This weekend a law criminalising squatting in residential buildings in England and Wales came into force, leaving up to 20,000 people facing eviction, fines or imprisonment.
Similarly to protesters, squatters are a often stereotyped and misrepresented in some of of mainstream press as freeloaders, anti-social, a nuisance to the community. Unlike any squatter I have ever met.
Sure, just because I haven’t met squatters fitting that description it doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Squatters are like any group of people, not a homogenised mass. They make use of empty buildings, making them home and sometimes a community space as well.
Squatters utilise all sorts of buildings but these laws only apply to residential ones. It is estimated there are 350,000 long term empty homes in the UK, 279,000 in England. These are the buildings people would have been able to squat.
As the squatting law has been discussed in the press over the last few days the same old inaccurate moans have come out, as well as some great reporting. Here are some of the squatting myths that get to me the most:
Squatters don’t pay their way
Sure, squatters are not paying rent or a mortgage but they are subject to the same tax laws as everyone else, including council tax. While some may not pay, that makes them no different to non-squatters.
Often buildings are empty because they are not of good enough standard to rent. If people decide to squat them this often means connecting up energy supplies and fixing things round the house, things which often cost money and a lot of time.
This law was needed so landlords could get rid of squatters
Buildings must be empty for people to squat them. They must not break in or cause criminal damage. They can not squat people’s homes. There were already laws in place to deal with all of those things.
Even if they’ve entered through an open window and caused no damage to a building that has been empty for years they can still be evicted. What was known as ‘squatters rights’ didn’t mean squatters could just take any building they want.
Squatters are lazy
It’s the age old criticism thrown at anyone vaguely ‘alternative.’ While the rest of us are working hard, paying our way how come these people have the time, and cheek to protest/occupy/squat/actively try and change or do anything positive?
Many squatters have jobs, many don’t (seemingly the yardstick of ‘laziness’ used by people in these arguments). Living in a squat is itself almost a full time job and most keep residents there 24/7.
A lazy squat just wouldn’t work.
For more information on the law and squatting in general go to the Advisory Service for Squatters.
The law is being challenged in court by Irene Gardiner in Wales, find out more here.