Squatting & squatters’ rights

Girl smiling sat on steps

Squatting isn't for everyone, but it can be fun.

Squatting – an alternative lifestyle, a political statement, or a solution to the housing crisis? You may have heard the phrase squatters’ rights, but what rights do squatters actually have? Changes to the law mean that squatting is illegal in many situations. Get the facts so you know your rights when squatting.

Why should I squat?

A lack of decent housing is still a major reason for squatting.

All kinds of people squat – those with regular jobs who don’t earn enough to pay the rent, ex-armed forces people who are unable to find work. And then there are people who choose to live alternatively due to political beliefs such as artists, musicians, travellers, and those who disagree with private housing ownership.

“There are people squatting from all walks of life,” says Joe Blake from Squatters’ Action for Secure Homes. “Young people are having to live at home with their families for longer because of high rents and a general housing crisis. Housing is the key issue of our generation.”

Squatters’ rights in the UK

Squatters’ rights mean that if you’ve been squatting in a building or a piece of land continuously for 10 years you can apply for ownership of that building or land. This has to have been done without the owner’s permission, for example you can’t have previously been renting it. BUT, bear in mind that the law says it’s illegal to squat in a residential building, like a house or a flat. Plus, even if you do try to claim squatters’ rights, the registered owner of the land has 65 days to object to your claim. So the reality is there’s pretty much no chance of being able to claim squatters’ rights in anything resembling a house.

Is it illegal to squat in a home?

Yes, the law specifically calls out squatting in any ‘residential’ building as being illegal in the UK. If you get caught squatting, it could lead to six months in prison, a £5,000 fine, or both. Just after squatting in homes was made illegal in 2012 some people were able to get their convictions overturned, but the reality is if you’re caught squatting in an empty house or flat you’re very likely to get arrested.

Is squatting illegal?

Whilst it’s illegal to squat in a home, It’s not completely illegal to squat altogether. It’s still not a crime to squat in non-residential buildings – i.e. commercial property or land that isn’t designed to be lived in. That said, it’s illegal to cause damage while entering or inside the property, or if you stay there once you’ve been told to leave by a court.

It’s also illegal to steal from the property, use utilities like electricity or gas without getting permission first, fly-tipping or not obeying a noise abatement notice.

How do I get arrested for squatting?

If the police catch you, they must be able to prove that you knowingly entered the property as a trespasser with the intent to live there.

If the owner of the property finds out you’re squatting, within 28 days they can apply for an Interim Possession Order (IPO), which gives you 24 hours to leave before you can be arrested.

What if I’m squatting because I have nowhere else to go?

If you’re not choosing to squat, and are doing it more out of desperation, you’re legally classed as homeless and may be entitled to help. Read our article on what to do if you’re homeless.

If you can’t afford to pay your rent, it’s best to get advice from Citizens Advice rather than try to stay and ‘squat’ in your rental property.

“If you’re doing it because you don’t have anywhere to live, get help from a housing charity or the council first,” says Danny, an ex-squatter who was illegally evicted by his landlord. “Temporary accommodation can be better than a lot of squats, and less of a drain on your time and resources.

“But if you want to get into it for other reasons, go and visit an existing squat to see if it’s right for you.”

How do I find a place to squat?

Finding out about places to squat can prove tricky and often it comes down to a combination of word of mouth, researching the squatting networks out there, and blind luck. Squatting groups exist in most big cities but, because they don’t want to attract too much negative attention, they tend to be quite closed.

For more practical guidance, the Advisory Service for Squatters produces a handbook on the legality and best practices for squatting, and gives friendly help and advice on getting a place.

Is squatting for me?

Joe is clear that squatting is not for the faint-hearted: “Squatting is certainly not for everyone, particularly in winter as it can be really cold,” he says. “Getting moved on all the time is tiring, and there always has to be one person around to defend the squat and make sure everyone’s belongings are safe.

‘But squatting has a proud history of turning around derelict buildings – fixing up places with the help of the local community and putting on events. It can be a great way of finding your independence and it reduces your reliance on the state.”

Alternatives to squatting

Pretty much the closest legal alternative to squatting is something called property guardianship. Becoming a property guardian means you get to live in old, unused buildings that would otherwise be empty. Yes, you do have to pay rent, but it’s usually a lot less expensive than most rents. Find out more about the pros and cons of becoming a property guardian here.

Next Steps


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Updated on 29-Sep-2015