyone is using it as people have had their homes stolen from under their noses whilst renovating them (here and here - tried to find reports from left of centre but they were all predictably full of praise for these anti-establishment heroes (read: thieves)). So, that leaves us with what to do with genuinely empty properties - not holiday homes that are irregularly used, those are still legal until the wealth haters of this country ban them. It is down to local Government to deal with this problem, acting on Government-made Law. Neighbourhoods are generally worse for both squatters and for derelict and abandoned buildings. The Land Registry tells you who owns everything - so speak to them. Tell them they have to restore their building to a satisfactory standard or it will be subject to compulsory purchase order. Then the council can re-sell it on at a profit and put the money towards housing or develop the site itself for housing if appropriate.
Either way, it gets rid of the nuisance of people who believe they can take and not give. Their lives are safeguarded by police and military, the roads they walk on are maintained by Government, their healthcare is still free at the point of delivery. These people may think they are new-age anti-establishment rebels, but in essence they are just spongers. You and I are paying for freebies in their life, yet some of us seem to think it right to applaud their stand against the man which is nothing more than common theft.
So, there it is. Government can claim an easy win here - it's not like they either rely on or need the squatter demographic's vote. It would be a great sign of a step towards common sense law-making, where the Big Society means you take responsibility for your society, not just take from it what you can. They can rid those who worked for their properties a helping and deserved hand, and at the same time legislate to remove ugly and dangerous derelict buildings from anyone's areas. Now if you can justify in any way how stealing other people's stuff when they weren't looking should be legal, I'd love to hear about it. Come round to my house and we'll talk about it - just make sure you leave a house-sitter in case the pikey freeloaders decide you're next and you'll realise theft now means squat.