squatting in the news http://squatworld.blogsport.de Mon, 27 Feb 2012 09:58:08 +0000 http://wordpress.org/?v= en Inside Britain’s very middle-class squat http://squatworld.blogsport.de/2012/02/27/inside-britains-very-middle-class-squat/ http://squatworld.blogsport.de/2012/02/27/inside-britains-very-middle-class-squat/#comments Mon, 27 Feb 2012 09:58:08 +0000 Administrator uk in english http://squatworld.blogsport.de/2012/02/27/inside-britains-very-middle-class-squat/ Last week the Mail Online revealed how one of Bristol’s most expensive homes – with a price tag of £2.25m – had been invaded by squatters.

Here Robert Hardman reveals what life is now like inside the grade II-listed building.

How very inconsiderate of the owners to empty the palatial indoor swimming pool before vacating the premises. Still, it has its uses.

‚Check this out,‘ says Zen and performs a couple of tricks and a turn on his skateboard as he clatters past me from the shallow end to the deep end. The pool may be devoid of water, but it does make a pretty good skateboard park.

Similarly, the drawing room may not have staged a ball or drinks party for a while, but it still serves as a spacious gym with a step machine by the fireplace. The whole place could do with a lick of paint and the wine cellar is disgracefully low on wine. In fact, there is none at all.
The Daily Mail’s Robert Hardman with squatters Lucas and Connor on the grand staircase at Clifton Wood House, in Clifton, Bristol

The Daily Mail’s Robert Hardman with squatters Lucas and Connor on the grand staircase at Clifton Wood House, in Clifton, Bristol

The heating does not work and there is a solitary bulb hanging in the elegant Georgian hall where, by rights, one would expect to find a crystal chandelier.

But these are minor points. There are no grumbles from the residents at Clifton Wood House, a delightful, double bow-fronted grade II-listed mini-stately home perched on the most expensive hill in Bristol. For, as of last week, it has become Britain’s grandest squat.

Actually, the residents do have one complaint thus far. They claim that a ‚rude man‘ from the estate agency turned up last week and attempted to force his way in. Several bolts have been installed to deter him from having another go.


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‚Don‘t call us squatters. We‘re caretakers. They‘re about to make squatting illegal,‘ says Zen, showing a grasp of politics and the law unusual in one who has yet to celebrate his 18th birthday.

‚Anyway, we‘re not like those anarchist squatters who smash places up. We respect this property.‘

Certainly, it is a respectable property. Drive through its substantial electric gates and you find a sizeable garden and a ten-bedroom house with four bathrooms, outhouses and garages, as well as that pool.
How very middle-class: Clifton Wood House, in Clifton, Bristol, where 15 squatters are now living

How very middle-class: Clifton Wood House, in Clifton, Bristol, where 15 squatters are now living

It’s a blend of old world grandeur and Noughties opulence, reportedly owned by a local businessman called Petros Birakos, who tried to sell it for £2.9 million. No joy.

Last autumn, say neighbours, he and his family moved out, disconnected the utilities and put it on the market with agents Knight Frank and a £2.25 million price tag.

As one of the most impressive houses in the area, it had been gathering a fair amount of interest, until just over a week ago, when someone spotted the lights were on.

The police went to investigate and found a new set of residents who had already placed a ‚Section 6′ notice in a window. Using Section 6 of the Criminal Law Act 1977, squatters can assert their right to be in a property and warn it is an offence for anyone else to enter the building without their permission (I‘ve never understood why burglars don‘t try this scam).
Robert Hardman in the mansion’s empty pool with a squatter using it to skateboard in

Robert Hardman in the mansion’s empty pool with a squatter using it to skateboard in

Zen, a squatter, chats to Robert Hardman in one of the many rooms left empty before the new residents moved in

Zen, a squatter, chats to Robert Hardman in one of the many rooms left empty before the new residents moved in

Ornate: The grand spiral staircase was something to behold

Ornate: The grand spiral staircase was something to behold

Satisfied that this was, therefore, a civil matter, the police departed. Despite the best efforts of the angry estate agent, that is the way things have remained ever since.

So, I have come to inspect Britain’s top squat. And once it is established that I am neither a bailiff nor an estate agent, but merely a journalist, the electric gates swing open and in I come.

It’s mid-afternoon and most of the 15 residents are out. But the house is never left unattended. If it were, a scheming owner might sneak back in and, heaven forbid, end up squatting there.

I meet Zen, who is wearing a black trilby and munching on a bit of French bread, and Svet, a smiley 23-year-old Bulgarian woman with pink hair and a degree in film and TV studies from Canterbury Christ Church University.

With the front door now barricaded, we go in through the kitchen entrance.

I find a modern pine kitchen with a big central island and a few bags of Tesco potatoes on top. Most of the cooking seems to be done on a toasted sandwich machine.

Every resident has his own room (with the exception of Svet, they are all men) and there is one spare ‚traveller’s room‘ where anyone who is deemed genuinely in need of a room for the night can sleep.
Robert Hardman and Svet, the smiley Bulgarian woman, in the kitchen talking over the rights and wrongs of squatting

Robert Hardman and Svet, the smiley Bulgarian woman, in the kitchen talking over the rights and wrongs of squatting

A new admission, like everything else, is done by a democratic vote among the house-mates. One door opens up to reveal a mattress on the floor along with a TV, DVD player and a mixing deck for recording music.

While the squatters have managed to reconnect the house to the electricity and water mains, there is no gas supply (they say they are planning to reconnect that, too — a feat of DIY that sounds worth avoiding).

‚We‘ve checked the chimneys and they‘re all open,‘ says Luke, a personable 23-year-old in a regulation woolly hat, who has returned from a day’s busking.

Not so long ago he was reading business studies at Birmingham University. So what is the plan now?

‚I‘d love a piece of land where I could grow my food and live independently,‘ he says.

Certainly, there is no deep-seated political agenda here, beyond a general criticism of Britain’s lack of housing.
The new residents placed a ‚Section 6′ notice in a window to assert their right to be in the property and warn it is an offence for anyone else to enter the building without their permission

The new residents placed a ‚Section 6′ notice in a window to assert their right to be in the property and warn it is an offence for anyone else to enter the building without their permission

Surprisingly, they take a rather dim view of the benefits culture. ‚The problem with benefits is that some people who got them shouldn‘t have and that’s made it impossible for everyone else,‘ says Matt, an occasional window fitter.

