Ghent couple powerless to remove squatters

A couple from the East Flemish city of Ghent is powerless to remove a group of Romani Gypsies that are squatting in their house. The couple is currently away working in Vietnam. This week their neighbour contacted them to tell them that a dozen or so Romani are squatting in the house they bought a couple of months ago and that is their official residence.

Writing on Facebook Sarah Braeye said “"They have just forced the lock of the front door. Our neighbour has said that she hears banging and that they come outside with planks. Our furniture is there too. We don’t know what is happening there”.

The couple wrote a letter to the Mayor of Ghent Daniël Termont (socialist, photo). However, Mr Termont replied by saying “squatting is currently not a criminal offence, although a number of proposals have been tabled to change this."

"The squatters can only be removed by a court order if settling out of court proves not to be possible”.

Meanwhile, there reports of similar incidents have been coming in. Mr Termont told VRT News that an elderly women that was in hospital for two weeks had her house taken over by squatters.

"I think that squarters should be forcibly evicted. But as Mayor I don’t have the power to do so."

The police are only able to note that squatters are present. Home-owners can only get the squatters evicted through the courts.

"Not a classic case of squatting"

The spokesman of the Flemish Tenants' Association Geert Inslegers told VRT Radio 1 that this is not a classic case of squatting.

"Normally squatters occupy a house or flat that is empty. Here the owner’s right to housing is being violated. This is a case of breaking and entry. Breaking into someone’s home is a criminal offence.”

Mr Inslegers advises the owners of house to pursue the case through the civil courts.

The Flemish liberals and the Flemish Christian democrats have tabled a bill that if passed would make squatting a criminal offence.