Wherever I Lay My Hat
Most of us have some idea about the process for resolving disputes between landlords and tenants, but what happens when someone decides to take up residence on someone elses property without their knowledge or permission? Without a lease?
Its an issue that often gets media attention. Many watched with interest as the squatters who had been living in Bondi Pavillion in Sydney took legal action last year when the local council tried to evict them. The squatters basically said that because the council had knowingly allowed them to live there for many years, even providing them with cleaning equipment, there was an implied lease. So they should be given reasonable notice (they suggested 12 months), not just kicked out. Sadly they lost their appeal in the Supreme Court in March this year.
A quick online search and youll find many sites dedicated to helping people take up residence on someone elses property, from handy hints to finding a suitable venue, to clever ways to get the utilities connected.
So what does the law say?
Under the Inclosed Lands Protection Act (NSW) its illegal to enter someone elses property without their consent, or to stay on their property when you have been asked to leave, unless you have a legally acceptable reason for being there. The maximum penalty is $550. Its higher for trespassing on prescribed premises, such as a school or hospital.
Pretty cheap rent all things considered.
The reality is, most property owners are just relieved to see the back of squatters and rarely press charges. Police tend not to be involved, and will usually only act at the request of an owner who has tried and failed to get squatters to move on.
Unlike some countries, squatters here dont have any rights over property. In England, squatters who have inhabited a property over 10 years can actually apply to become the registered owners. In 2008 a London squatter made headlines when he was awarded a plot of land worth nearly 4 million pounds. A recent bill introduced into Dutch parliament to make squatting illegal, has been met with outrage, a country where for years squatters have been given legal rights to occupy vacant property.
With housing and rental prices high, the issue of what to do with squatters here will unlikely go away. Some see it as a human rights issue, demanding that under-privileged and homeless people should be able to live rent-free in vacant buildings.
The judgement in the Bondi Pavillion squatters case read, hardship alone, however great, does not confer rights.
Lets be honest – most of us would not be too keen on the idea of returning home from a holiday to find that strangers have moved in.