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 you can be arrested for squatting
You can be arrested for squatting if you're living in a property, or intend to live there, and:
- you didn't get the owner's permission to live there
- you entered the property without permission
- you know or should know that you're trespassing
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 houses and flats, but also temporary or moveable dwellings, like mobile homes or caravans.
When you can't be arrested
You can't be arrested if you first entered the property with the owner's permission, for example, as a tenant or a licensee.
You also 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, like 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 the police can do
The police can 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.
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.
If you think someone is squatting in your neighbour's home and you know they've not asked anyone to stay there while they're away, you should also call the police.
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.
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.