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The international squatters' symbol.

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. Author Robert Neuwirth suggested in 2004 that there were one billion squatters globally.

Squatting occurs worldwide and tends to occur when people who are poor and homeless find empty buildings or land to occupy for housing. It has a long history, broken down by country below. In developing countries and least developed countries, shanty towns often begin as squatted settlements. There are pavement dwellers and slums in India and South Africa, represented by groups such as Slum Dwellers International and Abahlali baseMjondolo. In Hong Kong there are rooftop slums. In Brazil, there are favelas and large social movements of thousands of people such as the Homeless Workers' Movement (MTST) and the Landless Workers' Movement (MST). Squatted settlements are known in Spanish-speaking countries under terms such as villa miseria (Argentina), pueblos jóvenes (Peru), okupas (Chile, Spain) and asentamientos irregulares (Guatemala, Uruguay). In Turkey the term used is gecekondu.

In industrialized countries, there are often squats and also political squatting movements, which can be anarchist, autonomist or socialist in nature, for example in the self-managed social centres of Italy or squats in the United States. Oppositional movements from the 1960s and 1970s created freespaces such as Freetown Christiania in Denmark or Ruigoord in the Netherlands, and in England and Wales, there were estimated to be 50,000 squatters in the late 1970s. Each local situation determines the context: in Athens, Greece, there are refugee squats; Germany has centres such as Rote Flora and Køpi; in Spain there are many squats. Squatting has recently been criminalised in the Netherlands completely and in residential buildings in England and Wales.


The majority of squatting is residential in nature. As a phenomenon it tends to occur when a poor and homeless population makes use of derelict property or land through urban homesteading.[1] According to author Robert Neuwirth, there were over 1 billion (one in seven) squatters worldwide in 2004. If current trends continue, this will increase to 2 billion by 2030 (one in four), and 3 billion by 2050 (one in three).[2] However, despite the numbers of people squatting, according to academic Kesia Reeve, "squatting is largely absent from policy and academic debate and is rarely conceptualised, as a problem, as a symptom, or as a social or housing movement."[3]

In many of the world's poorer countries, there are extensive slums or shanty towns, typically built on the edges of major cities and consisting almost entirely of self-constructed housing built without the landowner's permission.[4] While these settlements may in time become upgraded, they often start off as squats with minimal basic infrastructure. Thus, there is no legal link to sewerage, electricity or water.[5] Such settlements also exist in industrialized countries, such as for example Cañada Real on the outskirts of Madrid.[6]

Squatting can be related to political movements, such as anarchist, autonomist, or socialist. It can be a means to conserve buildings or a protest action. Squats can be used by local communities as free shops, cafés, venues, pirate radio stations or as multi-purpose autonomous social centres.[7] Dutch sociologist Hans Pruijt separates types of squatters into five distinct categories:[7]

  1. Deprivation-based – homeless people squatting for housing need
  2. An alternative housing strategy – people unprepared to wait on municipal lists to be housed take direct action
  3. Entrepreneurial – people breaking into buildings to service the need of a community for cheap bars, clubs etc.
  4. Conservational – preserving monuments because the authorities have let them decay
  5. Political – activists squatting buildings as protests or to make social centres

Adverse possession, also known as squatter's rights, is a method of acquiring title to property through possession for a statutory period under certain conditions.[8] Countries where this principle exists include England and the United States, based on common law.[citation needed]

Anarchist Colin Ward comments: "Squatting is the oldest mode of tenure in the world, and we are all descended from squatters. This is as true of the Queen [of the United Kingdom] with her 176,000 acres (710 km2) as it is of the 54 percent of householders in Britain who are owner-occupiers. They are all the ultimate recipients of stolen land, for to regard our planet as a commodity offends every conceivable principle of natural rights."[9] Others have a different view; UK police official Sue Williams, for example, has stated that "Squatting is linked to anti-social behaviour and can cause a great deal of nuisance and distress to local residents. In some cases there may also be criminal activities involved."[10] The public attitude toward squatting varies, depending on legal aspects, socioeconomic conditions, and the type of housing occupied by squatters. In particular, while squatting of municipal buildings may be treated leniently, squatting of private property can often lead to strongly negative reactions on the part of the general public and the authorities.[11]


The Zabbaleen settlement and the City of the Dead are both well-known squatter communities in Cairo, Egypt.