‚But I don‘t need them. I can work when I need money.‘

All insist they do not receive any State handouts. Svet used to claim Jobseekers‘ Allowance until it was cut off after she went back to Bulgaria for four months. She now does agency jobs as a care worker.
The property was put on the market with estate agents Knight Frank with a price tag of £2.25m

The property was put on the market with estate agents Knight Frank with a price tag of £2.25m

‚You don‘t need benefits. You can live for free,‘ says Zen, explaining that a combination of busking, scavenging and free shops — which distribute surplus supermarket produce — does the trick. The most prized commodity around here seems to be tobacco.

As dusk settles, most of the house-mates are back, showing off the results of a day’s foraging. A young woman from the squatters‘ action group, SQUASH, arrives with briefing notes on the new Legal Aid, Sentencing And Punishment Of Offenders Bill (now in the Lords), which aims to criminalise residential squatting.

If it is passed, these squatters could soon be committing an offence. They are an articulate, affable lot, resourceful characters rather than brain-addled losers. I sense that if they applied themselves, most could prosper in the real world.

A couple of policemen buzz the intercom. It turns out they are handing out leaflets following a burglary in the area.

I am watching the cops, and they are watching me, through a broken window pane, but they ask no further questions and leave. There is, after all, little they can do. ‚It’s a civil matter between the owner and the courts,‘ says a spokesman for Avon & Somerset Police when I call.

The squatters all point out that this is an empty building and that their ‚caretaking‘ is, thus, legitimate. They admit, though, that they do not know the background to this home. And because it is worth £2.25million, this does not make their behaviour any more excusable.

It is true that thousands of homes all over Britain are empty because of incompetent councils. And it is true that buying a house is increasingly beyond the means of most young people.

But that is no reason why anyone should have to see their property requisitioned by strangers and then go through a costly legal process to reclaim it. The new Bill is long overdue.

In the meantime, another question arises: if squatters can hook up to the electricity and water supplies with- out paying a bill and watch TV without buying a licence, do the rest of us still need to bother?


The ’squatter‘ living in a €1m house with his wife… and the other woman http://squatworld.blogsport.de/2012/02/27/the-squatter-living-in-a-e1m-house-with-his-wife-and-the-other-woman/ http://squatworld.blogsport.de/2012/02/27/the-squatter-living-in-a-e1m-house-with-his-wife-and-the-other-woman/#comments Mon, 27 Feb 2012 09:56:50 +0000 Administrator in english eire http://squatworld.blogsport.de/2012/02/27/the-squatter-living-in-a-e1m-house-with-his-wife-and-the-other-woman/ The Irish Mail on Sunday can today reveal the extraordinary lifestyle of the ’squatter‘ who recently won a landmark case allowing him to keep a house he broke into almost three decades ago.

The Supreme Court ruled two weeks ago that Des Grogan should keep the Edwardian house in Dublin which he had illegally entered in 1982 after discovering that the occupant had died without any next of kin.

The Supreme Court ruling may have given the impression of Mr Grogan as an impoverished down-and-out who made his way into an abandoned house as a way to get a roof over his head.
Location: Grogan and his wife own this Howth Road mansion which commands views of Dublin Bay

Location: Grogan and his wife own this Howth Road mansion which commands views of Dublin Bay

The truth is very different: Mr Grogan is a wealthy landlord who has amassed a huge property portfolio since the Eighties and lives in a huge mansion with views of Dublin Bay near Clontarf.

The 55-year-old ’squatter‘ also runs a busy B&B with his wife, Mary, on the Drumcondra Road just outside Dublin city centre.

The businessman also set up an oil exploration company with Natasha Savelyeva, an eastern European tennis coach with whom he has an 11-year-old daughter.

Des Grogan was awarded ownership by a court of the house he broke into almost 30 years ago

Des Grogan was awarded ownership by a court of the house he broke into almost 30 years ago

Extraordinarily, Mr Grogan, his wife AND Miss Savelyeva appear to live happily together in their mansion – worth some €1m – on the Howth Road.

Until now, Mr Grogan has avoided the publicity associated with his court win. He has refused interview requests and was not spotted at court earlier this month to hear the Supreme Court judges award him ownership of the property he had squatted in.

The judges had heard how Mr Grogan, then a 22-year-old auctioneer, kicked in the back door of former barrister Alice Dolan’s home on Enniskerry Road, in the comfortable Dublin suburb of Phibsborough, after her death in October 1981.

The businessman moved in with his wife, Mary, after learning through his job that Mrs Dolan had died with no next of kin.

Generally, when a person dies leaving no family or will indicating who should take over their estate, the property is given to the State. Yet the Supreme Court ruled by a majority decision two weeks ago that Mr Grogan could keep the property as he had earned squatter’s rights by virtue of exceeding the 12-year period required for adverse possession.

But any notion that the Grogans were a young couple desperate to find a home where they could begin their married life is misleading.

The couple were already homeowners. When they married two years earlier in 1980, they bought a home on Russell Avenue near Croke Park – which they left after Mr Grogan broke into the property on the Enniskerry Road.

Nine years later, when Mr Grogan was still apparently squatting in Mrs Dolan’s home, he and his wife were listed on property deeds at another house they bought on Enniskerry Road.

And the MoS has since discovered this was only the start of a property portfolio which Mr Grogan amassed in Dublin over the next 20 years.

Most of the properties have since had their mortgages paid off. The real-estate tycoon, who owned at least ten properties at the height of his reign, rented out the various addresses he owns around the city.
Aerial view of the house near Clontarf

Aerial view of the house near Clontarf

Until last year, his portfolio included four houses in Phibsborough, two on Russell Avenue, a property in Rathmines, on Dublin’s southside, and a further three he operates with his wife as a single guesthouse in Drumcondra.

The businessman steadily built up his portfolio during the Eighties and Nineties by buying houses in the city.

In September 2004, the month after the Grogans remortgaged their mansion on the Howth Road, they also satisfied five other outstanding loans on properties they owned.

In court documents, Mr Grogan listed his home address as the Upper Drumcondra Road property where he and his 55-year-old wife, Mary, run their B&B.

The website for the business, where rooms cost just €15 per night, also includes a number of reviews from guests thanking both Mr and Mrs Grogan for their stay.

