Squatted property: the laws

What is squatting?

Squatting means the occupation of a place meant for residing in, in which one or more persons effect entry, most frequently by breaking and entering (breaking a door or a shutter, etc.). Squatters therefore illegally occupy an empty house or premises, even the home of a citizen against his will. It concerns occupants without right or title.

A squatted property places the owner in a very complex situation. Squatting places two fundamental rights in opposition to each other: the right to property and the right to lodging.

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Right to property

The right to property is an unalienable right, incorporated in the Declaration of the rights of man and the citizen. It is the right to enjoy the use of and possess things in the most absolute manner (article 544 of the French Civil Code).

Right to lodging

The right to lodging is a constitutional right. This right is reaffirmed by the Besson law of 31 May 1990: “Guaranteeing the right to lodging constitutes a duty of solidarity for the whole nation.”

In case of a squatted house, the judgment relies in the first instance on the legal concept of the home.

Home

As defined by the French Civil code (article 102), the home represents the place where the person has his main establishment. Therefore, a person can only have one home. This concerns the primary residence, the address with which the person is officially associated. All other built immovable properties (apartments, houses, commercial, business or industrial premises, etc.) are considered secondary residences.

Article 226-4 of the French Penal Code  provides for and penalises the illicit occupation of another’s home. The act of effecting entry or of staying in another’s home using manipulation, threats, assault or coercion is punished by the sentence of one year of imprisonment and a fine of 15,000 euros.

 

By contrast, in its case law, the Court of Cassation (criminal division, 22 January 1997, 95-81.186)  rules that even when squatters effect entry into an apartment by breaking and entering, they do not commit home invasion if the apartment is unfurnished, whether this is because the building has just been finished, or because it is in between two leases, or because the building is intended for demolition. A vacant and unoccupied house cannot be considered a home.

In fact, Article 226-4 of the French Penal Code does not aim to guarantee the immovable property from usurpation, but to protect the home as the factor enclosing and protecting a space of privacy.

Therefore, squatting cannot be considered home invasion unless the squatted property was established as a primary residence at the time when the squatter moved there.

It is thus imperative to distinguish squatting in a secondary residence from squatting in a primary residence. The two instances correspond to completely distinct legal systems.

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