EMBATTLED residents of Southend’s tower blocks have welcomed a new law designed to put a stop to squatting.

People living in town centre high-rises, such as Malvern, Quantock, Pennine, Chiltern, Temple Court and Sutton Court, believe the changes could stop people occupying homes.

On Saturday, it became a criminal offence to squat, and anyone convicted of the offence could face six months jail or a £5,000 fine.

Mike McKenzie, who lives in Sutton Court, said: “We’ve had trouble with squatters blocking off the drying rooms. They managed to walk in behind a genuine resident and then set up there, bolting the door shut.

“It stopped us from using the rooms.

“A law like this should help. No one should have the right, just because you’ve got an open front door, to come in and say: ‘That’s mine now’.”

A mother-of-two, who lives in Malvern tower block, off Queensway, repeatedly complained to South Essex Homes after a group of squatters moved into a neighbouring flat.

They were finally booted out in May after a court order, but residents had to put up with months of aggravation first.

The woman, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals, said: “I think it would definitely help. We had problems with them having rowdy parties and throwing bottles out of the window.

“I was worried for my children because of the broken glass they left outside.”

Before Saturday, squatting was treated as a civil offence.

This meant landlords or South Essex Homes, which manages more than 6,000 publicly-owned homes on behalf of Southend Council, would have to wait weeks to secure a court order for eviction.

Street pastor Del Thomas, who regularly patrols Southend to care for its homeless population, said: “The new law is going to have a huge impact on Southend.

“I work with rough sleepers, and there are lots of rough sleepers who squat and there are a lot of empty buildings being used.

“However, it depends on how strictly the police enforce it, because at the end of the day it’s their choice. They can either use the law or not.”