Saturday, December 18, 2010

Squatters 1, Owners 1 (Everybody Loses)

Yesterday, the "owners"/absentee landlords mounted another violent assault against the Safehouse. There were over a dozen people attacking while only a handful of people were home. Two large men guarded both entrances threatening to beat anyone up who tried to enter.

There were fewer supporters so a counter-attack was not feasible. It appears there are some backbiting armchair anarchists spreading disinformation about the Safehouse. If anyone knows the individual who posted this blog ( I would love to meet them. It would be nice to know who is responsible for this slanderous character assassination.

I, unlike this person, will not write anonymous, back stabbing posts on the internet.

Right now the Safehouse and it's residents need our solidarity! Now more than ever! Contact me if you want to help.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Squatters 1, Owners Zero!

On Thursday the family claiming to own the property the squatters call the "Safehouse" survived an attempted eviction.

The alleged owners showed up with the police, but the Oakland Police Department refused to get involved in an illegal eviction. Subsequently the "owners" kicked in the door and began destroying the house and everything in it while terrorizing the occupants.

The police returned and arrested one of the "owners" for disorderly conduct. This is a major victory for the Safehouse and Oakland squatters generally. Here are some videos:

Right After the "Owners" Broke In

"Owners" Attacking Occupants with a Bookcase

"Owners" Assaulting People with Knives

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Is There Something I Can Help You With?

"Is there something I can help you with?" is the magic rhetorical question which helps to ward of cops, city officials, and sometimes a hostile neighbor.

When a government official approaches you at your squat and you repeat these magic words it sets the tone of the dynamic. Instantly you go from a suspicious character to the one who is in charge. The official then switches from their planned accusations and interrogation to something else.

The reason this magic phrase does this is because it exudes confidence in the fact that you are in charge here, and that you are the one with the power to render assistance. Instantly the power dynamic has changed.

Often an official will simply respond, "No sir/mam." and leave.

Other times they will spontaneously render useful information, "Well, we had a complaint from a neighbor that there were people squatting this building."

You can then revert to the jedi mind trick, "These aren't the squatters your looking for." I'm serious, you can then say something like, "I haven't seen anyone on the property, and I've been here all day." or something like that.

Of course the magic words don't always provide instant victory. If the official stays around and tries to figure out what you are doing or who you are the magic words have merely given you an advantage in the situation which is still invaluable.

What to do next?

Usually the first test a squatter must pass when establishing a squat is to deal with the cops. If the cops never come by then count yourself lucky, but everyone should be prepared for that moment even if it never arrives. There are a number of strategies for dealing with the cops that I've seen, and these are the pros and cons as I see them:

Thursday, October 14, 2010

When the Property Owner Arrives.

Recently I was asked what the pros and cons are of signing a waiver in exchange for the owner granting you permission to stay in your squat.

The only disadvantages are those inherent in the situation.

1. The property owner is around.
2. They know you're on the property.
3. If it's under five years they can have you removed as trespassers; if not criminally at least through an ejectment process.

Well, also it depends on the waiver. Any waiver you sign should be as limited as possible. It should state something to the effect that you will not hold the owner liable for any injury or damages caused by the condition of the property. You should not assume any liability, and you should be careful of other provisions they may include such as inspections, work trade, relinquishing of any rights, etc.

If the waiver is simple then signing it in exchange for keeping your home is the most practical thing one can do.

The next question is what rights does a permissive occupier of a property have. This is a question I have not yet found the answer to.

The owner will likely argue that you merely have an employer-employee relationship such as a property manager. Such relationships are "at will" which means they can be ended without notice at any time.

The former squatter will argue that any work done was in lieu of rent and therefore establishes tenants rights.

One thing is certain though, at the very least the owner will have to evict you as a tenant even if you can't establish tenancy because once you have permission it is not a criminal matter anymore. For this level of extra security alone it is worth signing a waiver.