One South African guest who stayed in May last year said: ‚Mary was helpful in assisting me to check in after hours, and Des was very friendly and helpful with local information.‘

Another reviewer from America said: ‚Breakfast was a treat in the mornings and Mary and Des were very helpful. Des gave wonderful recommendations for sights to see in the area and as a result my cousin and I ended up having a terrific day in Howth and were so pleased by the recommendation.‘

The most recent Dublin City Council electoral register lists both Des and Mary Grogan as living in the guesthouse. All property deeds lodged by the couple since 2001 also list the pair as living in Drumcondra.
Possess: The five-bed Phibsborough house at the centre of the Supreme Court ruling

Possess: The five-bed Phibsborough house at the centre of the Supreme Court ruling

And the day after the Supreme Court ruling, staff at the B&B said that Mr and Mrs Grogan lived in the guesthouse but were away for the weekend.

However, the Grogans do not live full-time in the guesthouse; instead, they appear to spend more of their nights in a palatial home on up-market Howth Road.

At the home overlooking Dublin Bay, the 50m driveway is guarded by security gates.

The massive house, with a distinctive copper-rim-finish roof terrace, was designed to have spectacular panoramic views of Dublin Bay.

According to plans lodged with Dublin City Council, ‚roof terracing immediately in front of the south-facing bay window is dedicated to planting walls and railings to the east and west flanks are heightened to encourage planting to reinforce privacy screening.

‚A part of the roof terraces slightly to the southwest accommodates some outdoor balcony seating. This leads to an exterior stairway also screened to a patio.‘

Another renovation saw the removal of an existing hipped roof on the second storey and the construction of a flat roof with part penthouse/tank room on the third level.

The original documents also show how the Grogans demolished an existing extension and garage to build a ‚communal living/dining/kitchen‘.

They also point out that ‚the house is for a single family occupancy‘. The plans, lodged by Mr and Mrs Grogan in November 2001, came two months after Ms Savelyeva gave birth to Catherine Mary Savelyeva Grogan – Des Grogan’s daughter.
Natasha Savelyeva teaches tennis at a Clontarf gym – and is mother of Des Grogan¿s 11-year-old child
Walk: Des Grogan’s wife Mary, above left, walking her dogs at a beach

Des Grogan’s wife Mary (right) walking her dogs at a beach. Natasha Savelyeva (left) teaches tennis at a Clontarf gym – and is mother of Des Grogan’s 11-year-old child

She was born in August 2001 to secondary school teacher Ms Savelyeva and Mr Grogan, who listed his occupation as landlord on the baby’s birth certificate. Both gave their addresses as the Grogans‘ B&B in Drumcondra.

In addition to having a child together, Mr Grogan and Ms Savelyeva shared directorship of Charter Energy Corporation Limited – which was set up in 2007 and lists its activities as ‚extraction of crude petroleum and natural gas‘.

The firm, which also lists Zaur Hidoyatov from Rush, Co. Dublin, as a director, has not filed any company documents since its inception.

Company records register Ms Savelyeva as living at the Grogans‘ family home on Howth Road, while Mr Grogan is listed as living at the guesthouse in Drumcondra.

However, Thoms Dublin Street Directory for 2010 shows both Mr Grogan and Ms Savelyeva as living on Howth Road.

The directory does not show any listing for Mary Grogan at either the Drumcondra address or on the Howth Road. Also listed at the Drumcondra address in 2009 was a company called Store2DoorTennis which Mrs Grogan set up for the ‚online sales of tennis equipment, shoes and rackets‘.

Ms Savelyeva, who teaches tennis at Westwood Gym in Clontarf, is also listed in an online directory of part-time sports classes.

Last week, when the MoS called to Mr Grogan’s home the landlord said he did not wish to discuss his Supreme Court verdict but said his legal team could be contacted.

The MoS put a series of questions to Mr Grogan through his lawyers aiming to understand whether he lives at the Drumcondra B&B or at the Howth Road mansion or both.

He was also asked how he could morally justify claiming a property as a squatter when he possessed such obvious wealth. (Mr Grogan chose to seek costs against the State in a move described as ‚egregious‘ by Justice Nial Fennelly. That bid was refused.)

However no response was forthcoming from Mr Grogan. Yesterday Ms Savelyeva also declined to comment.

As the Supreme Court delivered its verdict on his successful squat earlier this month, Ms Justice Macken said that Mr Grogan had been ‚clever‘ in the way he had handled the legalities of his appeal.

Judging from the way in which he lives, that’s not the only thing Desmond Grogan is clever at.


Libyan families move into remains of Gaddafi fortress http://squatworld.blogsport.de/2012/02/27/libyan-families-move-into-remains-of-gaddafi-fortress/ http://squatworld.blogsport.de/2012/02/27/libyan-families-move-into-remains-of-gaddafi-fortress/#comments Mon, 27 Feb 2012 09:54:05 +0000 Administrator in english libya http://squatworld.blogsport.de/2012/02/27/libyan-families-move-into-remains-of-gaddafi-fortress/ (Reuters) – It used to be the impenetrable fortress of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime. Only workers or members of the toppled Libyan leader’s inner circle could see inside.

Now, six months after Tripoli fell to Western-backed rebels, dozens of families have moved into the few buildings still standing in the charred remains of Gaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziya compound, setting up homes amid the rubble.

Their move, largely for economic reasons they say, highlights the collision between two parts of Libyan society.

On one side are the pro-Gaddafi elite who benefited from his largesse, and on the other are ordinary people who, while not poor by regional standards, only saw a small share of Libya’s huge energy wealth.

Rebels forced Gaddafi to abandon his Tripoli stronghold, a huge complex of houses, offices and storage buildings which was targeted by NATO warplanes several times during the war. They burned, looted and defaced what for years was a forbidding symbol of the autocratic leader’s power.

Days after the walls of the Bab al-Aziziya compound came tumbling down in late August, school chemistry teacher Majid moved his wife and seven children into one of its villas believed to be once occupied by one of Gaddafi’s officers.

„Before, when I would drive past Bab al-Aziziya, I wouldn‘t even dare to look at it, we were afraid to even talk in the car,“ the 50-year-old said as he walked around his new large four-bedroom house with its separate guest quarters.

„We never imagined we would even enter this place; now I am living here.“

Majid said he found the house in disarray when he arrived and has since been working to restore it. He has repainted walls but a corridor is still charred. As a pot of stew steams on a cooker in the kitchen, his family sit next door watching television in a living room. Outside, a toilet lies in the grass, nearby, pieces of a broken wooden cupboard lie scattered.

