Squatting: Your stories

Squatters in England and Wales could face jail or a fine when the law changes on Saturday to make squatting a criminal offence.

Ash Marks, squatter: ''Victims will become criminals, and that is outrageous''

Property owners have welcomed the prospect of being able to evict squatters faster.

Others say the new law fails to address homelessness and the reasons why people choose to live in other people's properties.

BBC News website readers on both sides of the divide tell their stories.

Jacky, UK - Property owner

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I have had very little money to live on courtesy of these vile people”

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I am currently a victim. I invested my savings in a brand new apartment last December. I have the tenants from hell who haven't paid a penny in rent since April.

They are now squatting and I have been going through the lengthy business of legal proceedings. The court case is in two weeks time, but when I get a possession order, it will probably take another month before I get them out.

If I could use this new law, I would be very pleased indeed. I'm afraid I am not a charity and I have had very little money to live on courtesy of these vile people.

Dominic McGlone, Greater Manchester - Squatter

The old Commonwealth Institute building in London, as it was before it was closed down in 2004 (file picture) The old Commonwealth Institute building in London, as it was before it was closed down in 2004. Dominic McGlone made his home here for a short while.

I squatted until about three years ago. I squatted at the Commonwealth Institute building in Kensington and used to squat in many other buildings as well, like cinemas, bingo halls, churches, schools, bowling alleys, even a boat.

I didn't do it because I was lazy or because I wanted to live for free, I did it because I had lost everything and at the time had no family contact and was sleeping in Hyde Park in London.

I met what I would call some alternative people, free people, modern hippies if you like and they helped me - they gave me a home.

I tried many different charities and organisations but I didn't fit the criteria. I wasn't a single, pregnant female, I wasn't a drug addict or alcohol dependant, I hadn't been released from prison and I wasn't an asylum seeker. I was just a single guy going through life's difficulties.

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It was the middle of winter, so I went and lived in a squat. It saved me, it helped me get on my feet and look to a brighter future”

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I was even told by social services that in order to prove my homelessness I needed to give a location like a shop doorway or park bench and they would visit me four or five times to make sure I'm sleeping rough where I say I am.

It was the middle of winter, so I went and lived in a squat. It saved me, it helped me get on my feet and look to a brighter future.

It took me years and years on the housing list before I got a flat, yet it takes minutes to open a squat. I have a job now after six years of unemployment and am able to rent a flat.

I am now no longer squatting but remain friends with many people in the squatting community, as it is sometimes called. I sometimes think that if I end up in the same situation I'd be OK because there's always squatting.

Ms Cuninghame, London - Property owner

A couple of years ago, I was going to let a property, so I employed builders to redecorate it. They finished the work the day before I went on holiday for three weeks. I also gave a set of keys to the lettings agency to start the viewings.

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I immediately alerted the police, but they said they could not help”

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On my return, I noticed that someone had entered the flat through the back-garden door by removing the section for cats and then stealing the key on the door inside the flat.

The door had been left wide open, a fabric cloth was put over the window like a curtain, and messy things like beer cans, jeans and clothes were lying on the floor.

I immediately alerted the police, but they said they could not help. I said this surely should be treated like burglary, as they entered the flat as a trespasser and had caused damage to the door.

I said they were using electricity and gas without paying anything, which itself is theft. They said no, squatting is not an offence.

Empty factory (file picture) What should be done with empty buildings?

I couldn't do anything. In the meantime, I kept receiving calls from the person living in the flat downstairs complaining about the squatters behaviour at midnight, saying, "They are very noisy, drinking, playing loud music. I can't sleep." She was also claiming that there were at least four or five people in the two-bedroom flat.

Imagine the disturbance they caused to the neighbours and then I got the blame despite having no control over it.

I had to go through expensive legal proceedings and managed to get them out within a few months. I am glad that the government has finally woken up and noticed our concerns.

Gel, London - Squatter

I have squatted for over 10 years. I no longer squat, but when I did, we'd tell the landlords their rights. We're squatters, not thieves.

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We're squatters, not thieves”

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With all of the places I have squatted, we have made them better and even some slum landlords have given us money for the work we did.

You can be evicted in 24 hours. I was evicted three times in one month.

The longest it has taken me to be evicted is 21 days at a cost of £350. Landlords can get an immediate possession order for £350 from the county court.

Most of the squatters that have abused the system are not even from this country - they just found the loophole and abused it.

Interviews by Priya Shah

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