Tough new anti-squatting legislation comes to the test in London
London’s first squatter was imprisoned yesterday under the new tougher anti-squatting laws.
Alex Haigh, 21, from Plymouth, was jailed for 12 weeks for squatting in an abandoned Pimlico home for two months.
The legislation, which went into effect on 1 September, has turned the formerly civil offense into a criminal one, making it much easier for landlords to evict squatters, regardless of whether they plan to reoccupy the property or not. Occupying a building has long been illegal if the person is on holiday, renovating the property or if someone is scheduled to move in.
The maximum penalty for squatting is now a £5,000 fine or a six-month jail term, or both.
Haigh came to London to find work and ended up squatting at the Cumberland Street property with two other men Anthony Ismond and Michelle Blake.
Ismond was fined £100 for squatting and recalled to prison on breach of licence. Blake’s sentencing is scheduled for a later date.
London has a long tradition of squatting, going back to the Blitz and beyond. Many famous personalities, like photographer to the starts Mario Testino, started off that way, while some squatting communities have been praised for reviving rundown parts of London, like Peckham, where they opened up local art galleries and community centres.
However, squatters have a mixed reputation. They have been blamed for infringing on property rights, hassling neighbours and depreciating real estate prices. Aided by media campaigns, spearheaded by The Evening Standard and the Daily Mail last year, the Ministry of Justice came down hard on the practice after it was debated in parliament last year.
“For too long it has been the squatters, not the law-abiding homeowners, who seem to have had the upper hand,” the ministry said in a statement.
There are thought to be an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 squatters in London alone. But this is a fraction of the number of empty homes, with some 75,000 currently said to be resting vacant in Greater London, according to Empty Homes, an agency registering the number of vacant properties.
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