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Criminal offence

Trespassers

Residential property

Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 , s144

Summary

As is widely known, a new law has been passed which makes it a criminal offence to squat in residential property. The provision came into effect on 1 September 2012 and at least one person has already been sent to prison under it. An interesting question arises as to the relationship between this section and the ability of trespassers to acquire title under the provisions of Schedule 6 of the Land Registration Act 2002, which are dealt with on this page.

More detail

Subsection 1 of s144 provides that:
    (1) A person commits an offence if—
    (a) the person is in a residential building as a trespasser having entered it as a trespasser,
    (b) the person knows or ought to know that he or she is a trespasser, and
    (c) the person is living in the building or intends to live there for any period.
The offence is not committed by a person holding over after the end of a lease or licence, even if the person leaves and re-enters the building (subsection (2)).

A “building” includes any structure or part of a structure (including a temporary or moveable structure), and a building is “residential” if it is designed or adapted, before the time of entry, for use as a place to live (sub-section (3).

Comment

It is possible for a trespasser to acquire title to a residential building under the provisions of Schedule 6 to the Land Registration Act 2002. If the trespasser has been in adverse possession for a period of at least ten years prior to the application to the Land Registry to be registered as the proprietor and the current registered proprietor fails to serve a counter-notice “the applicant is entitled to be entered in the register as the new proprietor of the estate” (Schedule 6, para 4). (If no counter-notice is served it is not necessary to consider any of the three conditions in Schedule 6, para 5: estoppel, some other reason, boundary). The government therefore seems to have created a bizarre situation where a person although committing a criminal act can acquire title by reason of that act!

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