The only thing that bothers me personally about dealing with property owners who leave their property abandoned is my fundamental resentment of allowing people to let property be wasted while people are homeless. Some absentee landlords have a legitimate excuse, but most are just douchbags. With that said be careful and don't let them take advantage of you.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

What is Adverse Possession?

Simply put adverse possession is the legal concept in which one who occupies land without permission for long enough becomes the owner.

This is the squatter's holy grail.

In California the time period is five years which is the shortest of any place I've heard of. Of course in California you must pay the property taxes during that period as well to claim uncontestable ownership of a piece of land.

Now that may sound straight forward, but in real life it is much more complicated. For example, if the owner sues you within the first five years you're pretty much screwed. Also, if it's been over five years and you didn't pay the full five years taxes then you're screwed. Even if you paid five years of taxes if the years you paid do not correspond with the five years you squatted the property you are also screwed.

Also, if you ever have permission from the owner you cannot count your permissive occupancy to count towards the five year requirement. If you leave the squat and come back this also may start the clock over, especially if you have to break back in because the owner boarded up the house or changed the locks.

Because of the difficulty of fulfilling all of these requirements very few squatters achieve ownership through adverse possession. Even if you do achieve it there is no guarantee that the courts will follow the law and grant you the rights you deserve. Judges will often ignore the law because of their class bias against squatters. I'm sure you've heard the story of the guy who was convicted of assaulting a police officer's fist with his face. It happens all the time.

A more reasonable goal is to find a place and live in it for as long as possible. A good situation is when the police and city don't get involved and the neighbors don't mind. Another good situation is if you meet the owner and they don't mind you being there, or even... imagine this... like you.

These outcomes are good even if they fall short of adverse possession's requirements. You have a place to stay rent free for a while, and maybe when they finally try to evict you they might even pay your moving expenses to avoid a trial.

Oh, and just because you can't claim ownership through adverse possession that doesn't mean you don't have other rights and options to fight for your squat. You do, but I'll talk more on that later.

Also, if you really want to adversely possess a property it's not impossible. It's just tricky, and I'll explain more on that later too.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Is Oakland Ready for a Squatting Movement?

In the summer of 2000 I was homeless. I had been working 40 or more hours a week in the food service industry for all of my adult life just to get by, and there I was without a house and without a job. Fortunately I had a lot of friends with a lot of couches. I found odd jobs while I looked for a job, but I had become sick and tired of handing over half of my paycheck to a slumlord.

I had seen a different world. You see I had just returned from Europe where I had seen dozens of squats. These buildings had been occupied by punks or radicals to provide housing and provide space for projects such as concert halls, libraries, book stores, schools, cafes, restaurants, and so on.

In all likelihood if I had not lost my job AND my home upon my return to the states I may not have embarked upon a decade long struggle to establish my own squat in Oakland, California. Now I live in my own squat which I established with the help of many friends, and it appears that Oakland may be the nexus of a squatter movement.

Before establishing my own squat I stayed at a house called Hellarity. After the owner went bankrupt and lost the house we tried to purchase the house. We found investors and everything. Unfortunately someone outbid us at the bankruptcy auction. At the time everyone was speculating on real estate, and this guy probably thought that this was an investment that was guaranteed to pay off. Unfortunately for him he found out that many of us were not giving up the house without a fight.

After 5 years of litigation and over a decade of occupation Hellarity is still there!

Now, in the same neighborhood that I've established my squat there are three others, and we've established a squat garden. There are dozens of abandoned properties still scattered throughout the neighborhood, and the situation could be right for this trend to continue. If so many of these blighted properties can be transformed into functional living spaces, and with more eyes on the street crime rates will go down.

With unemployment at record highs unemployed squatters can work on rehabilitating their squats and doing community projects without the pressure of rent or mortgage forcing them to compete with others in a difficult job market. Rather than work for money to pay the for housing they can pay through sweat equity.

I am excited for the prospects of such a housing rights movement. We can challenge the oppressive cost of housing at the same time that we lift up our own community by creating our own opportunities.