By Steven DeCaprio
Over a decade ago I started squatting in California because of personal housing dilemmas. While seeking housing I realized that we could never build a stable movement without creating stable housing for organizers. Because of this I started the organization Land Action to help others establish squats in order to expand the circle as well as our capacity to organize. Squatting can provide an opportunity to escape the wage/rent treadmill, and it also prevents greedy speculators from getting their hands on abandoned properties. Because of this, squatters are in a constant state of struggle fighting against these land grabs. Unfortunately a new threat has emerged in the California State Assembly; a bill called AB1513.
The first draft of the bill created a new law that made squatting a felony. The new language of the bill allows a property owner to sign a document called an “Unauthorized Occupant Declaration” and demand that cops remove people from their homes based upon the owner’s declaration that they are trespassers. The cops are required under AB 1513 to treat the owner’s own written declaration as if it were a court ordered eviction. Thus AB 1513 gives property owners the power of the courts to evict anyone, at will, without any process.
Landlords already call the cops on their tenants and accuse them of trespassing all the time. Usually the cops don’t get involved in these disputes. However this bill gives property owners unprecedented power to remove anyone from their properties, and not even the cops can refuse to evict if there is a written request. Anyone with any common sense should realize that by giving landlords this type of power they will be guaranteed to abuse it.
The only protection we would have for these extrajudicial evictions would be the fact that the landlord would sign the document “under penalty of perjury”. This provides almost no protection because very few tenants would be able to sue the landlord after the eviction, and even if they did a landlord could simply claim ignorance as a defense.
Sadly, property owners already have significant protections against squatters, such as trespassing laws, and in most cases AB 1513 would be totally unnecessary to evict squatters.
On the other hand tenants would likely be harmed significantly. By giving landlords the power of the courts to order an eviction, AB 1513 will remove both state and local protections for tenants, allowing landlords to bypass all the processes designed to protect tenants. Essentially, landlords will be given direct command over the police without due process in the courts.
AB 1513 puts all tenants at risk, but the most at risk tenants will be tenants without a written lease agreement, tenants who do not speak English as a first language, tenants holding over from a previous owner, and any other tenant belonging to a marginalized group.
Currently this bill is still in the California State Assembly Rules Committee. One course of action to stop the bill is to contact your assembly representative. Another course of action is for us to build a squatting movement so powerful that we can force the banks, speculators, and politicians to recognize that housing is a basic human right. Anyone who wants help establishing a squat in California or anywhere else in the U.S.A. can find information at blogsquats.blogspot.com or contact Land Action at land-action.org.