A Brighton and Hove MP wants squatters and tenants who stop paying their rent to be dealt with in criminal courts. Mike Weatherley, who represents Hove and Portslade, said they caused damage and disruption and should be held to account for their actions. Currently landlords have to go through the civil courts to get squatters or problem tenants evicted.
The Conservative MP has written to the government calling for the law to be changed.
Brighton and Hove has 3,655 empty homes, the highest number in Sussex.
Mr Weatherley said: “I’d like to see it criminalised.
“What happens is there’s no criminal act so they get evicted from the home and move to another and then evicted and evicted and evicted.
“We ought to make it criminalised so these people can be held to account for their actions.”
He added: “A lot of people say there’s enough laws for example, but they’re all technical laws.
“One of the laws, for example, says you can’t use utility companies.
“Until the police actually sit outside and see a light on they can’t do anything about it.
“It’s just not acceptable. We need a faster process and we need to have them criminalised so they don’t keep reoffending.”
Labour peer Lord Steve Bassam of Brighton, who squatted in the 1970s, said: “Our campaign was largely directed at private landlords and persuading the then council to make sure that they made better use of empty properties, and that really is the issue.
“What we cannot have is queue jumping and illegality.”
He said his sympathies were with landlords and local authorities that had to “pick up the pieces”.
But Lord Bassam added: “What we should do is make sure that the legislation that is in place is properly used and that the legislation that is there to ensure that empty properties get brought into use is adequately used so that people are not homeless.”
In Scotland, squatting is a criminal as well as a civil offence but in England, Wales and Northern Ireland it is a civil offence only.
In Scotland, owners can evict squatters without notice and they could face a fine or a prison sentence.