Illegal or unlawful lodging, otherwise known as squatting, is the act of occupying an area or property (usually abandoned lots, buildings, or residential areas or houses) without lawful permission from the legally recognized owner. In the United States, laws prohibiting the act of squatting vary from state to state. In the state of California, the federal government enacted California Penal Code PC 247e to regulate the state's squatting problems.
California Penal Code 647e
California PC 247e or California illegal lodging law is the statute that criminalizes the act of unlawful squatting. The statute claims that anyone who lodges in any building, structure, vehicle, or place, whether public or private, without the permission of the owner or person entitled to the possession or in control of it can be penalized under California's criminal justice system.
Under PC 247e, lodging means occupying, staying, or residing in an area for quite some time. There is no clear specific definition for illegal lodging. However, there are some factors that might be used to determine whether or not the accused is squatting. These are:
- Setting up temporary or permanent structures,
- Setting up sleeping equipment, or
- Intent to stay for a period of time
Setting up structures – A person can be considered lodging illegally when he/she sets up either a permanent or temporary structure intended to act as a shelter, i.e., tents.
Sleeping equipment – A person can be considered lodging illegally when he/she sets up pieces of equipment intended for resting or sleeping, i.e., sleeping bags or makeshift beds.
Intention to stay – A person can be considered lodging illegally when he/she has intentions to stay, be it permanently or permanently, for a certain amount of time.
Aside from the aforementioned conditions, consent and/or permission might be the biggest factor in determining whether or not a person is truly squatting on a property. These can be granted by the owner of the property or whoever is left in charge. Permissions can be expressed or implied.
Expressed permission is given when the owner or whosoever is in charge of the property has allowed or permitted the lodger's stay in the said property explicitly. Examples for this is kind of permission are:
- Contracts, and/or
- Explicit verbal permission.
Implied permission or implied consent is trickier. This means that the property's owner or manager did not explicitly give the consent but rather implied it. Maybe through non-verbal means or via indirect permission. Examples for this kind of permission are:
- Lodgers asking for permission only to be given nods or shakes of agreement, and/or
- Property owners and/or managers implying permission by indirectly giving it.
Penalties for violating PC 647e
Squatting or illegal lodging under PC 647e is a misdemeanor. Misdemeanors are criminal offenses more serious compared to infractions but less severe than felonies. The punishment includes:
- A jail time of up to one (1) year in county jail, and or
- A monetary fine of up to one thousand dollars ($1,000).
When convicted, aside from incarceration and monetary fines, the misdemeanor charges are permanently reflected on the offender's criminal records.
When facing PC 245.6 charges, the defendant and his/her legal counsel can use the following conditions for their case:
- The act is not considered as lodging, and/or
- The owner and/or the legally recognized manager gave permission to lodge.
Not considered lodging – The defendant cannot be guilty of illegal lodging when his/her act does not fall under considerable conditions to qualify as squatting. Conditions like no structures were set up, there are no sleeping pieces of equipment, and there was no intent to sleep.
Done with permission – The defendant cannot be guilty of illegal lodging when he/she stayed on the premises with consent and/or permission from the property's owner and/or any legally recognized property manager.
Being unjustly accused of squatting can be a hassle. The consequences can cost the defendant time and money, plus having criminal records can greatly affect the person's chances of getting civil and social privileges, i.e., employment. To avoid legal complications and help people exercise their rights, it would be in their best interest to seek legal aid with the help of our top-notch criminal defense lawyers to represent them when they need it.
- California Penal Code PC 418 – Failure to disburse under lawful commands
- California Penal Code PC 602 – Trespassing
- California Penal Code PC647h - Loitering
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