Tabloid Squatting Propaganda

Article from Law Think after the sensationalist tabloid propaganda regarding Jasdon Ruddick and squatting ‘posh’ homes.

 The Mirror have called him ?Cheeky?, while the Daily Express have deemed him ?parasitic?. Jason Ruddick, a squatter who has moved into a £10 million Highgate house, has also caused the Daily Star switchboard to be ?jammed by angry readers?. The ?squatter story? is one that repeats itself every few months, accompanied by the same outraged public reaction, just a different protagonist. These reactions are driven by an absolute view of property summed up by the phrase ?every man?s home is his castle?. But with regard to squatters, this view is hard to agree with. It is hard to criticise a person putting to good use property that is otherwise vacant.

The Highgate home Ruddick is occupying

Take a look at the figures. There are at least 20 000 squatters in the UK. There are 82 000 empty homes. The vast majority of squatters occupy the property they are in peacefully. The stories that are picked up by the national press are almost invariably about squatters staying in high-value houses. These stories are the ones that cause a reaction, one fuelled by jealousy of the public who could never afford such houses.

But do we have anything to be jealous of? These squatters have no security since they can be evicted upon a court order. It is no longer the case that they can acquire title to the property after twelve years through adverse possession. The Land Registration Act 2002 changed the law so a registered property owner can object to a change in title after twelve years. Therefore, these squatters are not gaining anything other than a temporary roof over their head when they would otherwise be homeless.

Property at its heart is a community asset and is never an absolute right. All property rights balance the rights of the owner with those of the community. For example, if I want to build an extension to my house then I will have to apply for planning permission. This is to ensure there is no community interest that may be affected: I may block light to my neighbour?s house, or I may disrupt the environment and feel of the area (for example in the green belt). Similarly, if my property is in a certain location, the community interest may dictate an easement to be placed over my land.

Squatting is just another example of the limitation of property rights for community interests. Property is a limited resource and therefore comes with responsibilities. One of these is to put the property to good use. If you do not even check on it, then it seems justifiable for it to be used by others. On this topic, there has been debate recently on when the council can seize empty homes thus removing the owner?s property right altogether. But until that time, it seems reasonable for someone without any property to enter the house and use it for shelter until you move them on.