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Pressure against squatters increases

December 08 2010
Housing minister criticises squatters advisory service

Housing Minister Grant Shapps has stepped up pressure against squatters, issuing guidelines to property owners about actions they can take and criticising organisations giving squatters advice.

The guidelines explain what a person can legally do upon finding somebody occupying their property and the limits of squatters' rights. They highlight that landlords can apply for an interim possession order that requires occupiers to move out within 24 hours.

"Squatting is anti-social, undesirable and unfair on homeowners who find they have their homes taken over," Mr Shapps told the BBC. "This government is not prepared to stand that situation continuing, and in particular we're keen to provide better advice for people who find that they are victims of squatters as well."

The Advisory Service for Squatters (ASS), an organisation providing legal guidance to squatters and homeless people, said Mr Shapps was scaremongering. Myk Zeitlin, a member of the organisation, said Mr Shapps's description of squatters was inaccurate.

"I have met some squatters who are anti-social, as I have tenants and homeowners," he said. "Squatting itself is not anti-social or undesirable, nor unfair. What is anti-social and unfair is the ownership of property that allows it to be left empty or used for anti-social activity when there is homelessness and other social need."

Mr Zeitlin said some people made a personal or political decision to become squatters because they felt the rents asked of them by landlords were too high.

Mr Shapps said the guidelines for landlords sought to counterbalance extensive advice offered to squatters. He criticised organisations such as ASS, saying these acted like estate agents and helped people take over others' homes. Mr Zeitlin said this was incorrect.

"We are not an estate agent, as we cannot find properties for people," he said. "We provide a service so that people know that it is legal in this country [and] can make the best decisions for themselves about whether to squat or not."