The law on squatting is far out, man

Dealing with squatters has been a problem for many years but the law is not on the side of aggrieved owners of affected properties, says Simon White

Carry on came to south London last week as the Ministry of Defence made a right old mess of evicting a bunch of squatters from a former army barracks in Putney.

For those of you who don’t know, Putney is the posh bit of London’s Wandsworth – more Hyacinth Bucket than Birds of a feather if you know what I mean. So squatters are about as popular in Putney as Dimitar Berbatov would be dropping in to the Tottenham Hotspur Social Club for a swift half.

The offending individuals had been turfed out of their previous squat in Balham the week before and the MoD, in a bungled attempt to move them along quickly, incorrectly brought the case before a judge sitting in a court in Hammersmith whereas it should have been brought before Wandsworth County Court.

Much to the horror of the residents and estate agents of SW15, the case was thrown out on a technicality.

Dealing with squatters – or the great unwashed as I call them – is not as uncommon as you may think.

My first experience of it was when I had to survey a huge house in south Manchester. The viewing arrangements, as stated on the agent’s particulars, were “by appointment with the squatters”.

I still recall the day I visited that property although some 25 years have passed since then. The residents were either stoned, drunk, asleep or all three. Those who were still on this planet eyed me with extreme suspicion as if I was the embodiment of the capitalist monster they were waging war against by the cunning ploy of staying in bed all day. Between you and me, I’ve often suspected that none of them were Tories. For those of you old enough to re-member, this was in the heyday of rebel Wolfie Smith and the Tooting Popular Front on TV’s Citizen Smith. Back then, being a squatter was regarded as an alternative lifestyle to be applauded – one in the eye for the establishment and all that. Squatters even had a uniform – they only wore T-shirts displaying pictures of Che Guevara or Bob Marley.

Of course, there is a serious side to all this and the squatters of south London now reside in leafy Putney where a million doesn’t buy a lot.

The law does not act in favour of the aggrieved and squatting is not illegal. In fact, the law dictates that if there is no objection a squatter can acquire title to a property after only 65 days. If there is an objection the squatter may still be able to acquire lawful title if the owner doesn’t start an action to recover the property within two years.