Squatting becomes illegal in the Netherlands

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A new law came into force Friday making it illegal from to squat in empty buildings in the Netherlands, a popular practice among students faced with a shortage of affordable housing.

"From today it is illegal to squat in any empty houses or buildings," housing ministry spokeswoman Nynke van der Zee told AFP.

The law passed by MPs a year ago makes squatting punishable by up to a year behind bars -- or up to two years if violence or intimidation is used.

If groups of squatters are involved who also use violence, the penalty can rise to two years and eight months, according to a justice ministry statement.

Squatting has for recent decades been allowed in the Netherlands if a building had stood empty for more than a year, with complicated eviction procedures.

This has given rise to a unique anti-squatting industry, with firms renting out buildings on behalf of their owners, often to students, at much reduced monthly rates to stave off unwanted tenants.

The city of Amsterdam announced on Wednesday that it will take action to evict squatters from about 200 buildings in the capital where there are believed to be around 1,500 squatters.

Squatters, arguing that housing is a basic right, have turned out for demonstrations in several cities in recent days, and have occupied new buildings in protest against the law.

Countrywide, some 500 to 1,000 properties, from small homes to whole apartment buildings, are believed to be occupied by squatters, said Van der Zee.

© 2010 AFP

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