„It is much better than where I lived before,“ he said.


Others are not as comfortable. Behind Majid’s villa, 24-year-old Saja Mohammed al-Sahali and her husband Haithem live in a room that once passed for an office.

Teapots, plastic cups and plates on a tray and suitcases of clothes, lie scattered on a carpet. Plastic flowers and plants stand in vases around the room.

„There is nowhere else for us to stay. We can‘t keep on paying rent, that’s why we came here. We don‘t have anybody,“ al-Sahali said, fighting back tears.

„To be honest, it’s not healthy, there is no power, no water, it’s cold. There is nothing. But what can we do?“

While the residents may not have deeds to their property, Haithem presents a document signed by a nearby neighborhood military council that gives them permission to stay. It does not mention Bab al-Aziziya specifically, but cites Haithem’s needs for accommodation.

The families have inhabited the last standing buildings of the sprawling complex. In front of them, piles of rubble have yet to be moved. Children ride bikes and run around fallen basketball hoops and empty ammunition boxes.

The black, green and red flags of the now ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) dot the landscape.


After the eight-month war that ended with Gaddafi’s capture and killing in October, nowhere is the Libyan rebels‘ victory more apparent than in the complex from where the former strongman used to taunt his foes.

The names of the rebel brigades who captured the compound are now commemorated in graffiti sprayed all over the walls.

A statue of a golden fist crushing a fighter jet, a memorial Gaddafi erected outside a building that was bombed by the United States in 1986 and he dubbed „the House of Resistance,“ has been moved to the coastal town of Misrata.

The families that have set up home are not the only ones who have taken up the premises. On Fridays, vendors set up stalls selling everything from food, clothes to electronic goods.

The NTC, which is struggling to impose its authority on a country awash with weapons, has yet to announce concrete plans for Bab al-Aziziyah but there has been talk of turning the complex into a park.

Zaki Salem, a spokesman for the families, said they had sent letters to local authorities saying they had moved in and hoped the government would re-house them if it redeveloped the site.

Like Majid, Salem said that he was afraid to stop his car anywhere near Bab al-Azizya before.

„How do you think I feel that I am now here inside in his castle? I truly feel that I am a Libyan citizen,“ he said.

„I have dignity, I have freedom. There is nothing, no restrictions, it is our land and we can live anywhere.“


Port Moresby’s Squatter Settlements http://squatworld.blogsport.de/2012/02/27/port-moresbys-squatter-settlements/ http://squatworld.blogsport.de/2012/02/27/port-moresbys-squatter-settlements/#comments Mon, 27 Feb 2012 09:50:34 +0000 Administrator in english papua new guinea http://squatworld.blogsport.de/2012/02/27/port-moresbys-squatter-settlements/ A Housing Crisis in Papua New Guinea’s Capital is Bringing Social Empowerment to Squatter Communities

Rapid urbanization is putting pressure on infrastructure and public services in the urban centers of developing Pacific Island states, as much as it is across the globe, with 50 percent of the world’s people now living in cities as of 2010, spawning vast shantytowns, call them favelas, squatter settlements or what.

Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea’s capital, is no different. A chronic lack of affordable housing has resulted in even professionals and public servants moving into informal settlements as they shun available but unattainably priced private homes. The situation is presenting a challenge to urban planners, but also bringing benefits to marginal communities such as the Paga Hill and 8 Mile Settlement areas of the city.

According to the World Bank, more than 90 percent of global urban growth is occurring in the developing world. UN-Habitat estimates that unplanned settlements are home to one of every three people living in the cities of developing nations, and further predicts the worldwide number of shanty town dwellers will increase by 500 million by 2020.

The governments of the Pacific nations are struggling to build infrastructure capacity to match the rate of migration from rural areas. It is a challenge confronting the entire region with the Third Asia Pacific Ministerial Conference on Housing and Urban Development held in Indonesia in 2010 declaring the need for governments to proactively address urban development and plan for escalating housing needs.

In Port Moresby, several factors have contributed to making these informal settlements home to approximately half the city’s population, which is nearing 1 million. These include a decrease in the minimum statutory wage in the 1990s and high income tax rates of up to 42 percent. Many people in public service and formal private sector employment earning less than K500 (US$242) per fortnight are unable to pay rental costs of K5,000 per week for a two bedroom apartment, or the average purchase price of K1.3 million for a three-bedroom house in central Port Moresby. The private housing market mainly services expatriates and workers living in employer provided accommodation.

Paga Hill Settlement, home to about 3,000 people from at least nine provinces in PNG, is situated on customary, or traditional land owned by the Lohia Doriga people in a prime location adjacent to Port Moresby’s downtown business district. Customary or traditional land rights are a strong tradition in Pacific Island societies. Many customary landowners view their land as essential to providing a livelihood for the next generation of the clan. At Paga Hill, settlers have been given permission to reside on the land by the traditional landowners.

However, the community of makeshift homes constructed from found materials and corrugated iron, which clings to the side of Paga Hill at the end of an unsealed access road, defies many of the stereotypes of squatter settlements. It is home to decorated civic leaders, World War Two heroes, successful public servants and business people as well as the unemployed.

The original inhabitants migrated from Kikori in the Gulf of Papua in the first half of the 20th Century in search of work in the city. From a network of bunkers on Paga Hill, the Papua Infantry Battalion of the PNG Defence Forces, many of whom were Kikori settlers, defended the entrance to Moresby Harbour during World War II. Their descendants have been given authority to protect the legacy of historic shelters and relics which still scatter the site.

The settlement is also respected for its high standards of community leadership. The chief of Paga Hill Settlements, Daure Kisu, who has been chief for 30 years, is Commissioner of the National Capital District and President of Local Government for Moresby South. In 2000, Kisu was awarded a Silver Jubilee Medal by the government in tribute to his outstanding leadership during the 25 years following PNG’s Independence in 1975.

Kisu’s generation includes renowned artist, Ratoos Haoapa Gary, who has worked to promote international appreciation of Papua New Guinean art and culture. His improvised home on the edge of the water at Paga Hill seems incompatible with his national stature.

