LONDON, March 18 (UPI) -- A an effort by the British government to boost the rights of homeowners would criminalize squatting in England and Wales, Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke said.
Clarke wants to end the "nightmare" of homeowners engaging in lengthy court battles to evict squatters because police will be able to force entry and arrest illegal property occupiers, The Daily Telegraph reported Friday.
A senior government source said changing squatting from a civil to criminal offense became a top priority for Clarke because he was upset by the cases of law-abiding people fighting to regain possession of their properties.
"Ken has had enough of seeing hard-working homeowners' battle to [get] squatters out," the official told the Telegraph. "He is determined to use the full force of the law to save people from the nightmare of having to fight to get their houses back. The days of 'squatters' rights' will be over."
Officials are developing plans that would make squatting illegal with penalties likely to include jail time.
Now, homeowners use civil courts to enforce their rights by proving they are a "displaced residential occupier" or a "protected intended occupier" intending to move into an empty property.
Among other things, squatters can take advantage of the adverse possession law, which can allow someone who occupied a building for 10 years to claim ownership of it, The Daily Telegraph reported.
One squatter group, known as The Really Free School, occupied several London properties over several years, including a building belonging to an antiques expert and a multimillion-dollar house owned by film director Guy Ritchie, the newspaper said.