It is a bill introduced by Senator Dominique Estrosi-Sassone and several of her fellow Republican members. Its purpose is to reinforce the “respect of real estate property against squatting”. Disregarding the housing crisis that is pushing thousands of people into the streets while three million homes are vacant in France, the law, finally passed in first reading on January 19 by the Senate, introduces coercive measures to deter and punish squatters more severely.
In her introductory remarks, the senator puts squatters and criminals on the same level: “Let’s not confuse squatters with precarious people, criminals who facilitate squatting and associations defending the right to housing.” This criminalizing vision is based in particular on recent cases: in Théoule-sur-Mer where the house of a retired couple was squatted (the occupants were given an eight-month suspended prison sentence), or in Paris, with premises belonging to the Petit Cambodge restaurant and used by collectives to fight against gentrification.
Fight against poverty by hunting the poor.
It is hard to imagine how the public authorities will make the famous distinction between bad squatters and precarious good guys upstream. In any case, the Right largely turns a blind eye to the role of the State in the poor application of the right to housing, which obviously multiplies the recourse to squatting or the excesses of slum landlords.
The PS Senator from the Hérault Hussein Bourgi tried well to highlight the phenomenon, under the indignation of his Republican colleagues, but in vain: “The heart of the matter is the application of the SRU law. (Protests on the right) While there are ten million poor and four million poorly housed in France, the Dalo law remains a dead letter. Year after year, the report of the Abbé Pierre Foundation denounces the condition of these men, these women, these children wandering from hotels to shelters, when they are not in the street, on a bench or under the entrance of our buildings”.
The analytical report of the session highlights the mockery and selective indignation of the right, which unsurprisingly fights poverty by fighting against the poor. As Bossuet said: “God laughs at men who deplore the effects whose causes they cherish.”
Thus, the text adopted by the senators, which will then be examined by the National Assembly, provides for a considerable increase in the penalty incurred in case of introduction or maintenance in the home of others, bringing it to a maximum of 3 years imprisonment and a €45,000 fine, compared to one year and €15,000 today. The text also creates an “offense of fraudulent occupation of a building”, punishable by one year’s imprisonment and a fine of €15,000. “Unlike the notion of domicile, which is sometimes subjective and necessarily singular, the notion of property is more objective since it is based on a title deed”, the supporters of the text maintain, a measure that thus allows a new repressive angle, the notion of domicile following indeed different interpretations according to the Civil Code or the Penal Code.
The text of the law then extends the rapid procedure of forced evacuation to the illicit occupation of all premises used for residential purposes, even if they are not used by the owners. Finally, the law creates a fine specifically criminalizing the publication of squatting manuals, broadly speaking, sanctioning information on the legal provisions governing the right to housing .
“We must also punish the promotion of squatting through the publication of real online manuals: type ‘how to squat an apartment’ on the search engines of your phones, and you’ll see,” asserts Senator Dominique Estrosi-Sassone. It’s frightening to imagine that, while you aren’t around, you can find your locks changed and a new occupant in your place at home. We therefore foresee a penalty for this propaganda”.
The text thus directly addresses what could be described as the practice of militant “squatting,” which compensates for the State’s failure to respect the law and take care of the most destitute, particularly migrants and people without papers. In the event of final adoption, the activists will therefore face much heavier penalties in case of criminal prosecution of their squats.
Precariousness victim of political skirmishes
In spite of its adoption by the Senate, the text was not supported by the government, represented in session by the Minister of Housing Emmanuelle Wargon, who believes that a balance has already been found with the ASAP law (or “acceleration and simplification of public action”) and that there is no need to accentuate the repressive aspect. This law extended the notion of domicile to secondary residences, therefore unoccupied, opened the requests for eviction to the beneficiaries or representatives of the owners or tenants, and obliged the prefects to act without delay in the case of requests for eviction by owners or tenants.
The government, in spite of its rigid right-wing appearance, however, did not intend to leave the continuation of the “fight against squatting” to the Republican senatorial opposition, and finally jumped on the media bandwagon. This is how the Minister of the Interior Gérald Darmanin, the Minister of Justice Eric Dupond-Moretti and the same Mrs. Wargon published a press release on Friday, January 22nd, announcing the implementation of the reform of the “forced evacuation procedure in case of squatting, to better protect the French people”. These are in fact the provisions contained in the ASAP law and whose implementation procedure has, today, been transmitted to the prefects. They will now have to respond to requests for evictions within 48 hours and proceed with “evacuations” from 24 hours following the formal notice.
The use of squatting is obviously part of contexts of precariousness or important social difficulties, and the law, while also preserving the right to housing, already provides multiple provisions to protect landlords: the recent squat cases that have been in the media these last months mainly confirm the incapacity of the State to properly ensure the implementation of the law, whether it concerns occupiers or landlords. However, examples show that in the case of important real estate issues, the State may have a certain tendency to favor the owner classes.
This text of law adopted by the Senate is thus limited to strengthen the repressive aspect of the housing question, without bringing any social measure balancing this hardening by compelling the State to act more and better in favor of the most precarious.
Some squats in France: https://radar.squat.net/en/groups/country/FR/squated/squat
Groups (collectives, social centres, squats) in France: https://radar.squat.net/en/groups/country/FR
Events in France: https://radar.squat.net/en/events/country/FR