Homeowners celebrate end to squatters’ rights

The scrapping of centuries old squatters’ rights will put an end to “professional opportunists” who have made homeowners’ lives in Hampstead and Highgate a misery.

On Saturday (September 1), the government passed new laws which could see those who invade people’s homes jailed for up to six months and fined �5,000.

Mike Freer, MP for Golders Green and Hampstead Garden Suburb, who championed the cause through Parliament, said some residents had been forced to forego holidays and were scared to leave their homes due to the threat posed by squatters.

Making squatting a criminal rather than civil offence means police can now raid squatted homes and arrest those inside.

Dr Oliver Cockerell, whose �1million West Hampstead home was taken over by squatters as he prepared to move in with his heavily pregnant wife last year, said the new laws were a welcome shift in power towards the homeowner.

“It was extremely aggravating,” said the 50-year-old Harley Street doctor. “I think that anyone who has what they consider to be a possession taken away from them without their agreement would find it extremely upsetting. Until now, the only way to get your house back was a very long winded legal process which could cost thousands of pounds. There was no law to protect homeowners.”

High profile squatting cases covered in the Ham&High have won national coverage in recent months.

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Among the properties taken over were a �10million mansion belonging to the Gaddafi family in Hampstead Garden Suburb, a �4million house belonging to the Congolese embassy in Hampstead Garden Suburb and a �10million pile in Highgate.

Mr Freer also gathered a dossier of “human stories” from locally affected families to present as evidence to then housing minister Grant Shapps MP in a bid to push through the legislation.

“That was the hidden story in all this,” said Mr Freer. “It’s not just about the house being squatted, it’s about the neighbours not going on holiday.”

Even those who used squatting for political ends welcomed the changes to the law.

Dr Saul Zadka, who led the storming of the Gaddafi house in Winnington Close, said “Squatting laws in this country were archaic and this overhaul was long overdue.

“Families who lived in the area could come back from holiday and find their home squatted, which I find morally repugnant.”

But political campaigner George Weiss, who won the deeds to his Hampstead flat through squatters’ rights after his landlord disappeared, said the new powers would affect the most vulnerable in the community.

“The government should be providing homes for everyone who needs one. That situation - where squatters take up residence in other people’s homes – should not exist,” said the 71-year-old.