How We Squatted A House
Housing is a basic right for everybody. Houses should not be empty while there are people without homes to live in.
„Squatting is the action of occupying an abandoned or unoccupied area of land–or a building, usually residential – that the squatter does not own, rent or otherwise have lawful permission to use.“
In our case, we just wanted to have a home where we can live for a longer period without having to pay rent for it. Olga connected with me via Couch Surfing and invited me to join her squat in Tenerife. She told me that she was traveling alone for a couple of months and that she found a empty house to stay at. She was looking for somebody to join her in order not to be alone in this I have to say pretty creepy place :-)))
Some different people stayed for a while with her in the squat. As I was traveling alone and it was in the beginning of my trip, I didn’t want to be alone and I also was very curious how she is living there, so I agreed on joining her in the empty house.
It was definitely a good decision to do so! Like this I got to know Olga and also Taavi, two amazing young and interesting people and had for the first time the opportunity to live in a squat. Before to do so I never really concerned about house squatting, though I’ve heard about it. Staying there for some days made me think about the whole issue and why it is a great possibility to live – and for some people the only one. Due to the actual happenings and the many refugees having no homes, I think it is very important to be aware of this because there is an urgent need for housing, especially with the increased demand from migrants. Read some interesting articles about this topic here, here and here – think about it!
„Of course squatting occurs whether it is declared legal or illegal, and we only have to look around the world to see huge numbers of people living in informal settlements.“
I arrived there in the middle of the night and had no idea where it is – Olga and Taavi, a friend who joined her explained me how to get there but I didn’t manage to find the house in the dark. It was pretty scary to walk there, looking for a empty house. Luckily Taavi picked me up in the city (where I had to walk back) because I had no chance to find it.
The house had no electricity or running water but some candles and water bottles you bring from some water tap nearby will do the work – of course not everybody’s case. But I think it’s a nice experience for a short period.
Squatting by necessity is in itself a political issue, therefore also a „statement“ or rather a ‚response‘ to the political system causing it. During the period of global recession and increased housing foreclosures in the 2000s, squatting became far more prevalent in Western, developed nations. In some cases, need-based and politically motivated squatting go hand in hand.
Squatting is a matter of civil law, not a crime. You might be a single person without the capital for private renting. You might be a family declared „intentionally homeless“ or otherwise excluded from public housing. You might be a destitute asylum seeker. Or perhaps you’ve moved to find work. Squatting is hard work and has its problems, but it’s better than the alternatives. Some people find that the closeness and teamwork involved, the laughs as well as the crises, open up a whole new world and change their lives.
WHO OWNS THE EMPTY HOUSES?
Government departments own empty houses, due to mis-management and bureaucratic delays many houses can remain empty for many years.
Private developers keep houses empty so that they can make a fast buck, or maintain the ‚market rent‘ by limiting the available housing. Greedy individuals own houses that are left empty because they don’t need them to live in.
ONCE YOU’VE FOUND IT:
Finding empty houses is generally pretty easy, an unkempt look, tons of mails coming out of the mailbox, overgrown garden, broken windows and doors etc. You should always knock on the door before entering or when checking out a house. Sometimes old people are living in their home without electricity in rundown states.
Take a closer look inside and out, is there thick dust inside? No obvious signs of occupation? Check the overall structure of the place, are the gas and electricity meters still there? You need to know what to bring back to secure the house and fix it up if necessary.
Find out as much as you can about the house. Getting in is generally quite easy, often broken windows or doors previously forced by other visitors provide access. Remember, squatters never do criminal damage; local kids do that, and squatters just come along the next day and take advantage of it.
It’s best not to squat on your own: get together with a few others. A squat is only a squat while there’s someone on the premises. If nobody’s in, there’s nothing to stop the owner breaking in and repossessing the place. However, if anybody – including the owner – tries to gain entry when someone opposed to their doing so is in, it’s a criminal offence. So, you need enough people to make sure someone is always at home – at least for the first few weeks.
It can sometimes take quite sometime for owners to realize that anyone is occupying the house, anything from a few hours to a day to a few weeks even. This time should be used for getting the house together, fixing things up, checking the wiring and water etc. It’s a good idea to get services such as electricity and gas on as quickly as possible, so you can cook and maintain a life at your new home.
Try to keep the house occupied constantly for the first few days and weeks or until you come to some agreement over remaining there with the owner. Get support from other squatters, friends and others in the local area. If after a few weeks you’re still there and have heard nothing from the owners you can start to get a bit more comfortable, it is harder to evict well established households than people who appear to be just using the place to crash in. First thing to do is change the locks and secure the house.
In our case the owner came after some time, prepared with the house plans and the documents for selling the home. We were very surprised that he came by, like the house is literally in the middle of nowhere, only some banana plantations nearby… Anyway he was a nice guy, he asked us if we want to buy the land with the house but we explained that we are students looking for a place to stay and that we have no money for buying it (damn, we forgot to ask how much it costs … after we heard that prices in Tenerife are very low for lands). He had a look around and explained us that he has no problem with us staying there, he just wanted to see if everything is fine because some years before he had problems with squatters who grew Marijuana there. We assured him that we won’t do anything bad with the place, we rather take care of it! He seemed to like us and wished us all the best before leaving – very funny to actually meet him!
Before we left this house Olga left a message with her contact for people who will come after us and also a message for the owner asking how much the house costs … let’s see if she gets a response! 🙂
Read some legal and practical advice on squatting here.
More useful links for squatting: