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New “anti-squatting” Act aims at protecting owners more effectively in civil matters

 
PUBLICATION

New “anti-squatting” Act aims at protecting owners more effectively in civil matters

Jasmina Sadek, Stefaan Van Dyck

On November 16, 2017 the new Belgian “anti-squatting” Act will come into force.

 

This Act offers the holder of a right or title to an immovable property more possibilities to take faster and more effective action against squatters. This Act also refers to business premises, houseboats and caravans. 

 

Before, only the intrusion of an inhabited property without having a right or title to do so, was punishable. As of November 16, 2017, the unlawful occupation or residence in an uninhabited or unoccupied property, “i.e. squatting”, shall be considered a criminal offence. This makes squatting a continuous offence. In other words, a squatter can always be detained. For further details on the criminal aspect concerning squatting, we refer to the article written by our colleagues Pieter Helsen and Julie Jamaer, which may be consulted via the following link.

 

The future will show whether and to what extent such offences will be given priority by the competent offices of the public prosecutor and whether squatters can effectively be driven out of the property, via this mechanism. Therefore the amended civil procedure is also important and deserves special attention.

 

When confronted with a squatter in his (temporarily) uninhabited or unoccupied property, the owner of the property can initiate an eviction procedure before the justice of the peace. The new “anti-squatting” Act significantly accelerates the eviction process.

 

Eight days, or in cases of absolute necessity – e.g. when the squatter cannot be identified –, two days after filing a petition initiating these proceedings, the owner will appear before the justice of the peace. If the petition is deemed admissible and well founded, this will lead to an eviction judgement, which can be enforced from the eighth day following the day on which it is served on the squatter(s).

 

Only in exceptional, severe circumstances, for example during wintertime, the justice of the peace may postpone the enforcement of the judgement by a period of one or six months (the latter if the owner is a public sector body or entity).

 

Previously, the owner already had the possibility to bring the matter before the justice of the peace, although this often evolved into a lengthy procedure during which the owner often felt helpless as squatters occupied his property, thereby causing damages. In order to meet the owner’s wishes to speed up the process, interim relief could be sought via summary proceedings before the president of the court . To do so, the owner had to prove urgency, which could be challenging in case of an uninhabited or unoccupied property.

 

Under the new Act, urgency is presumed and judgement of the justice of the peace is given on the merits of the case. Furthermore, the new Act provides a mechanism for the owner to have the goods of the squatter evacuated from the property.

 

The new Act provides new means to counter squatting more effectively.