There are large squatter communities in Kenya, such as Kibera in Nairobi.[12]

An estimated 3,500 people live in the Grande Hotel Beira in Mozambique.[13]

Informal settlements in Zambia, particularly around Lusaka, are known as kombonis.[14]

South Africa[edit]

In South Africa, squatters tend to live in informal settlements or squatter camps on the outskirts of the larger cities, often but not always near townships. In the mid-1990s, an estimated 7.7 million South Africans lived in informal settlements: a fifth of the country's population.[15] In Durban, there has been sustained conflict between the city council and a shack dwellers' movement known as Abahlali baseMjondolo. The organisation has represented the squatters in land occupations such as the Macassar Village in 2009 and the Cape Town and Durban Marikana land occupations in 2013 (named after the Marikana massacre). It also successfully challenged the KZN Slums Act, which sought to mandate the eviction of slums but was eventually declared unconstitutional.[16]

There have been a number of similar conflicts between shack dwellers, some linked with the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign, and the city council in Cape Town. One of the most high-profile cases was the eviction of squatters in the N2 Gateway homes in the suburb of Delft, where over 20 residents were shot, including a three-year-old child. There have been numerous complaints about the legality of the government's actions.[17] Many of the families then squatted on Symphony Way, a main road in the township of Delft, before being forced to move to a camp called Blikkiesdorp.[18]


In China, informal settlements are known as urban villages.[19]

Israeli settlements are communities of Israeli citizens living in the Palestinian territories. The international community considers the settlements in occupied territory to be illegal,[20][21] In March 2018, Israeli settlers were evicted from a house they had illegally occupied in Hebron, a Palestinian city in the West Bank. The fifteen families had argued that they had bought the house, but the High Court of Justice ruled that they had to leave. The Israel Defense Forces declared the building a closed military zone and it was unclear if the Palestinian owners could regain possession. The settlers had already occupied the house and been evicted in 2012.[22] In October 2018, Fatou Bensouda, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court stated that Israel's planned demolition of Bedouin village Khan al-Ahmar could constitute a war crime.[23]

Squatters in Malaysia live on both privately owned and government-owned land.[24] Some squatters have lived on land owned by national electricity company Tenaga Nasional for over five decades.[25]

Squatters in Indonesia live on both privately owned and government-owned land. For example, the former Kalisosok Prison in Surabaya squatted since 2000s after being used as a prison for over 100 years.[26]

In Thailand, although evictions have reduced their visibility or numbers in urban areas, many squatters still occupy land near railroad tracks, under overpasses, and waterways. Commercial squatting is common in Thailand, where businesses temporarily seize nearby public real estate (such as sidewalks, roadsides, beaches, etc.) and roll out their enterprise, and at closing time they fold it in and lock it up, thus avoiding the extra cost of having to rent more property.[27]


Street dwellers in Mumbai

In Mumbai, there are an estimated 10 to 12 million inhabitants, and six million of them are squatters. The squatters live in a variety of ways. Some possess two- or three-story homes built out of brick and concrete which they have inhabited for years. Geeta Nagar is a squatter village based beside the Indian Navy compound at Colaba. Squatter Colony in Malad East has existed since 1962, and now, people living there pay a rent to the city council of 100 rupees a month. Dharavi is a community of one million squatters. The stores and factories situated there are mainly illegal and so are unregulated, but it is suggested that they do over $1 million in business every day.[28]

Other squatters are pavement dwellers, with very few possessions. Activists such as Jockin Arputham, Prema Gopalan and Sheela Patel are working for better living conditions for slum dwellers, through organisations such as Mahila Milan and Slum Dwellers International.[29] In the 2016 Mathura clash, members of Azad Bharat Vidhik Vaicharik Kranti Satyagrahi (Free India Legal Ideas Revolutionary Protesters) who had been living in Mathura's largest public park Jawahar Bagh for two years were evicted in a large police operation. At least 24 squatters were killed.[30]


