If you move into a property without having the right to live there, you are squatting. Squatting isn't a long term option since you can be evicted very easily.
The law on squatting
Squatting means occupying a property without the owner's permission. It is trespass and a criminal offence to occupy a property without the owner's permission.
You could face prosecution if you don't leave when:
- the landlord gets a court order,
- a person who normally lives in the property, or has a right to move in asks you to leave.
You can only claim squatter's rights if you've been squatting in the property for at least twelve years and the owner did not take any steps to remove you during that time.
If you are squatting it is important to get utilities such as gas, electricity and water connected properly. Using these services without contacting the suppliers is illegal.
Applying for housing benefit
Squatters are allowed to apply for housing benefit. There is no guarantee that you will get any housing benefit, or that it will cover your payments.
Landlords usually won't carry out any repairs for a squatter. However, if you have been given a 'use and occupation' book by the Housing Executive or a housing association you may be able to get some repairs carried out.
Contact an advice agency if you are squatting and your accommodation needs to be repaired.
Squatters can be evicted more easily than most other people and in most cases the landlord doesn't have to get a court order first. If a court order is needed, the property owner can apply without giving you any notice. In most cases the court will automatically give the owner the right to get back into the property.
You may have to pay compensation if the owner gets possession of the property. This is usually the amount of rent the owner would have received if you had not squatted in the accommodation.
What happens if I refuse to leave
If you refuse to leave, the property owner will usually ask the Enforcement of Judgement's Office to make you leave.
If you were squatting in Housing Executive or housing association property you may be given a 'use and occupation' book if the court orders you to leave. This means that you are allowed to live in the accommodation but you don't have the same rights as secure Housing Executive or housing association tenants.
You will have similar rights to a licenseet. You will be charged 'use and occupation' charges. These are similar to rent charges.
Finding a permanent home
The Housing Executive has a legal duty to provide information and advice about preventing homelessness to anyone who asks in Northern Ireland. If you are squatting in private property you may be entitled to help from the Housing Executive as a homeless person.
The Housing Executive must use four tests to assess your homeless application.
If you have been squatting in Housing Executive or housing association property you will usually be disqualified from the selection scheme for two years.
You will only be offered a secure tenancy if:
- you currently have enough points on the selection scheme to make you eligible for Housing Executive accommodation,
- the Housing Executive decides that there are exceptional reasons why you should get accommodation.
You will have to spend a year as an introductory tenant if you are offered accommodation.
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