Squat a load of rubbish

Written by Total Politics has a free weekly Friday email bulletin. Follow this link to register. on 7 September 2011 in Diary
Squatting is and will always be wrong says Francesca Preece. Revealing a list of vacant homes will only lead to further crime and encourage squatters

Buried in the headlines beside Dale Farm, Nadine Dorries' abortion battle and NHS reforms, one judge threatened to make a name for herself for all the wrong reasons.

As the gypsy and traveller debate heats up and the government pieces together plans to make squatting illegal, Judge Fiona Henderson has effectively given squatters the keys to homes across a London borough.

A squatters' rights campaigner challenged Camden Council to reveal empty homes using a FOI request. Remarkably Judge Henderson, who was presiding over the case, ruled in his favour. The council's hands have been tied and they will have to list the vacant homes in the borough in 28 days' time.

While it is sickening that homes are left empty as south east England struggles with severe housing shortages, the point remains that these properties belong to someone - it is not our decision to make, whether we like it or not.

We can't seize property just because we are not happy with the way it is being used - or not used, as in these cases.

Campaigner Yiannis Voyias may be pleased as punch that doors will be opened for academics and homeless charities, but I fear that his victory will be in vain.

This outcome says to squatters everywhere that it is acceptable to slip into an empty home and make it your own. FOI requests have put so much good information into the public domain, but listing empty properties facilitates the unjust practice of squatting, something that ought to be illegal.

It is a dangerous precedent, and one not welcomed by the local police, who pointed out the strong link between squatting and crime.

Handing over properties will only foster the attitude with squatters that they will get anything they want handed to them on a plate. For anyone who watches The World's Strictest Parents will know, people don't understand the true value of what they're given until they are given a good dollop of hard graft.

You can't give people conflicting messages; one condemning their actions and another saying they are acceptable. Pandora's box will truly be opened with this ruling. It will only lead to a free-for-all seemingly approved and backed by the council. There are horror stories where people leave their house for twenty-four hours and come back to find it taken over. Now the unscrupulous will seize upon the ruling to take up residence, trash a place and fight to stay.

No one has the right to take someone else's property, regardless of its value, and squatting is tantamount to stealing someone's house. It seems ridiculous that if someone were to take my mobile phone it would be treated as theft, but if someone moved into my home - most people's biggest purchase - it would be legal! The fact that these properties are unoccupied should be irrelevant to the law.

People must work for their assets. It is the onlyway to truly appreciate them.  If judges are essentially giving up the keys to empty homes, others may wrongly assume that any house is up for grabs. I wouldn't be surprised if we see more stories like the civil servant in Leytonstone who returned home from a trip to the Proms to find a Romanian family living in her house, having told neighbours she was dead.

I do agree that empty housing should be used in some way, but this is not the way. I suppose Judge Henderson would be just as accommodating if squatters took a fancy to her home while she was away.

Thankfully common sense prevailed in a recent case where a doctor and his wife discovered squatters had taken over days before she was due to give birth. After hearing the distress they were causing a heavily pregnant woman, they moved on, many to a property around the corner.

At the end of the day, these homes could be vacant from a few months to a few years. Who knows what the owners have in store for them? Often not even the owners themselves know in these uncertain economic times.

Thankfully squatting will soon be illegal if the Tory section of the government has its way.

I am not heartless, and I don't like to see people forced on to the streets. Perhaps instead of validating squatters' rights, we should put our efforts into further homeless facilities and increasing and improving the housing stock in pressurised areas. We should help people, whatever their circumstances, but it should not be at the expense of someone else's home.

Tags: Dale farm, Judge Fiona Henderson, Squatters, Yiannis Voyias

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