Squatting is a major issue in the Philippines especially but not exclusively in urban areas of the Philippines. Squatting gained notice right after World War II, when people whose homes were destroyed by war were left homeless. They built makeshift houses called "barong-barong" on abandoned private land.[31]

In the late 20th century, the squatter population largely grew but the Philippine government has made separate attempts over the years to transfer some squatters to low-cost housing projects, such as projects in Tondo (in the former Smokey Mountain landfill), Taguig (BLISS Housing Project), and Rodriguez, Rizal. Philippine law, and society more generally, distinguishes between squatters who squat because of poverty and "professional squatters" who squat in hopes of getting a payment to leave the property.[32] Philippine-based media and journalists refer to squatters as "informal settlers."[33][34]


Gecekondu is a Turkish word meaning a house put up quickly without proper permissions, a squatter's house, and by extension, a shanty or shack. From the 1960s onwards, these settlements have provided a means of housing for new migrants arriving in cities such as Istanbul. From the 1980s onwards, property developers have upgraded many gecekondu areas.[35]

Shortly after the eviction of Gezi Park in Istanbul, Don Kişot (Quixote) was occupied and stated to be the capital's first occupied and self-managed social centre;[36] Caferağa in Kadıköy was a squatted house evicted in December 2014.[37][38] Elsewhere in Turkey, a place was occupied in Beşiktaş on March 18, 2014 and named Berkin Elvan Student House after a 15-year-old boy who was shot during the Gezi protests and later died.[39] Atopya was squatted in Ankara in June 2014 by anarchists, who claimed it was the city's first political squat.[40][38]


Exterior of squat
Facade of the evicted Carboneria squat in Barcelona
Exterior of squat
The Chien Rouge (Red Dog) in Lausanne, in a former hospital

In many European countries, there are squatted houses used as residences and also larger squatted projects where people pursue social and cultural activities.[7] An examples of the latter is a former military barracks called Metelkova in Slovenia.[41]

There was a large squatting movement in the newly formed state of Austria following the First World War. Famine was a significant problem for many people in Austria and the "Siedler" (settler) movement developed as these people tried to create shelter and a source of food for themselves.[42] The Ernst Kirchweger Haus (EKH) in Vienna was squatted as a social centre in 1990 and legalised in 2008. In 2014, 1,500 riot police officers, a tank-like police vehicle, a police water cannon and helicopters were used to clear a building occupied by the group Pizzeria Anarchia in Vienna.[43] [44]

Christiania in Copenhagen, Denmark is an independent community of almost 900 people founded in 1971 on the site of an abandoned military zone. In Copenhagen, as in other European cities such as Berlin and Amsterdam, the squatter movement was large in the 1980s. It was a social movement, providing housing and alternative culture. A flashpoint came in 1986 with the Battle of Ryesgade. Another flashpoint came in 2007 when Ungdomshuset was evicted. While not technically a squat until 14 December 2006, it was a social centre used by squatters and people involved in alternative culture more generally. After a year of protests, the city council donated a new building.[45]

In early twentieth century France, several artists who would later become world-famous, such as Guillaume Apollinaire, Amedeo Modigliani and Pablo Picasso squatted at the Bateau-Lavoir, in Montmartre, Paris. Paris moved to legitimize some popular artist squats in the mid-2000s by purchasing and renovating the buildings for artist–residents. An example is Les Frigos.[46] In the 2010s there have been several land squats protesting against large infrastructure projects. These are known collectively as Zone to Defend or ZAD (French: zone à défendre). The first and largest was the ZAD de Notre-Dame-des-Landes, which successfully opposed an airport project near Nantes.[47]

