Saturday 1 September 2012

Today is not a good day to be homeless

Today is not a good day to be homeless, as new laws criminalising squatting in residential premises come into force.

It was already a criminal offence to squat in a home where there was a Displaced Residential Occupant – someone who had nipped out to Waitrose for more champagne and oysters and on their return, found the house has been occupied in the meantime by someone else – or a Protected Intending Occupant – someone who has a valid purchase or tenancy agreement, but is prevented from moving in by (and only by) the physical presence of an existing occupant. What this law changes is, now there need not be a D.R.O. or P.I.O. to escalate what ought rightfully to be a civil matter between the owner and occupier to criminal status. In cases where a D.R.O. / P.I.O. exists, the legal machinery is unlikely to move any faster in practice as a result of the new law.

(Side question; Why did nobody carry out "practice runs" by issuing fake tenancy agreements to create bogus P.I.O.s in order to evict squatters?)

What the new law will do, is make it easier for rich "investors" who make a business of taking out loans to buy dilapidated buildings and letting them out at extortionate rents far in excess of the interest on the loans, to keep their properties empty in search of even higher rents. And divide communities and tear families apart, as some of the poorest and most vulnerable are turned into criminals by default.

My personal angle: Many years ago, when houses were cheap and mortgages expensive, I – while renting a house – decided to purchase a different house. There followed a nightmare of recalcitrant legal personnel, requiring me to take out an extension on my tenancy until completion on the new house. The house, though advertised as vacant possession, was in fact occupied; though not by squatters in the strictest sense, as they had secured he vendor's permission to remain there rent-free until the sale was completed. In the event, some heavy-duty remedial work (required as a condition of the mortgage) required them to move out. The legal process over-ran the extension, and I was forced into one of two positions: Remain as a squatter in the rented house with a P.I.O. looming (and due to move in the day after I eventually moved out), or enter the house I was buying as both a squatter and (someone with a good claim to be) P.I.O. Needless to say, I chose the latter on account of me being unlikely to attempt to evict myself.

This situation cannot be unique in the history of homebuying. If property conveyancing is still taking a long time, people are going to be at risk of arrest for occupying houses they do not yet legally own. Informal rent-free occupants by licence will also be at risk of arrest, if the police disbelieve their stories; as will tenants with incorrectly-completed paperwork.

And all so a few rich wankers can continue to get richer .....

This reminds me of the first time the Tories tried to pull this shit. So let's have a song.

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