According to a resident, Joe Avapura Moses, a significant proportion of Paga Hill residents today work in the formal sector: “Many of our people are working as public servants, university students, artists, court officials and in real estate. We have business people, as well as truck drivers, carpenters, plumbers, mechanics and bricklayers,” said Moses, a graduate with a university degree in anthropology and further qualification in business studies, who has lived in the settlement for 12 years. He is one of the present generation using his education and professional connections to empower the voices and rights of informal settlers.

With the permission of the settlement’s leaders and customary landowners, Moses joined a team of academic researchers and consultants at the University of Papua New Guinea to produce a sociological mapping and anthropological report of Paga Hill.

“The report aimed to identify why Kikoris are living in this place and their right to reside on this land,” Moses said, “The report fee of K30,000 will be paid by the Chairman of the Kikori Pipeline Landowners Association [in Kikori, Gulf Province].”

Moses is also in the process of establishing the Paga Hill Settlers Association, the first association to publicly represent an informal settlement in the country in negotiations with developers and dialogue with NGOs or other official organizations.

In contrast, the residents of 8 Mile Settlement on the northern outskirts of Port Moresby are considered illegal settlers on state land. Founded in the 1970s, 8 Mile is home to 15,000 rural immigrants. Similarly, public servants, university lecturers and successful business people reside alongside the unemployed, who reap a living in the informal economy.

But while there is hardship in squatter communities, Luna Itiki, Secretary of the Community Development Committee at 8 Mile, says there are also advantages.

“We have more space than we could living in Moresby,” Itiki said, “We have proper areas where we can plant bananas and other garden areas. Our children also go around free. They get together, they come to know each other and then they come back to our houses. We don’t find some problems, like car accidents, where we might find in Moresby where roads are very busy.”

“Our living costs are low,” he added, “Where we don’t have to pay for houses, water, lights. Sometimes we pay nothing. Some of us, we have no lights, no water, but we live and we go to work. Some of us who are not working, we have access to a little market for what we have planted, like peanuts and bananas.”

Nevertheless, there is still the need for basic public services and a standard of living commensurate with human dignity.

Moses says the Paga Hill Settlement urgently requires sanitation, electricity, proper water pipes, a health center, elementary school, a village style court house, community hall and sealed access road.

As long as a settlement is illegal, the government is under no obligation to provide services. However, PNG has committed to the Participatory Slum Upgrading Program, launched by UN-Habitat in 2008, which aims to reduce poverty and manage urbanization.

Mary Bonjui, a community leader in 8 Mile, believes the established nature of the settlement, now home to a second generation, should be officially acknowledged.

“We want the government to recognise us and maybe release this land to us, so that we can be urbanised and developed and services are brought here. I want to see the government listen to the voices of the settlement.”

This may yet happen at Paga Hill, where community leaders are aiming to set a precedent. By legitimising their existence with a professional anthropological report, forming a settlers association to advocate for service improvements and help plan a viable social and economic future, Paga Hill could be a ‘model settlement’ for the future.


Anger at Polish builders squatting in Army homes – using British law to live there for free http://squatworld.blogsport.de/2012/02/06/anger-at-polish-builders-squatting-in-army-homes-using-british-law-to-live-there-for-free/ http://squatworld.blogsport.de/2012/02/06/anger-at-polish-builders-squatting-in-army-homes-using-british-law-to-live-there-for-free/#comments Mon, 06 Feb 2012 19:24:19 +0000 Administrator uk in english http://squatworld.blogsport.de/2012/02/06/anger-at-polish-builders-squatting-in-army-homes-using-british-law-to-live-there-for-free/ Polish building workers are squatting in Army homes – using British law to live there for nothing.

The three Eastern European men moved into a Ministry of Defence semi-detached house next to dozens of Service families three weeks ago.

Neighbours claimed the trio did a recce the weekend before they broke in at the rear of the four-bedroom property, which has heating, gas, lighting and a cooker in the fitted kitchen.

Two other Polish men left the house next door recently after squatting there for a fortnight. They were also thought to have been doing cash-in-hand building work in the area.
The house in Whetstone, north London, has been taken over by Polish squatters following the departure of the previous tenants

The house in Whetstone, north London, has been taken over by Polish squatters following the departure of the previous tenants

A third house on an adjoining Forces housing estate has been occupied in the past few months by Polish migrants, despite MoD claims that ‘less than a handful’ of its 49,000 UK properties contain squatters.

The squatters’ presence has infuriated Army families living in the same street – particularly as the availability of military homes is currently limited because of an extensive refurbishment programme.


MAIL COMMENT: Polish squatters in Army houses

One NCO who is retiring from the Army said it was unfair he was being forced to quit his military house while a few doors away the Polish men had moved in without permission.

When The Mail on Sunday called at the squatted house, in the North London suburb of Whetstone, the door was answered by a shaven-headed, 6ft 2in man who gave his name as Marek Choma.

Mr Choma, 34, was unapologetic about living for free in a property that would command rent of more than £2,500 a month on the open market.

He said: ‘I don’t like the word squatter. We are living here legally. We found this place and we moved in about a month ago.’
Two young men seen entering the house in Whetstone

Two young men seen entering the house in Whetstone

Asked how he and his fellow Poles, ‘Tom’ and a man whose name was not given, had gained entry to the house, Mr Choma smiled and rolled his eyes.

Speaking in perfect English, he added confidently: ‘You cannot come in, because if you do you will be trespassing.’

Mr Choma then pointed to a ‘Legal Warning’ notice taped to the hall wall, advising visitors of squatters’ rights under Section 6 of the 1977 Criminal Law Act. The notice – downloaded from the internet – had been stuck to the front door earlier in the day.

It warned that if anyone attempted to enter the house using violence they could ‘receive a sentence of up to six months imprisonment and/or a fine of up to £5,000’.

Mr Choma, who has lived in Britain for five years, admitted he had a wife and young child staying at another property in South London. Asked why he was living in the Army house, he replied: ‘This area is where the work is. Before, I worked for the Royal Mail but I lost my job.’ He refused to say why.

A sergeant from a Guards regiment living in the same row of houses, who is due to leave the Army after more than 20 years’ service, said: ‘I am getting kicked out of my house in a month.

‚My wife and I tried to stay on here because we’re near the school where my son is about to take his GCSEs. But we’ve been told by the Army that we’ve got to go. Those are the rules. We offered to pay them a proper rent, but it made no difference.

