Monday 8 November 2010


One thing I’ve never understood since I’ve lived in England is the notion of squatting (the whole leasehold/freehold thing also makes no sense to me, but that’s for another time). I mean, I understand it, I just can’t believe it still exists...or that I didn't think of it first. For those of you that don’t have a clue what I’m talking about, squatting refers to occupying an empty house, that is not yours, and in short, acting like it belongs to you.

When I first heard about this my first thought was, yeah, great, we’d all like to inhabit a place that is not ours; there are a few houses near where I live that I walk by every night and think, gosh that would be nice. But I figure that if I just walked in and positioned myself in the living room and refused to leave that would be grounds to call the police, or at least the loony bin. The thing that shocked me the most is that squatting in England is not a criminal offense. It is regarded as a civil matter and unless there is evidence of forced entry, it is not a crime. (Hold on, I have to go check all the windows and doors are locked). Don’t you love these little loopholes that screw those of us following the rules. God I miss my rebellious phase.

In short, if a squatter manages to occupy the house ‘legally,’ the owner of the house then must jump through a litany of legal hoops to get these people out of their house and prove that they themselves have a right to live in the property and the squatter does not.  Of course this takes time and money and in some cases, it can take people months, if not years to evict squatters from their homes. There have been some cases in England where the squatters have remained in the houses for over 20 years. By that point, I think I’d lie down and surrender and say to hell with it, take the damn house. I just couldn’t do battle for that long. And it gets worse, after 12 years of squatting, squatters can claim ownership of a property if no one else claims it. Okay, fine if it’s abandoned, then I can see my way clear to allowing people to camp out there now and then, but even so, to just say something is theirs when it’s not – well it just sounds delusional.

There are even offices and advisory services to help squatters. In London there is a group aptly called the Advisory Service for Squatters. They help squatters find empty homes, give them legal advice, tell them how to handle police, and go as far as help them maintain the property in question by advising how to set up temporary plumbing and electricity. This of course can all be found in the Squatters Handbook. Or as I like to call it, the ‘Stealing shit that isn’t yours handbook.”

Today I saw an interview with a few squatters on TV. One heavily dreadlocked woman claimed that squatters are just misunderstood. She said, and I quote, “we’re just l like anybody else living in a flat, going about our daily lives.” Um, but you’re not like everybody else, you’re not paying rent and you’re pretending where you live belongs to you. Am I the only one that is having a problem with this equation?

Then again, maybe the squatters are the smart ones. Housing prices in London are astronomical, there is a definitive housing shortage and a severe homeless problem, so why not just move in to a nice four-bedroom terrace house if no one is using it. Come to think of it, our windows are not double-glazed and this flat is like a wind tunnel. I think the King and I shall hit the streets today to find more suitable accommodation. Perhaps something in Kensington near the palace would be nice? I mean afterall the King is royalty.

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