Squatting 4 Dummys – Creating radical infrastructure through housing liberation

Abandoned homes tell a story of violence. These forgotten buildings tell us that this capitalistic culture would rather throw it all away than to allow us a shred of human dignity. They are a visceral reminder that the dollar takes precedent over human rights and common compassion.

During this period of recession our landscape is dominated by these acts of violence. While the system shows its true colors, there is an opportunity to visibly resist the violence of this system, but also to build an infrastructure of resistance, which we can defend. Housing occupations, long-term squatting, and other land actions allow us to publicly and in very real terms reject the system of private property while creating alternatives and a network of support for others who resist. We have no chance of changing the world if we lack a space to organize and lay our heads. Nor do we have a chance if we are slaving our lives away to pay rent.

A successfully defended squat (especially one rooted in its neighborhood community) could provide the spark of inspiration leading to a surge of reclaimed and occupied spaces. As occupied spaces have a vested interest in the defense and survival of other occupied spaces, strong networks of solidarity could be created that in turn could be applied to liberation struggles outside of the squatting / occupation scene.

If you’re interested in rent free living, finding an abandoned building will be easy. Finding the right abandoned building, and the right people to collaborate with can be hard, so make sure to be picky with both. Ride around town on your bike with a pen and pad. Jot down address of houses you think are abandoned. Some clues are overgrown lawns, overfilled mailboxes, and boarded windows. A nifty trick is taping the door to the doorframe somewhere discrete and coming back to check if the tape had been broken. Search on-line for a city blight / board-up list which has properties that the city had to clean or board up.

Research the spots you scope by using your local on-line assessors map to find the parcel number (APN), and use that on the county tax record site to view its tax history. Some counties won’t let you get owner’s info on-line, so just call the assessors office. Relevant information would be the current and past ‘owners’, and their address (don’t stress, people ask for this information all the time and for many different reasons). If the goal of your occupied space is longevity then consideration must be given to what the chances are of owners coming to the space (be they banks or individuals). If the goal is to defend the space then it should be considered what type of owner would be more universally resisted (probably a bank).

It is not illegal to enter a building if it’s wide open, but I doubt you will be that lucky. It might be a good idea to scope it out during the day to get an idea of what tools you might need. Most would agree that exploration should be done at night. Be mindful of light and noise. It might be wise to minimize your time carrying tools as they can be hard to explain should someone ask. If the space is to your liking it could be a good time to change the locks. If there isn’t one already, put up a mailbox and have mail sent, in your name, immediately. It will be useful later.

Often, the first major trial for a squat is the initial police encounter. The longer you’ve been established before this encounter the better. As it is often suspicious neighbors that will call the police it is extremely important (and neighborly) to communicate with those living in the area. When the police do come, your attitude of legitimacy, proof of occupancy, and knowledge of local law will be your greatest tools. Keys to the house (to prove access) and mail (addressed and stamped) can be considered the bare minimum but utility bills add to the legitimacy. Research of state, county, and city law can be done over the internet but your local law library can be an invaluable resource. Try looking up state civil codes that deal with occupancy. The saying that ‘possession is 9/10ths of the law’ applies in some states where occupancy is considered ownership (unless proven otherwise).

City building and coding people can be a wild card. They have the power to declare a building unlivable and have people evicted immediately. This is more of a concern if the building lacks any utilities (many areas require a building have water, electric, and gas to be considered livable). Officials will most likely just look at the meters (and meters can be hard to get) so its preferable to chose a building with the meters preexisting.

In these days of economic upheaval, the iron is hot for us to take back our lives. Working a job to make your landlord rich is slavery, and squatting is nothing less than emancipation from the system of debt peonage. Collective revolt can happen if we know a better world is possible, and we can prove it with squatting and solidarity.