‘But there are no rules for these Polish guys a few doors away. They are living in an Army house for nothing. It’s appalling.’

The NCO said the Army homes were ‘easy prey’ because it was simple to gain entry through weak locks and doors at the rear of the properties.

Conservative MP Patrick Mercer, a former infantry officer, said: ‘Conditions of service for our soldiers and their families are difficult enough already. The last thing they need is squatters in military property when such houses are at a premium for our own troops.’

The MoD said legal action was in place to remove the squatters ‘as a matter of urgency’.

It added: ‘Squatting is not a widespread problem for Service accommodation, as empty properties are protected where appropriate and the very few instances that do occur are dealt with immediately.

‚The MoD will always need to maintain a margin of empty properties in order to ensure that homes are available for entitled families when required.’


Mogul keeping out the squatters http://squatworld.blogsport.de/2012/02/06/mogul-keeping-out-the-squatters/ http://squatworld.blogsport.de/2012/02/06/mogul-keeping-out-the-squatters/#comments Mon, 06 Feb 2012 18:15:40 +0000 Administrator nederlands uk in english http://squatworld.blogsport.de/2012/02/06/mogul-keeping-out-the-squatters/ Even in a neat black suit Joost Van Gestel appears slightly rumpled, as though distracted by the demands of managing thousands of far-flung properties that do not actually belong to him. The preoccupied air is understandable for someone running such a peculiar real-estate empire.

Camelot, the company Mr Van Gestel founded in 1993, is the world’s largest manager of vacant properties, placing temporary tenants at low rents in buildings that would otherwise stand unoccupied. He started the company as an “anti-squatting” broker, helping find discount tenants for property owners to keep out squatters in the heyday of the Netherlands’ anarchist counterculture. Today, with 10,000 tenants in vacant properties from Ireland to southern France, he sees Camelot’s role more broadly: filling the gap in the market between owners who cannot find market-rate renters and tenants who can’t afford market-rate rents. And, in the process, preventing the urban decay caused by vacancy. “Nowadays we talk about ‘live-in guardianship’,” Mr Van Gestel says. “‘Anti-squat’ sounds a bit negative.”
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Camelot was not the first such company in the Netherlands. “It actually wasn’t such an original idea,” says Mr Van Gestel with characteristic modesty. However, other anti-squatting brokers were small-scale and informal, lacking clear business plans. Camelot has sought to bring professionalism the market.

The management challenges involved have been formidable. “With the old [anti-squat] organisations, it was sort of anarchy,” he explains. Early anti-squatting brokers had no formal legal structure. Mr Van Gestel was the first to negotiate explicit agreements with municipal governments allowing the temporary tenants he placed to fall outside of tenant-rights laws, so that landlords had confidence they would not try to contest eviction.

He says that little attention was paid to the condition of buildings, contrasting this with the meticulous care Camelot has taken of the building we are meeting in – a 13-storey brutalist concrete monstrosity in The Hague that previously housed the country’s Central Bureau of Statistics. Underneath the building lie the reinforced bunkers that once served as the Dutch government’s fallout shelter in case of nuclear attack. It now serves as home to 84 start-up companies and non-profit organisations. Two Camelot employees man the building’s reception desk. “It’s very clear who has which space. The key responsibility is clear. The fire exits are clearly marked,” Mr Van Gestel says. “You can use certain parts of the building, others are shut off. That prevents anyone from going up to the 10th floor and attempting suicide, or locking themselves in and starting a fire at night.”
Unlocking the grip
of local authorities

The key to making Camelot’s business model scalable has been establishing the legal structures in each country to carve out exemptions to tenancy laws for temporary tenants. Joost Van Gestel says convincing governments of the benefits of keeping buildings occupied has been key.

However, unexpected complications can arise. In Britain, Belgium and elsewhere, governments have tried to incentivise owners to find renters
by charging tariffs when their buildings stand empty for more than a year. In some municipalities the tariffs have become a significant source of revenue. “We went to Belgium for a conference recently and some government officials
were saying, ‘but if we bring you in then the building is being used and I don’t get my tariff fees’,” says
Mr van Gestel. “And I said: ‘Yeah, that was the whole point! The point was to get the building in use, so that the neighbour’s kid doesn’t go play there and break her leg.’ Then they say, ‘Oh yeah, oh yeah’ . . . ”

Because of the company’s security and maintenance standards, and because buildings with tenants are less likely to burn down or deteriorate, several big insurers now offer discount premiums to owners of vacant buildings managed by Camelot.

When Mr Van Gestel entered the market, he was at a point where he was ready to make a life change. The son of a middle manager at a supermarket chain and an elementary-school teacher, Mr Van Gestel got a masters degree from the Netherlands’ Nyenrode Business School (among his classmates was Jan Kees de Jager, now the country’s finance minister) and then worked in the corporate food and nutrition sector.

He never expected to become an entrepreneur. “I was forced into it,” he says. “I’d planned to work as an executive for Unilever or Procter & Gamble, spend three years in Germany, then Italy, then maybe South America, see the world.”

By 1992 he was working his way up at Kraft Foods in Germany, marketing a new line of flavoured instant coffee. He had an idea for a promotion tied to that year’s football World Cup: a pink football-shaped package filled with sampler sachets. But it proved impossible to get the company on board. “In a big organisation like that, to get people to come along with you . . . you have to make the packages, get marketing in, set prices – pushing the organisation to get that going took so much energy, even though it was a good idea. I got frustrated.”

By chance the girlfriend of his business-school friend Bob de Vilder was at that time renting through an anti-squatting broker. She was the one who came up with the idea of starting their own company. Mr Van Gestel leapt at the chance and 20 years ago he left Kraft to found Camelot.

Today, Mr de Vilder is Camelot’s marketing and sales director. He says Mr Van Gestel tends to play down his own originality, but that without his corporate experience and coherent business vision it would have been impossible to build a solid company in such an oddball sector. “Joost is a bit of a ‘sober Brabanter’,” he says, referring to Mr Van Gestel’s home region of Brabant and its reputation for down-to-earth businessmen.

The public benefits to municipalities have helped Camelot to expand beyond the Dutch market, where the anti-squatting model is less familiar. When Mr Van Gestel set up a branch in London in 2002, while securing fire permits he learnt that local firefighters were having trouble finding affordable housing in the city. That led to a joint programme, which has placed 150 London firefighters in Camelot properties. The London programme helped Mr Van Gestel convince French authorities, who also have trouble finding city-centre housing for public employees, to change rent laws so that Camelot could begin operating in France.

