Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Squatting - you may be surpised what you think

The Netherlands used to look a picture of harmony and tolerance but its liberal outlook is wearing a bit thin. The new coalition government is banning the Burqa, one of it’s party leaders is in court for promoting religious hatred. Even the tree in Amsterdam that sheltered Anne Frank has gone rotten and fallen over.  But perhaps most significantly of all the government has outlawed squatting.

Nothing wrong with that you might think. Surely it should be illegal to squat other people’s houses anyway.  Well perhaps, but it is legal in England and Wales and Dutch tolerance of squatting has actually been a very successful policy. The Netherlands has Europe’s lowest level of vacancy (0.3% compared to 3.5% in UK).

The simple idea in the Netherlands was that if an owner left a building empty for more than a year he lost the right to evict squatters. If the owner was intending to redevelop a building, demolish it, or sell it the last thing he needed was to have it full of squatters who had rights to stay. The effect was of course property owners did whatever they could to stop their property becoming empty, and if that failed, they did whatever they could to get their property back into use within a year.

A whole industry grew up to help. It provided a “guardian” service finding people who would live in empty properties to prevent them becoming squatted. Not only did the law minimise the number of empty properties, a by-product was to create a new sector of housing that was cheap and accessible. Figures suggest that nearly 1% of the Dutch population are now property guardians. The industry has spread beyond the Dutch borders and property guardian companies like Camelot and Ad-Hoc successfully operate in Belgium, Germany, France and the UK.

It is a truth that few dare speak here. But the risk of an empty property being squatted is a powerful motivator for the owner to get it into use. Whether you like the idea of squatting or not, it is probably true that it stops a lot of buildings being left empty. A system like the Dutch are now getting rid of, without doubt, creates an even stronger incentive still.  There are mutterings on the backbenches of Westminster here that squatting should be banned across the UK too. Plenty of people will tell you about the harm squatting causes, much of which will be true. But before you agree to enthusiastically, ask the other question too. What good does it do? You may be surprised what you conclude.


  1. I've never been averse to the idea of squatters and I think empty homes are fair game. The situation the Dutch are about to change sounds pretty good to me. So what I don't understand is the reason behind their move to make squatting illegal. Why are they doing this, when by the sound of it, they had a regime that worked very well to keep buildings occupied?

  2. The new Dutch coalition seem to be making a number of worrying decisions. See this in today's Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/oct/08/geer-wilders-netherlands-holland-editorial

  3. Oddly, a substantial part of the Dutch reasoning behind the recent squatting ban is .... tackling empty properties. Empty property owners will now instead be fined, I think, a measly 7,500 euros - which is likely to be seen as just another investment cost instead of an incentive.

    It seems particularly uneven compared with the 1-year custodial squatters, and visitors of squats, can face.

    An aside - if I'm not mistaken, the Dutch 'guardian service' industry has recently somewhat discredited itself in the process of self-regulation.

    I'm hoping for a re-emergence of small housing cooperatives in Holland.

  4. Fascinating. 7.5k fine! Is the idea that the fine is priced above typical property guardian fees? there-by making leaving the property empty the most expensive choice.

  5. I am all for occupying obviously disused abandoned buildings, but how can you justify this: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1322246/Man-leaves-home-week-decorated-15-squatters-in.html

  6. That case is just media stories... Gupta actually assaulted a female squatter living there, and then illegally evicted her with police. I'm helping them take legal action against both gupta and the police. It is illegal in this country to squat somewhere that is someone else's home. Also,the 12 year law of adverse possession is no longer valid, you could squat a house for 100 year and you still won't own it. But I suppose fact checking is quite dead now.

  7. Not quite true Anon. Adverse posession still exisits although the rules were ammended to protect the rights of registered property owners. See here: http://unlockingthepotential.blogspot.com/2010/01/help-yourself-to-free-empty-property.html