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When everyone has a home

Housing advice for Northern Ireland

Squatting

Squatters are people who occupy and live in a property despite having no legal right to live there.  It’s not a realistic housing option because squatters can easily be evicted.

Squatting and the law

Living in a property without the owner’s permission is trespass and an offence.  People often talk about “squatters’ rights” but this only applies if you’ve lived in a property for at least 12 years and the owner hasn’t tried to remove you from the property during that time.

You could be prosecuted if you don’t leave when

  • the landlord gets a court order or
  • you’re asked to leave by someone who has a legal right to live in or move into the property.

Squatting in a Housing Executive or housing association property

The Housing Executive or a housing association will sometimes allow people to remain in a property even though they have no legal right to live there.  This might happen if you lived with the legal occupant who has now died.  If the landlord agrees to this arrangement you’ll be given a “Use and Occupation” book. 

You won’t be a tenant and you’ll have similar rights to a licensee. You’ll have to pay 'use and occupation' charges. These are similar to rent charges and you can apply for housing benefit for help paying these.

Housing benefit and squatting

Squatters can apply for housing benefit but there’s no guarantee you’ll get it or that it will cover your housing payments.

Repairs in a squat

It’s very unlikely that the owner of a private property will carry out any repairs for squatters.  If you’re squatting in a Housing Executive or housing association property and you’ve been given a “use and occupation” book you may be able to get some repairs carried out.

Utilities in a squat

It is illegal to use utilities such as gas, electricity or water without a proper connection provided by the utility supplier.

Evicting squatters

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. Only officers of the Enforcement of Judgements office can physically remove you or your property from a squat. 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.

If you refuse to leave, the property owner will usually ask the Enforcement of Judgement's Office to make you leave. If you are squatting in private property and you’re now homeless you may be entitled to help from the Housing Executive.

If you have been squatting in Housing Executive or housing association property you will usually be disqualified from the selection scheme for two years.