Camelot now operates in six countries. The financial crisis has been good for the company – properties are staying empty longer, meaning tenants are less worried about having to leave. Revenues are rising consistently by 30 per cent a year; they hit €20m in 2011, up from €15m in 2010.

The company’s empire now comprises the strangest collection of buildings one could imagine. They include bankrupt bread factories, former convents, an ornate 17th-century cottage built as the official residence of Holland’s dyke maintenance officer (in the very town where the legendary Dutch boy supposedly stuck his finger in a leak), and an abandoned theme park complete with a fairytale pink castle that is now home to a dozen residents and available for business conferences.

Standing in one of Camelot’s properties can feel a bit surreal. At the Central Bureau of Statistics building, we walk past high-modernist sculptures in the central reflecting pool to peek in on his tenants. A sculptress is giving classes. A husband-and-wife start-up is restoring high-end children’s furniture. Two separate, rival groups of model train enthusiasts have constructed vast networks of toy rails.

But Mr Van Gestel says the most exciting part of the business is the nuts and bolts of helping it to expand. “You’re constantly looking for a new structure to introduce,” he says. “We have a telesales department now. We have a new department for database entry . . . We have our own IT department, with software developers in India. Thinking over how I can manage that growth, motivating my employees – that, for me, is the kick. That’s what I like.”

He pauses for a moment. “Which is funny, because it’s just the sort of thing that I didn’t like 20 years ago.”


Squatters Evicted http://squatworld.blogsport.de/2012/02/06/squatters-evicted/ http://squatworld.blogsport.de/2012/02/06/squatters-evicted/#comments Mon, 06 Feb 2012 18:12:35 +0000 Administrator uk funny in english http://squatworld.blogsport.de/2012/02/06/squatters-evicted/ The squatters are out, although the lingering smell of cheap beer, tobacco and weed still made me gag as I went upstairs this evening

Chassidism teaches that everything we see, hear or experience, including supposedly negative or sombre encounters, are orchestrated ‘on High’. We are charged therefore to learn and be inspired from each experience. In fact, the 18th Century Chassidic Master Reb Zushe of Anipoli declared that he was inspired in seven different ways by a thief! (http://www.chabadsussex.org/309299).

Background. Three months ago, we completed the purchase on a four story terraced property overlooking ‘The Level’, in the heart of the ‘student area’ of Brighton. We’ve been busy since preparing the architectural plans and necessary permits, as well as launching a Building Campaign to raise the required funds, so that we can proceed with this exciting project. The building will include a dining hall for sixty, a games room, kitchen, library, office and accommodation for our family.

Despite having safely secured the property according to insurance specifications, the trespassers managed to gain access via the neighbours’ fire escape ladder, breaking in via our roof access. I’ll spare you the complicated British legal procedures for eviction of squatters, though by all accounts, we did remarkably well in concluding the entire legal process and regaining possession within less than two weeks.

To be honest, my former soft spot for some aspects of the views of the British Squatting Community has now dissolved. Mind you, I can’t be blamed. A gaping two foot hole in a perfectly sound wall, stolen fire extinguishers and a chandelier, bags and bags of filth and mess, dozens of empty beer cans, burned fences and graffiti should turn most decent folk off. The invasion of our privacy and the accessing of our private post letters, including bank details, utility bills and correspondence with Brighton & Hove City Council 172.jpgleft us quite disheartened.

But we’re now well on the way to the clean-up, and it’s time for some positive reflection.

Our brain is the most prized space we could possibly own. Its focus and content will engage our heart and our entire being with purpose and perspective, enabling us to find meaning and inspiration in life. From the moment we awake, and throughout our day, our mind is continuously and feverishly developing, analysing and contemplating, just about every bit of information it can process.

But there’s the snag. Ultimately, after all is said and done, our brain may actually conclude its long, arduous day as vacant and void as it began. Meaningless experiences and idle nonsense will effectively render it as unoccupied as it was, and will be, during the hours of unconscious slumber.

If it’s unoccupied, then the Evil Inclination, your personal squatter, will inevitably pounce. He’s sophisticated. Well researched and knowledgeable. He’s familiar with the system and every trick in the book.

In fact, Chassidism refers to him as the ‘Klooginker’ – the brilliant one. He’s complex and advanced beyond expectation.

And even while the Midrash refers to him as the ‘Old, Foolish King’, misunderstanding that may well lead to further blunder. ‘King’ is a reference to his ability to take control of just about any ‘habitat’ or situation. He’s ‘Old’; he’ll claim he’s been around forever. In fact, essentially he’s right, as he enters at birth, while his opponent doesn’t complete his entry until the age of Bar or Bat Mitzvah.

You’d only be further fooled to think he’s the fool. He’s only referred to as ‘Foolish’ due to his uncanny ability to fool just about everyone bar himself.

So here are some practical suggestions to prevent the Yetzer Horah/Evil Inclination from occupying your ‘space’. Be warned; once in he’ll quickly post a legal warning, covering all bases, and claim possession, so don’t waste time leaving your ‘space’ unoccupied while you seek funding or planning consent.

1. Make sure every entry point is firmly secure. Our ears, eyes, nose and just about every faculty that we have, are access points that can be employed by a potential intruder, especially one who is lurking in the shadows, waiting and watching for us to lower our guard. Spiritual equivalents to multi-lever deadlocks, alarm systems, CCTV and good old bolts and window locks are vital security measures. Don’t be complacent.

2. Occupy! Attend at all times. Furnish it. Fill it with all your favourite possessions. Jewish books, Chanukah Menorahs, Matzah covers, Tefillin, Kiddush cups and candles sticks. Oh, and use them. He knows the difference between an unoccupied china closet accumulating dust, and a well used one where he’ll be caught red-handed.
Work there. Pray there. Study there. Sleep there. Walk around. Keep the lights of Torah and Judaism on. In every corner of every room.

Like the squatters, once he’s in, it’ll be considerably more difficult to evict him. He’ll trash the place and leave you feeling shocked, cheated and violated. So keep him out at all costs.

He’s already occupied and claimed possession? Oh no!

Listen. You can take the legal route but it’ll take time. Precious time lost while he’s making a mess of your space and destroying your most personal assets. You’ll lose sleep, struggle to work or focus and feel miserable while he’s having a party in your backyard, smoking weed and drinking cheap beer.

