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Squatting - How to Squat in Abandoned Property

yy008Squatting consists of occupying an abandoned or unoccupied space or building, usually residential,  that the squatter does not own, rent or otherwise have permission to use. There are one billion squatters globally, that is, about one in every six people on the planet.  Yet, according to Kesia Reeve, "squatting is largely absent from policy and academic debate and is rarely conceptualized, as a problem, as a symptom, or as a social or housing movement. In many countries, squatting is in itself a crime; in others, it is only seen as a civil conflict between the owner and the occupants. "Squatters are usually portrayed as worthless scroungers hell-bent on disrupting society." Property law and the state have traditionally favored the property owner. However, in many cases where squatters had de facto  ownership, laws have been changed to legitimize their status.

Squatters often claim rights over the spaces they have squatted by virtue of occupation, rather than ownership; in this sense, squatting is similar to (and potentially a necessary condition of) adverse possession, by which a possessor of real property without title may eventually gain legal title to the real property. Anarchist Colin Ward comments: "Squatting is the oldest mode of tenure in the world, and we are all descended from squatters. This is as true of the Queen [of the United Kingdom] with her 176,000 acres (710 km2) as it is of the 54 per cent of householders in Britain who are owner-occupiers. They are all the ultimate recipients of stolen land, for to regard our planet as a commodity offends every conceivable principle of natural rights." "The country is riddled with empty houses and there are thousands of homeless people. When squatters logically put the two together the result can be electrifying, amazing and occasionally disastrous."

Besides being residences, some squats are used as social centres or host give-away shops, pirate radio stations or cafés. In Spanish-speaking countries, squatters receive several names, such as okupas in Spain or Argentina (from the verb ocupar meaning "to occupy"), or paracaidistas in Mexico (meaning "paratroopers", because they "parachute" themselves at unoccupied land).



Know the laws in your area

Despite the introduction of the Criminal Justice Act , Squatting is still legal( this only applies to England and Wales) as long as you follow certain procedures and avoid breaking other laws, such as breaking and entering. Whatever the case may be, be willing to accept the consequences of getting caught. Squatting means occupying empty property to live in and is a necessity for many. Squatters have the same basic rights as anyone else, and can not be evicted without the owners carrying out certain civil legal proceedings first


Form a group

This first part is often the trickiest, since a bad, untogether group will do more damage to the project than the city government will in many cases. The people you live and work with are more important than the building that you chose. One of the most important aspects of a group is diveristy. Every group has its own style: some are more political than others; some like to party; some like to be real business-like and legal; some are arty; others are just trying to get over and off the street. Whatever your group is like, you should keep in mind that not only do you have to relate to each other, you also have to relate to your community. If your neighborhood is all the same ethnic group as the members of your group, you don't have to worry about diversity. But if your group has only token members of the main ethnic group in the neighborhood, then you could get yourself in some trouble.
You can squat by yourself, and indeed this is occasionally preferable if you are trying to keep a low profile, especially in a rural area. That said, it is usually best to build a small community or at least have a couple friends with you to help defend the property against thieves and other threats and to share the work and expenses of maintaining the place.


Finding a Place

There are thousands of empty properties, some of which are more obvious than others. The most obvious are the ones with steel doors, which can be hard to get through, but boards, or general abandoned look are a good sign. Look around and ask around. Local squatters’ groups and ASS have lists of empty properties, but don't rely on everyone to keep them up to date. Make sure the place is actually empty before doing anything. If you are looking at a house, it is best to squat one that has been empty for at least two or three months i.e. a little bit run down. You will probably be able to live there longer.

Some examples of squattable abandoned spaces include warehouses, houses, pubs and offices. Most experienced squatters prefer abandoned or unoccupied spaces because property owners who no longer use their property are less likely to object to someone else's use of it, and are therefore less likely to take legal action against the squatters. Among these abandoned spaces, publicly-owned buildings—particularly those which came into government possession because of the owner’s failure to pay taxes—often offer the best chance of a long-term living situation. The most obvious sign a building is unoccupied is a steel door or boarded-up windows. Other signs include very old newspapers in front, vandalism, parts of the building in disrepair, and disconnected power (check to see if the meter is running).


Getting In

Many empty properties can be walked straight into, as they have become insecure through vandalism. It is an offence to break into an empty property if anything you do can be classed as "criminal damage". In theory therefore, the police can only arrest you if they catch you "red-handed", e.g. with a crowbar in your hand, or if there are witnesses.

When first entering a building, try to find a way in that does not require you to “break in” or otherwise cause property damage to gain entry. Sometimes the door will be open or missing, but other times you may need to enter through a window.

Dealing with the Police

If the police arrive, don’t open the door, speak to them through the letter box. Explain that you are not a burglar; you are living there because you have nowhere else to live. Do not say that you broke in. You can say you were walking past and the door was open. Be polite but firm with them. Once you are inside a place and have "secure access", (i.e. your own lock on the door) the main danger of arrest and prosecution is over. Try to get the front door reasonably secure as fast as possible (i.e. change the lock).

If the police insist on coming in, tell them that no arrestable offence is taking place and they should leave you alone.

In the unlikely event that you are arrested, You have the right to make one phone call. The police must release you within 24 hours, or charge you. You still do not have to tell them anything other than your name, address and date of birth.


Staying In

Send a letter addressed to yourself in your new home. this is sufficient proof for the police that you live there. Make sure that there is somebody in as much as possible in the first week or two, especially if the place is being worked on. It is often a good idea to keep a copy of the squatters’ legal warning by the front door, because the owners may come round and try to repossess the place by pretending that they thought there was no-one living there.