Starting from December 2012, Greek Police initiated extensive raids in a number of squats in Athens, arresting and charging with offences all illegal occupants (mostly anarchists). Squats including Villa Amalia were evicted.[48] A march in support of the 92 arrestees drew between 3,000 and 8,000 people.[49] After Villa Amalia, Villa Skaramanga and then Villa Lela Karagianni were evicted. Lela Karagianni had been squatted since 1998 and was later reoccupied.[50] The name came from the street, named for a Greek World War II resistance leader of that name. From 2015 onwards Athens has seen refugee squats in response to the European migrant crisis which are anarchist and self-organised.[51] In 2019, several squats in Exarcheia were evicted by the Greek state. Some of the migrants evicted set up a camp outside the Parliament at Syntagma Square.[52]

Rozbrat squat in Poznań

The trajectory of squatting in central and eastern Europe is very different to that of western Europe because until recently, countries were part of the Communist Bloc and squatting is generally not tolerated.[53] The first public squat in Romania was Carol 53 in Bucharest, occupied in 2012 by artists. This was a controversial project because in running the project the artists evicted a Roma family which had been previously squatting there.[54] The oldest squat in Poland, Rozbrat, was founded in 1994 through the occupation of a former paint factory in Poznań. There are also squats in Białystok, Gdańsk, Gliwice, Warsaw and Wrocław.[53]

Geneva in Switzerland had 160 buildings illegally occupied and more than 2,000 squatters, in the middle of the 1990s.[55] The RHINO (Retour des Habitants dans les Immeubles Non-Occupés, in English: Return of Inhabitants to Non-Occupied Buildings) was a 19-year-long squat in Geneva. It occupied two buildings on the Boulevard des Philosophes, a few blocks away from the main campus of the University of Geneva. The RHINO organisation often faced legal troubles, and Geneva police evicted the inhabitants on July 23, 2007.[55] There were large riots in Zürich when the Binz occupation was evicted in 2013. The squatters moved to another building.[56]

Czech Republic[edit]

Following the 1989 Velvet Revolution in the Czech Republic, anarchist and punk activists inspired by squatting movements in Amsterdam and Berlin occupied derelict houses.[57] Ladronka (1993-2000) became internationally famous as a hub for counter-cultural activities and anarchist organisation.[58] Squat Milada was occupied in 1997 and evicted in 2009. Its longevity was in part due to the building not existing in the cadastre.[57] Klinika was an occupied social centre between 2014 and 2019.[59] These three social centres, all in Prague, were the city's three most important political squats.[60]


Police during eviction of the Topf & Söhne squat, 16 April 2009

In the 1970s, squatting in West German cities led to "a self-confident urban counterculture with its own infrastructure of newspapers, self-managed collectives and housing cooperatives, feminist groups, and so on, which was prepared to intervene in local and broader politics".[61] The Autonomen movement protected squats against eviction and participated in radical direct action. After the German reunification, many buildings were vacated due to the demise of former state-run enterprises and migration to the western parts of Germany, some of which were then occupied by squatters. In Berlin, the now-legalised squats are in desirable areas such as Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg. Before the reunification, squats in Berlin were mostly located in former West Berlin's borough of Kreuzberg. The squats were mainly for residential and social use. Squatting became known by the term instandbesetzen, from instandsetzen ("renovating") and besetzen ("occupying").[7]

Legalised housing projects include Hafenstraße in Hamburg and Kiefernstraße in Düsseldorf.[62][63] Squatting can also take place for campaigning purposes, such as the Anatopia project, which protested against a Mercedes-Benz test track.[64] Squatters moved into the former factory site of J.A. Topf & Söhne in Erfurt in April 2001 and remained there until they were evicted by police in April 2009. The firm made crematoria for Nazi concentration camps. The squatters ran culture programs which drew attention to the history of the company. The occupation was known simply as Das Besetzte Haus (the occupied house) and was one of the most well known actions of left-radicals of that period in Germany. A book about the occupation was published in 2012, entitled Topf & Söhne – Besetzung auf einem Täterort (Topf & Söhne – Occupation of a crime scene).[65]


A short-lived squat in Reykjavík in 2009. The signs say "We take matters into our own hands" and "The home is not sacred property"

In Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland, there is a small tradition of squatting. In 1919, anarchists occupied a building and were quickly evicted.[66] Squatters occupied an empty house in downtown Reykjavík on Vatnsstigur street in April 2009.[67] The squatters set up a freeshop and had plans for a social centre, but the occupation was quickly evicted by the police and 22 people were arrested.[68] Vatnsstigur 4 was briefly resquatted on May 7, 2009, in solidarity with the Rozbrat squat in Poland, which was threatened with eviction.[69] Also in 2009, a group of graffiti artists called the Pretty Boys occupied Hverfisgata 34. Their intention was to make a clandestine gallery and then when they were not evicted, they legalised the space and called it Gallery Bosnia.[70]

When the Reykjavíkur Akademían (the Reykjavík Academy) was evicted at short notice from Hringbraut 121 in November 2011, it was occupied in protest. The space, which had hosted lectures and also Iceland's trade union and anarchist libraries, was moved to another location but the occupiers were unhappy that the new use of the building would be a guest house for tourists. An art exhibition was organised, with a camera obscura, live music and shadow theatre.[71]


The exact legal position of squatting in Ireland is ambiguous and the mechanisms for removing squatters from properties varies from case to case, sometimes going through the judicial process, other times not. Trespass and occupation of a property is not illegal, but as a definitive process for dealing with squatters does not exist, unlawful evictions do occur,[72] sometimes with the support of the Garda Síochána (Irish Police).[73] However certain 'squatters rights' do exist and can be invoked in the form of adverse possession. An occupant is entitled to legal possession of the title provided they are in continuous and uninterrupted occupation of the property for 12 years.[74]

Squatting has no major tradition in Ireland, arguably in part due to the perceived strong position of the title holder. It has largely been confined to major cities but with the construction of Ghost estates across the country there has also been a rise in occupations of residential spaces in rural areas.[75] There have been major housing movements and periods of squatting in Ireland, including the activities of the Dublin and Derry Housing Action Committees of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Each had a militant campaign which participated in dozens or hundreds of actions and protests in demand of better housing conditions.[76] Many young people emigrated from Ireland in the 1980s and squatted in London.[77]

Activists from Occupy Cork squatted a National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) building in Cork at Christmas 2011, with the intention of using it as a community resource centre.[78] In Dublin, housing activists occupied Disco Disco on Parnell Square in July 2003; they were evicted within 24 hours.[79] From 2003 to 2004 the Magpie Squat was a residential space which housed activists on Upper Leeson Street. It had a library and a vegetable garden.[80][79]

With squatting becoming more public in the 2010s, Dublin hosted the 2014 International Squatter Convergence, which had previously been held in cities such as Brighton, Dijon, Berlin and Leeds. Events were hosted by Seomra Spraoi, a self-managed social centre.[81] Squatting also became popularised by the successful neighbourhood resistance to an attempted eviction of a large community used squatted space in Grangegorman in Dublin city in 2015.[82] The news of the eviction attempt and eventual successful resistance spread across social media[83] and international news.[84] The squatted complex enjoyed widespread support in the area and was also publicly supported by the city's Lord Mayor, Christy Burke[85] and by Irish Times journalist Una Mullally.[86] The building which once housed Neary's Hotel on Parnell St in Dublin's north inner city, was occupied in 2015 and renamed The Barricade Inn by squatters.[87][88]


Rome gets barricade. Squatting symbol appearing as graffiti in Rome

In Italy, despite the lack of official data, it appears that about 50,000 buildings all over the country are unused or abandoned and thus subject to squatting.[89] Squatting has no legal basis, but there are many squats used as social centres. The first occupations of abandoned buildings began in 1968 with the left-wing movements Lotta Continua and Potere Operaio. Out of the breakup of these two movements was born Autonomia Operaia, which was composed of a Marxist–Leninist and Maoist wing and also an anarchist and more libertarian one. These squats had Marxist-Leninist (but also Stalinist and Maoist) ideals and came from the left wing of Autonomia. The militants of the Italian armed struggle (the New Red Brigades) were connected to these squats.[90] There are many left-wing self-organised occupied projects across Italy such as Cascina Torchiera and Centro Sociale Leoncavallo in Milan and Forte Prenestino in Rome. In Rome there is also a far-right social centre, Casa Pound.[91]

