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Squatting outlawed in The Netherlands

July 03 2010
Lack of affordable housing means law may be not be enforced immediately

Squatting has been outlawed in The Netherlands, making it a criminal offence to occupy empty buildings without the permission of the owner.

The bill, which was approved by the upper house of parliament last month, includes a one-year jail term for the offence of squatting. In Holland, around 1,500 squatters live in buildings they do not own or pay rent on, the same number as in Britain.

The law was introduced last year by a conservative majority in the Dutch lower house and is expected to come into force in October. It includes provision for the jail term to be extended to 32 months if squatters operate as a group or use violence.

A chronic lack of affordable housing has led many local authorities to turn a blind eye to squatting, and caretaker Justice Minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin told parliament that police will not immediately begin arresting these occupiers when the law comes into force.

Immediately after the bill was passed, protesting squatters occupied empty houses.

In England, squatting is not a crime, but is a civil matter to be resolved in the civil courts between squatters and owners. The owners have legal ways and procedures to have squatters evicted, but cannot legally use force or threats. The Criminal Law Act 1977 makes it an offence to force entry to a building which is occupied, and this includes squats.

A spokesman for the Advisory Service for Squatters said: "There's quite a lot of scare stories running around that the new government will make squatting illegal, but it is not in the Tory party's manifesto or programme for government, and it would be a very difficult thing to introduce in England because of our complicated land laws." In England, squatters have a right to claim ownership of a dwelling after 12 years of having lived there if no one else claims it, by adverse possession under common law.