It is illegal for them to throw you out if you are in physical occupation of the place when they arrive. They can be prosecuted if they do this.

If you have to leave the place empty, leave a radio on to give the impression that somebody is in. Explain to anyone who shows an interest or hassles you that you are homeless and have a legal right to occupy the empty property.

It is a good idea to keep fairly quiet for the first two or three days to give the neighbours time to get used to you. Normally you will have no interference from them.


If you feel safe, continue to squat and do everything that is necessary to turn it into a habitable area. Some abandoned structures still have running water or even electricity. Take advantage of this. If you’re hoping to use the building as a long-term squat, it is vital that you secure the premises. Replace broken windows and doors, if possible, and board them up if you can’t immediately replace them. Change the locks on the doors. In many countries (for example the UK, where squatting is a civil matter, unlike in the U.S.) this step will help you establish a legal right to be there. If you can show that you have indeed taken possession of the building, it is much more difficult to have you evicted. In the UK, it means that the owner will have to take you to court.

Sometimes the water and power will be on when you get there, but usually this isn’t the case. If you’re planning on staying for a while, try to get these services turned back on. In many countries, utility services can’t be denied just because you’re squatting. Still, it’s usually best not to disclose that fact when dealing with utility companies. You may need to pay a deposit or pay off unpaid bills from the previous owners. If you’re just planning a short-term stay, you’re probably best off not trying to get utilities as it may bring unwanted attention to you.



Every effort you can make to show that you have established as normal as possible a residence will be an advantage in dealing with the law. Operate on the assumption that you are a law-abiding citizen and a legal tenant of the building in which you are squatting until it has been decided otherwise in a court of law. Use your address freely, and get library cards, swimming cards and other forms of ID that have your address on it.

Have mail sent to you at your building. This will help you prove that you live there and that you aren't breaking-and-entering or trespassing. Put your address on the front door and make a mail slot in it. Find out when mail is delivered to your street and be there when the mail carrier comes by. Explain that you are living here and that you will be receiving mail at this location. Sometimes the carriers will be uncooperative, but usually they will be friendly if you are friendly. If friendliness doesn't work, it might be that the carrier you've talked to isn't the regular one, or that several carriers take turns delivering mail to your street and thus don't feel any inclination to helping you out. Try a different mail carrier.

If nothing else works, try the postmaster at the office for your route. He or she might tell you that there has to be a mailbox locked and unlocked by keys for the carriers to deliver mail, or that you are not a legal tenant, or that you don't own the building, blah blah blah. Point out as politely as you can that the building isn't a multiple dwelling unit, that it is undergoing renovation at the moment, and that the addresses on the letters that will be sent to the people who are living there will not have separate apartment numbers on them. Tell the postmaster that you are living there and (more to the point) have not been evicted yet, so your legal status as a tenant simply has not been decided in court as of yet.

If nothing works, it may actually enable you to get an eviction case thrown out of court. If you cannot get any of your mail because of the Post Office's refusals to deliver it, you literally can't be served with an eviction notice, which typically arrives by mail and is not served in person!

If it is not delivered to your building, your mail will be held for you at the local post office. Once picked up, such mail can still serve as proof of residence.

Never sign for or accept any registered or certified mail until you are absolutely sure it is not from the city government. It could be a summons or an eviction notice!

There is something to be said for putting wild shapes, slogans and colors on the front of your squat: it underlines the changes that the building is going through and shows that you are proud of them and of your role in bringing about these changes. There is also something to be said for making the front of your building look as much like an ordinary building as possible. In either case, working diligently and productively on the front will give your neighbors a chance to size you up, to come out and talk to you. They will respect you when they see you working on your place.

Court Cases

At some point you will probably receive a summons to appear in court. Always turn up to fight your case, particularly if it is the new Interim Possession Order hearing, which could result in having only 24 hours to leave or face arrest. The owners are supposed to show that they have a right to the place and you don’t, and there are various ways of claiming that they haven’t proved it, haven’t gone through the procedures properly etc.


P.I.O. stands for PROTECTED INTENDING OCCUPIER (Sec. 7 of the 1977 Criminal Law Act), someone who has a right to live in the premises and requires the premises to live in, and has the necessary certificate or statement. They can get you out without going to court. A genuine P.I.O. is either a tenant or freehold owner of the premises.A tenant of a Council or Housing Association must have a certificate proving their status. A freehold owner, or tenant of a private landlord must have a statement signed before a justice of the peace or commissioner for oaths. All PIOs must be able to move in straight away.

A P.I.O. does not automatically mean that you will be evicted. There are various legal defences and arguments that can be used against P.I.O. proceedings.

The exterior of a squat in Spain. Note the squatter symbol in the doorway on the left. Note also that while the building is colorful, it appears well-maintained. In many parts of the world, squatters can establish a legal right to occupy the property if they take care of it and establish themselves, and as a result squatters can be quite conspicuous. This squat is even decorated with political messages. In other parts of the world (such as in much of the U.S.), squatters must depend largely on their ability to go unnoticed.


Establish legal property rights through a process called "adverse possession."

There are many parts of the world in which squatters have legally gained property rights through a process called "adverse possession." In some cases, this may involve occupying an abandoned property for a certain period of time and/or paying the property taxes that the property owner failed to pay. This is the final goal for a long-term squatting situation, but it very rarely occurs. Research the local laws and find out what steps are necessary to make your squat a legal residence. In California, for example, you need to pay property tax for 5 years and have "cultivated or improved" the property to receive ownership. Your possession of the premises must generally also be visible and obvious.








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