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This Old House
November 7, 2008 12:03 PM   Subscribe

A group of artists calling itself Da! Collective has begun squatting at a six-storey townhouse in Mayfair, estimated to be worth around £6.25 million. And they're inviting others to join them. Under British law, squatters can stay on a claimed property until the owners evict them - something the owners of this property, British Virgin Islands-based Deltaland Resources Ltd., have yet to do. Only 11 years and 11 months until the new home is theirs completely.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing (30 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Only 11 years and 11 months until the new home is theirs completely.

And they might have been able to pull it off hadn't there been news stories about it in the Guardian and the Evening Standard. And Sky News. And the Daily Mail. Damn.
posted by ALongDecember at 12:12 PM on November 7, 2008


And they might have been able to pull it off hadn't there been news stories about it

I wouldn't throw in the towel just yet. The wiki link outlines how complicated the process can be, often to the benefit of squatters.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:15 PM on November 7, 2008


At the bottom of the second link:
• In 2001, a £1.5m London house owned by former BBC chairman Gavyn Davies was taken over by squatters for 10 days. The uninvited guests annoyed neighbours with incessant bongo-playing.
posted by 445supermag at 12:17 PM on November 7, 2008


A bunch of web monkeys moved from New York to London to pop a squat? Perhaps the Da! Collective of the first link doesn't have anything to do with the squatters.
posted by cimbrog at 12:23 PM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Man, there's a house around the block from me that I'd love to squat in. It's been vacant since they finished construction on it over a year ago. They turned a Levitt home into a ridiculous monstrosity that's much too big for the plot, and have been trying to sell it for more than twice what other homes in the neighborhood go for. Nonsense, and not to my taste, but hey, free house.

I've wondered who owns it and how long it would take them to notice I was living there.
posted by uncleozzy at 12:36 PM on November 7, 2008


And they might have been able to pull it off hadn't there been news stories about it

I wouldn't bet on it. The whole point of the England's squatting laws is that people lose track of property for all sorts of reasons - because they have so much they lose track or because people die without heirs and it drops between the cracks or whatever. In general it's a useful legal framework that avoids houses going to waste in places like London.
posted by rodgerd at 12:36 PM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


So do all the banks keep an eye on their foreclosed property? I could see someone having a specific job to go around to all the properties on a routine basis and make sure no one is squatting there.
posted by cimbrog at 12:39 PM on November 7, 2008


They might have been able to pull it off hadn't there been news stories about it in the Guardian and the Evening Standard.

The rules of adverse possession are such that a person should "openly and notoriously" occupy the property.

I'm aware of a building here in NYC that had a little notch in the building, where the neighboring restaurant got to keeping their trash bins. When they went to sell the building, they found they had forfeited that little piece of land by never complaining. Because the buildable air rights are determined by the ground footprint, they lost that amount of space (about 100 sq ft) times twelve, or over a million dollars.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:40 PM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


So, you just have to squat in a house for 12 years, and it's legally yours. During those 12 years, what keeps another band of merry squatters from squatting in their squat? Is they're actually a "finder's keepers" law that would somehow protect the original squatters from other squatters?
posted by jsonic at 12:59 PM on November 7, 2008


yup, my real estate class covered this earlier this quarter. 5 years of uninterrupted, open use. Plus you have to pay the property tax (here in California at least)!

For encroachments, it's just 5 years and it's yours.
posted by troy at 1:02 PM on November 7, 2008


And furthermore, how long does someone need to be gone before you can start squatting? I mean, It would be kind of annoying to go on a long vacation only to find someone living in your house.
posted by delmoi at 1:03 PM on November 7, 2008


So, you just have to squat in a house for 12 years, and it's legally yours. During those 12 years, what keeps another band of merry squatters from squatting in their squat? Is they're actually a "finder's keepers" law that would somehow protect the original squatters from other squatters?

From the wiki link:
To show that the occupier of the squatted building is in fact in physical possession of the property, squatters often put up a legal warning known as a 'Section 6', a copy of which is often displayed on the front door. Doing so attempts to claim that there are people living there and they have a legal right to be there. It also claims that anyone — even the technical owner of the property — who tries to enter the building without permission is committing an offence. These claims are fallible following amendments to the law in 1994.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:16 PM on November 7, 2008


To expand on delmoi's statement, what's the difference between squatting and breaking and entering?
posted by ShadowCrash at 1:18 PM on November 7, 2008


Wikipedia's Adverse Possession page has some info on squatter's rights and some of the requirements to take possession of a property.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 1:21 PM on November 7, 2008


the squatters had not heard anything from the building's tenants, a company called Deltaland Resources Ltd, which leases it from the Duke of Westminster's Grosvenor estate

I'm guessing this is a 99 year lease arrangement. Which raises the question - if they did stay the 12 years and Deltaland did nothing, would that really affect the Duke's rights? I'd have to think not. Seems more like a sublease without permission than an abandonment of property.

Though the law being the strange thing it is, anything is possible.

Lawyers, lawyers?
posted by IndigoJones at 1:21 PM on November 7, 2008


Squatting != breaking and entering. Squatting is entering without 'breaking' - e.g. through an open window (as these squatters did). Breaking and entering (e,g. e.g. entering by busting/forcing windows, locks, etc.) is a criminal offense.
posted by carter at 1:25 PM on November 7, 2008


Oops, I hit post too quickly. I meant "Wikipedia's Adverse Possession page has some MORE info...". Also, there's also some more info at legaldictionary. This is fascinating to me since I've heard about the London squats ever since I first started reading about the Clash and the UK punk scene, but I didn't know that it was something that had ANY kind of structure, let alone rights and procedures.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 1:27 PM on November 7, 2008


Funny, every squatter I've known in my life has claimed to be an artist.
posted by Navelgazer at 1:41 PM on November 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


More to the point that about a dozen people have gotten to before I did, yeah. If the use is open, continuous, and flagrant, and you surpass the amount of time, than you've got open use rights to the property (there's more to it than that, obviously) and having the stories in the papers would only help the Da! Collective's cause in the courts (in the U.S., at least).