This situation has so far received the approval of Italian courts, which have been reluctant to defend the owners' good reasons. In contrast with the dominant jurisprudence, new case-law (from the Rome Tribunal and the Supreme Court of Cassation) instructs the government to pay damages in case of squatting if the institutions have failed to prevent it.[92]


Exterior of squat
Ubica, a former squat in Utrecht

The Dutch use the term krakers to refer to people who squat houses with the aim of living in them (as opposed to people who break into buildings for the purpose of vandalism or theft).[7] Notable squats in cities around the country include ACU and Moira in Utrecht, the Poortgebouw in Rotterdam, OCCII, OT301 and Vrankrijk in Amsterdam, the Grote Broek in Nijmegen, Vrijplaats Koppenhinksteeg in Leiden, De Vloek in the Hague and the Landbouwbelang in Maastricht. Land squats include Ruigoord and Fort Pannerden.

On 1 June 2010, squatting in the Netherlands became illegal and punishable when a decree was sent out that the squatting ban would be enforced from 1 October.[93] Following legal challenges, on October 28, 2011, the Supreme Court of the Netherlands decided that the eviction of a squat can only occur after an intervention of a judge.[94] The Dutch government assessed the effectiveness of the new law in 2015, releasing a report giving statistics on arrests and convictions between October 2010 and December 2014. During this time period, 529 people have been arrested for the act of occupying derelict buildings in 213 separate incidents. Of the 529 arrests, 210 were found guilty. Of those convicted, 39 people were imprisoned for the new offence.[95]


Exterior of squat
The Can Vies social centre in Barcelona

In Francoist Spain migrant workers lived in slums on the periphery of cities.[96] After the Spanish transition to democracy, residential squatting occurred in Spanish cities such as Barcelona, Bilbao, Madrid, Valencia and Zaragoza. Younger squatters set up self-managed social centres which hosted events and campaigns. The 1995 Criminal Code among other things criminalised squatting, but failed to stop it.[97] Social centres exist in cities across the country, for example Can Masdeu and Can Vies in Barcelona and Eskalera Karakola and La Ingobernable in Madrid.[96][98][99] In the Basque Country the centres are known as gaztetxes [eu]. A well-known example was Kukutza in Bilbao.[100]

United Kingdom[edit]

There is no legal definition of squatting in the UK and the term is used interchangeably with trespassing.[101] In the UK, car parks, construction sites, factories, playing fields, vacant offices and warehouses are considered high risk properties and trespassers or "squatters" can result in significant problems for commercial property owners, such as damage, clean up expense and project delays.[101]

The "Square Occupied Social Centre", a now-evicted squat in Russell Square


In England, squatting has a long historical tradition.[102] The BBC states that squatting was "a big issue in the Peasants' Revolt of 1381 and again for the Diggers in the 17th Century [who] were peasants who cultivated waste and common land, claiming it as their rightful due" and that squatting was a necessity after the Second World War when so many were homeless.[103] Mass squats were organised in a number of prominent public buildings in Central London, culminating in the occupation of the Queen Mother's ex-residence at 144 Piccadilly in 1969 which became known as 'Hippydilly' and made world headline news[104] and the media created what one of the leaders later described as a moral panic. There were estimated to be 50,000 squatters throughout Britain in the late 1970s, with the majority (30,000) living in London.[105] The BBC reported in 2011 that the government estimated that there were "20,000 squatters in the UK" and "650,000 empty properties".[103] However, trespassing in a commercial building is not a criminal offence as of 1 September 2012.[101] In 2018, Law Business Research reports, as a result, several sources saying trespassers have focused on commercial properties leading to calls to criminalise all trespassing.[101] Section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 199 provides police with additional power to remove trespassers when there is damage to land or property, trespassers are abusive, insulting or threatening or there are over six vehicles on premises related to squatters.[101]

