Squatting is where you enter and stay somewhere without permission. People in this situation are called trespassers.
Squatting in residential properties is against the law and you can be arrested. If you are found guilty you can be sent to prison, fined or both. You can also be charged if you damage the property, for example, breaking a window to get in.
When can you be arrested for squatting?
You can be arrested for squatting if:
- you are in a property without the owner's permission - that is, as a trespasser, and
- you entered the property as a trespasser, and
- you know or should know that you're trespassing, and
- you are living in the property or you intend to live there for any period of time.
You can be arrested for squatting in any residential building that was designed or adapted as a place to live before you moved into it. For example, it would include houses and flats, but also more temporary or moveable dwellings, such as mobile homes or caravans.
When can't you be arrested for squatting?
You can't be arrested if you first entered the property with the owner's permission, for example, as a tenant or a licensee. Also, you can't be arrested if your tenancy or licence has come to an end but you haven't yet moved out, or you're behind with your rent. In these circumstances, your landlord must give you notice and in most cases, go to court to evict you and repossess the property.
The offence doesn't cover non-residential property, for example, commercial properties or the land around residential or commercial properties. Squatters in these areas may be guilty of other offences or owners may be able to use other laws to get possession of their property back.
What can the police do?
The police have the power to enter and search a property to arrest someone they suspect of squatting.
The offence carries a maximum penalty of six months in prison, a £5,000 fine or both.
What can you do if your home or a neighbour's home has been taken over by squatters?
If you find squatters in your home, you can call the police to report a criminal offence.
If you think someone is squatting in your neighbour's home and you know that they've not asked anyone to stay there while they're away, you should also call the police.
Advice on dealing with squatters in your home
In England, the government has produced guidance to make you aware of your rights if your home is taken over by squatters. The guidance is available from the GOV.UK website at www.gov.uk.
In Wales, similar guidance for homeowners is available from the GOV.UK website at www.gov.uk.
What can you do if you have nowhere to live
If you were squatting and now have nowhere to live, the council may be able to re-house or help you find somewhere to stay.
For more information, see Finding accommodation.