The act of squatting is defined as inhabiting an unoccupied space or building, most likely an abandoned residency that the individual does not own. Usually squatters reside in urban areas, more specifically residencies that already face deterioration. In order to make their presence known, squatter's preserve their rights by posting a legal notice on the front door called Section 6.
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A majority of countries consider squatting to be a civil dispute between the owner of the building or place of occupancy and the squatter, while other countries consider squatting to be a crime. Traditionally state law, as well as property law grants ownership privileges to the original property owner, rather than the squatter. However, Section 6 of the United Kingdom's Criminal Law Act of 1977 protects squatter's rights to reside in an unoccupied and abandoned property.
Section 6 serves as a protector for squatters who inhibit an owned, but unoccupied property for a certain period of time. Many times certain legal rights are given to squatters through a de facto ownership process if they reside on the property for an extended period of time.
According to an American journalist, Robert Neuwirth, author of "Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, A New Urban World," which describes living conditions in squatter communities around the world, there are one billion squatters worldwide. Neuwirth's surmises that one out of every seven people in the world is a squatter. In African nations there are enormous squatter communities, such as Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya; Grande Hotel Beira in Mozambique; and the inner city region of Johannesburg, South Africa. In many of these locations squatters have created their own mini communities.
Section 6 of the Criminal Law Act 1977, which was passed through the United Kingdom's Parliament, protects squatters rights, particularly in terms of imposing threats or violence towards squatters. The legislation of Section 6 states if squatters are actually present in the location, it is illegal for owners of the property to kick the squatters off their property. Squatters post a legal warning in the building, usually on the entrance of the building, which protects their occupancy rights.
The 1994 Criminal Justice & Public Order Act limited the legal property rights given to squatters by Section 6 of the 1977 Criminal Law Act; however, it should be noted that squatting is not an illegal crime. The act of squatting is not a criminal act; rather, it is a civil quarrel between the squatter and the owner of the property. Legally police officers have no jurisdiction or power in civil disputes, such as squatting. Instead the property owner and the squatter must settle their case in a civil court.
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