On 1 September 2012, under Section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, squatting in residential property was criminalised by the Government, punishable by up to six months in prison or a £5000 fine, or both.[106][107] The same year saw the first successful prosecution for squatting, resulting in a 12-week jail sentence.[108]

Northern Ireland[edit]

In the late 1960s, people in Northern Ireland were forced to squat through both poverty and a lack of decent housing. In County Tyrone, there were allegations of unfair housing provision on the basis of politics and religion.[109] When a house in the village of Caledon, near Dungannon, was allocated to a young Protestant woman, Emily Beattie, it caused protests.[110] She was secretary to a solicitor who worked for the Unionist councillor who had given her the house and two Catholic families who had been overlooked complained that the same councillor had scotched plans to build houses for Catholics in the Dungannon area. Several days after the woman had moved in, the Catholic squatters in the house next door were evicted. Austin Currie, then a young politician, complained both at the local council and at Stormont about the situation. He then symbolically occupied the woman's house for a few hours, before being evicted by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). One of the policeman was the woman's brother who himself moved into the house later on.[109] The incident quickly became a media sensation and in August the civil rights movement arranged one of its first marches, from Coalisland to Dungannon. This was followed in October by a civil rights march in Derry which was organised by the Derry Housing Action Committee and the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association. The march was brutally repressed by the RUC.[109]

In 2012 activists from Occupy Belfast squatted a Bank of Ireland building in Belfast city centre and used it as a social space.[111]


Squatting is a criminal offence in Scotland, punishable by a fine or even imprisonment, under the Trespass (Scotland) Act 1865. The owner or lawful occupier of the property has the right to evict squatters without notice or applying to the court for an eviction order, although when evicting, they cannot do anything that would break the law, for example, use violence.[112] Nevertheless, the 19th and early 20th centuries saw various land raids in which cottars attempted to occupy land for subsistence farming. In 1948, the Seven Men of Knoydart unsuccessfully squatted land owned by the Nazi-supporting Lord Brocket.[113] The Forest Café in Edinburgh squatted its old premises in 2011 before moving to a new site.[114] There have been several road protest land squats such as Bilston Glen and Pollok Free State.[115][116]


In 2010, a representative of the UK Bailiff Company claimed that the number of people squatting in Wales was at its highest for 40 years.[117] The high number of businesses failing in urban Wales has led to squatting becoming a growing issue in large cities like Swansea and Cardiff.[118][119] Experts said "the majority [of squatters] are forced into the lifestyle by financial pressures." Based on the internal database of UK Bailiff Company, there were 100 cases of squatting in 2009, the highest for 40 years, following trends estimated by the Advisory Service for Squatters that squatting has doubled in England and Wales since 1995.[117]

As with England, from 1 September 2012, squatting in a residential building was made a criminal offence subject to arrest, fine and imprisonment.[120] In December 2012 Cardiff Squatters Network was formed, to network together squatters citywide, and host "skill-share" workshops on squatting legally in commercial buildings.[121]

North America[edit]


In Canada, there are two systems to register the ownership of land. Under the land title system, squatter rights, formally known as adverse possession, were abolished. However, under the registry system, these rights have been preserved. If a person occupies land for the required period of time as set out in provincial limitation acts and during that time no legal action is taken to evict them, then the ownership of the land transfers from the legal owner to the squatter.[122]

The Frances Street Squats in Vancouver were a row of six buildings squatted for nine months in 1990. They were evicted in a large operation and a film was subsequently made, called The Beat of Frances Street. In recent years, there have been a number of public squats which have brought together the two main contemporary reasons for squatting – homelessness and activism. Examples are the Lafontaine squat in Overdale, a district of Montréal (2001),[123] the Woodward's Squat in Vancouver (2002), the Infirmary Squat in Halifax (2002), the Pope Squat in Toronto (2002), the Seven Year Squat in Ottawa (2002), the Water Street Squat in Peterborough (2003), and the North Star hotel in Vancouver (2006). These were squats organised by anti-poverty groups which tended to have a short life expectancy.[124] The Woodward's building was a derelict department store which had stood empty for nine years. After being evicted from the building, two hundred squatters set up a tent city on the pavement outside.[125] The action is credited with putting in motion the eventual redevelopment of the building.[126] The Peterborough Coalition Against Poverty (PCAP) publicly squatted 1130 Water Street, a building which stood empty after a fire. The group offered to repair the place and return it to its use as low-income housing. City officials agreed to the repairs and then City Council voted to demolish the building. The cost of demolition was $8,900 and the cost of repairs had been projected to be $6,900.[124] The North Star hotel was temporarily squatted as a protest against emptiness by the Vancouver Anti-Poverty Committee.[127]