(Caveat - I did really poorly in Property, so I might be missing something here)
posted by Navelgazer at 1:44 PM on November 7, 2008


Squatting != breaking and entering. Squatting is entering without 'breaking' - e.g. through an open window (as these squatters did). Breaking and entering (e,g. e.g. entering by busting/forcing windows, locks, etc.) is a criminal offense.

well, then to continue delmoi's thought, could someone squat your house if you happened to leave a window open while you were out on a weekend vacation? as in, you're gone for 3 days and then you come back and someone has been living there? have they broken a law or do they simply (hopefully) leave once you've returned and evicted them? do you have to serve a legal notice of eviction, or can you just arrive and kick them out? are they liable for damages they may have caused?
posted by shmegegge at 1:52 PM on November 7, 2008


To further the question, if my property is squatted, and I have a mortgage on it, does the new "owner" get to negotiate with the bank on payments? Because I sure as hell ain't paying a mortgage on a property I no longer "own."
posted by maxwelton at 2:19 PM on November 7, 2008


Here in California, as long as the squatters come to your attention within 5 years of their appearance -- plus them paying the property tax in the interim -- you can just call the sheriff and kick them off, since part of the privilege of being a land owner is exclusive use of the land.

If they've been there for 5 years plus without your knowledge of it, then I would argue that you should lose your title to the land, since you obviously have more than you know what to do with and there ain't no more good land free for the (instant) taking any more.
posted by troy at 2:26 PM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


which leases it from the Duke of Westminster's Grosvenor estate

heh. Henry George, Social Problems, Chapter 6:

"The great fortune of the Duke of Westminster, the richest of the rich men
of England, is purely the result of appropriation. It no more springs from
the earnings of the present Duke of Westminster or any of his ancestors than
did the great fortunes bestowed by Russian monarchs on their favorites when
they gave them thousands of the Russian people as their serfs. An English
king, long since dead, gave to an ancestor of the present Duke of
Westminster a piece of land over which the city of London has now
extended -- that is to say, he gave him the privilege, still recognized by
the stupid English people, which enables the present duke to appropriate so
much of the earnings of so many thousands of the present generation of
Englishmen."
posted by troy at 2:32 PM on November 7, 2008


well, then to continue delmoi's thought, could someone squat your house if you happened to leave a window open while you were out on a weekend vacation? as in, you're gone for 3 days and then you come back and someone has been living there? have they broken a law or do they simply (hopefully) leave once you've returned and evicted them? do you have to serve a legal notice of eviction, or can you just arrive and kick them out? are they liable for damages they may have caused?

It's been a long time since I've been in the UK, but as far as I recall if you leave a window open and then return to find squatters there you ask them to leave; and if they don't you get an eviction notice served and they get kicked out. I guess a lot of squatters don't bother to occupy buildings that are in use for precisely this reason.

There's a lot of other empty buildings on the street - empty commercial premises, speculative properties owned by property corps, agency properties, developers' properties, properties owned by the city but left vacant, and so on, that they may target instead. You'd be surprised how few 'owner occupiers' there are in some parts of town.

To further the question, if my property is squatted, and I have a mortgage on it, does the new "owner" get to negotiate with the bank on payments? Because I sure as hell ain't paying a mortgage on a property I no longer "own."

Again IANAL but I think you only lose ownership to the squatters if they have been there for 12 years and you have done nothing to get your property back.
posted by carter at 3:01 PM on November 7, 2008


That Da! collective link is to something else isn't it? How's it linked to the UK?
posted by MrMerlot at 3:23 PM on November 7, 2008


• In 2001, a £1.5m London house owned by former BBC chairman Gavyn Davies was taken over by squatters for 10 days. The uninvited guests annoyed neighbours with incessant bongo-playing.

Is that you, Mr. Feynman?
posted by ymgve at 4:13 PM on November 7, 2008


There is absolutely no way these guys will achieve ownership over that property. Think of it this way: When someone enters onto your land; you have 12 years to kick them out. After 12 years, you lose that right, and, therefore, the land. All the original owners need to do is to get the legal ball rolling within 12 years. I'm sure they'll manage it.

When wikipedia says that the law's delays can benefit squatters, it means by giving them somewhere rent-free to live while the thing gets worked out. The trashcan example above is much more typical of the kind of situation where people actually lose title to land - where no-one thought anything of the incursion until it was too late.

To answer jsonic's question, a squatter is said to have title which is good against everyone but the true owner; only the real owner (or his servants or agents) can legally kick him out.

Disclaimer: haven't thought about this stuff since college, might have missed a trick somewhere.
posted by tiny crocodile at 5:51 PM on November 7, 2008


I'm happy in my apartment, but it could be fun to try and acquire some property this way. What are the chances that that whats-his-name also-ran former presidential wannabe keeps track of all 7 of his houses?
posted by Xezlec at 7:23 PM on November 7, 2008


That Da! collective link is to something else isn't it? How's it linked to the UK?

It's not; my Google-fu is off today. I should have guessed that anarchist squatters probably don't have a Flash-driven website.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:10 PM on November 7, 2008


Funny, every squatter I've known in my life has claimed to be an artist.

My old boss was a squatter physicist, though he did help edit a Jean Luc Godard film in his summer off.
posted by biffa at 5:20 AM on November 8, 2008


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