In 2011, the 'Occupy Toronto squat team' squatted a basement at 238 Queen Street West and offered to take on a lease for 99 cents per year. They were evicted after eight hours.[128]

United States[edit]

In the history of the United States, squatting occurred during the California Gold Rush and World War II.[129][130] Hoovervilles were homeless camps built across the country during the Great Depression in the 1930s. Hoovervilles were shanty towns built by homeless people during the Great Depression in the 1930s. They were named after Herbert Hoover, who was president of the country at the time.[131] In the late 2000s, shanty towns again sprang up across the US.[132] During the Great Recession (2007–2009) there were increasing numbers of people squatting foreclosed homes.[133][134] There were also reports of people resquatting their own foreclosed homes.[135]

Community organizations have helped the homeless to take over vacant buildings not only as a place to live but also a part of larger campaign to shine a light on inequity in housing and advocate change in housing and land issues.[136] In 2002, when the New York City administration agreed to work with eleven squatted buildings on the Lower East Side in a deal brokered by the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board with the condition the apartments would eventually be turned over to the tenants as low-income housing cooperatives.[137]

South America[edit]

Shanty towns exist on the periphery of many South American cities. In Peru, the name given to the squatter settlements is pueblos jóvenes.[138] In Argentina they are known as villa miseria, and as asentamiento in Uruguay and Guatemala.[139][140]


A favela in Rio de Janeiro

In Brazil, squatter communities are called favelas, and a famous example is Rocinha in Rio de Janeiro, home to up to 180,000 people.[141] Favelas are mostly inhabited by the poorest strata, and usually lack much infrastructure and public services, but in some cases, already have reached the structure needed for a city. They are equivalent to slums or shanty towns, and typically occupy unused land (instead of unused or abandoned buildings). There were 25 million people living in favelas across Brazil, as of 2004.[2]

In São Paulo the largest favela is Heliópolis, with over 200,000 inhabitants as of 2018.[142] However, its occupied area has been officially recognized as a regular neighborhood of the city. There are also a number of squatter buildings in the inner city, the most famous of which was a 22-storey building called Prestes Maia, whose inhabitants were ordered to leave in 2006.[143] Inspired both by this movement and increasing property speculation and gentrification, various occupations in buildings and unoccupied areas in big cities, led by groups such as the Homeless Workers' Movement (MTST) or Downtown Roofless Movement (MSTC).[144]

The former Hotel Santos Dumont on Mauá Street in the Luz neighbourhood was occupied in 2007 after being derelict for 17 years. An estimated 1,000 people were living in the building, paying a small amount every month to cover maintenance. The community expels people who fight, use drugs or abuse alcohol.[145]

There are also rural squatter movements in Brazil, such as the Landless Workers' Movement (MST), which has an estimated 1.5 million members.



In the 19th century, the British government claimed to own all of Australia and tried to control land ownership. Wealthy farmers of livestock claimed land for themselves and thus were known as squatters.[146] This type of squatting is covered in greater detail at Squatting (Australian history).

In more recent times, Australia has seen occupations in Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney. The Aboriginal Tent Embassy was set up in 1972 and is a permanent protest occupation. The 2016 Bendigo Street housing dispute saw squatters successfully contesting road-building plans. The Midnight Star squat was used as an self-managed social centre in a former cinema, before being evicted after being used as a convergence space during the 2002 World Trade Organization meeting.[147]

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Further reading[edit]