Don’t negotiate. Not under any circumstances. It’s only a stalling tactic which will make you lose further precious time. In fact, our sages tell us that one who ‘wrestles’ with a soiled individual, will inevitably become soiled himself. Don’t engage in any dialogue.

Beat him up. Give him a good old thrashing and chuck him out the front door. Let him know in no uncertain terms that he’s not welcome. That’s the most effective eviction method, as outlined in Tanya chapter 29. It may be illegal according to British Law when dealing with physical squatters, but when managing the Yetzer Horah, it’s an entirely different matter.

Cheap booze and weed, along with a confused perspective on life, are the basic ingredients for a disastrous concoction, with catastrophic ramifications. Single-malt whisky, peppered with inspiring words of Torah and meaning at our Shabbat Table, provide for a blended brew of hope and energy, so that together we can evict the Yetzer Horah once and for all… L’chaim!



It has been brought to our attention that despite careful thought before publishing the above blog post, individuals sympathetic to the Squatting Community may well misunderstand the theme and points above.

Let me clarify: We successfully evicted the ‚live squatters‘ via the legal procedure according to Civil Law, having successfully obtained an Interim Possession Order, and each stage of the procedure was followed as the law requires. As I believe I clearly articulated, the above strategies outlined in the blog post are to be used only in the personal battle with the Evil Inclination.

During the two week eviction process, various positive levels of communication were made with the squatters, and at all times, we ensured pleasant dialogue. In fact, the appreciative squatters advised me that we would find the premises in good order on their departure.

At no time during the process did we anger or upset the occupiers or threaten violence. Judaism and Jewish law is a religion based on basic principles of understanding and respect for every human being. The damages, theft and upset which we experienced, as described in the above post, only hurt their interests and undermine their cause.


Squatter has court date http://squatworld.blogsport.de/2012/02/06/squatter-has-court-date/ http://squatworld.blogsport.de/2012/02/06/squatter-has-court-date/#comments Mon, 06 Feb 2012 18:08:48 +0000 Administrator in english u$a http://squatworld.blogsport.de/2012/02/06/squatter-has-court-date/ The squatter’s dream may soon be coming to an end in Flower Mound.

According to Denton County documents, Flower Mound resident Kenneth Robinson, who used adverse possession to move into a home in the 2200 block of Waterford Drive after the home’s owner had left the home in foreclosure, was served with an eviction notice on Friday, issued from Bank of America.

Bank officials stated that it has claimed the house he has lived in since July 2012.

An adverse possession is law that allows an individual to take over a foreclosed home by filling out appropriate paper work and meeting certain criteria. There are certain requirements that come into play, such as the individual must take actual and exclusive possession of the land. The possession must be open and not concealed from the public.

“We completed the foreclosure sale on Jan. 3,” said Diane Wagner, a spokesperson for Bank of America. “We are now proceeding with the eviction process. There is a hearing on Feb. 6.”

County records indicate the home is valued at $340,000.

Since Robinson moved into the home, there have been various reports of other squatters in the Metroplex being arrested for doing the same thing, including one in Mansfield.

Robinson was never arrested, however, because the process he followed was legal.

“Whether we agree with it or not, there was a process in place, and he followed it,” said Capt. Kurt Labhart said. “There was no criminal activity we could take action on. He filed the necessary papers with the court, and once that was done, he adhered to the process.”


Police arrest 70 in left-wing Berlin riots http://squatworld.blogsport.de/2012/01/30/police-arrest-70-in-left-wing-berlin-riots/ http://squatworld.blogsport.de/2012/01/30/police-arrest-70-in-left-wing-berlin-riots/#comments Mon, 30 Jan 2012 09:58:06 +0000 Administrator deutschland in english http://squatworld.blogsport.de/2012/01/30/police-arrest-70-in-left-wing-berlin-riots/ Around 70 people were arrested and 30 police officers injured during riots in Berlin early on Sunday after several incidents blamed on left-wing activists escalated.

A former squat in the city’s southern Friedrichshain area, which was evicted this time last year, was attacked by a group of 100 people at around 00:30 on Sunday morning.

When the police arrived at the Liebigstrasse 14 building, the group ran off into the side streets of the area which is known for left-wing communes.

Some set fire to a van on fire and smashed the windows of two banks with bricks, the Berliner Zeitung newspaper reported on Sunday.

“The willingness to use violence within the extreme-left scene remains high,” Berlin state interior minister Frank Henkel told the paper. “The police won’t let themselves rise to this obvious provocation.”

In the nearby Rigaer street, police stormed a left-wing squat above a bar popular with residents of the building and other left-wingers from the area.

When police tried to enter the commune, guests at the bar threw bottles at them, prompting officers to use pepper spray.

Those in the bar, known as Kadterschmiede, were holding a meeting about an upcoming demonstration against a European police conference being held in Berlin in February.

Also on Saturday, 1,000 protesters gathered in the Neukölln district to protest police violence – and some rioted and smashed several shop windows after officers broke up the demonstration.

The Berlin squatting and left-wing scene erupted in anger last February after the squat “Leibig 14” – named after its address – was evicted by police.

The building is being renovated and will be turned into apartments, further fuelling local anger at gentrification.


Squat lords rule http://squatworld.blogsport.de/2012/01/30/squat-lords-rule/ http://squatworld.blogsport.de/2012/01/30/squat-lords-rule/#comments Mon, 30 Jan 2012 09:54:53 +0000 Administrator in english Trinidad http://squatworld.blogsport.de/2012/01/30/squat-lords-rule/ Death threats, an upsurge in violence and heated confrontation with thugs and squatters in the community of Bois Bande Village, Sangre Grande, over agricultural lands have lead to several farmers abandoning their productive acreages. Once a thriving agricultural district, Bois Bande has seen a drastic decline in its farming population as a result of the influx of squatters and undesirables who have been throwing up wooden and concrete structures for rental.

Dalton Pantin, president of the Bois Bande Farmers’ Association admits that farmers have been fleeing the agricultural district. The association started with 21 members over ten years ago. Today, there are only eight farmers, many of whom are not actively involved in cultivation. Pantin blames the squatters’ invasion for the drastic decline in the number of farmers and called on the Ministry of Food Production, and Commissioner of State Lands for swift action, pleading that farmers are living in fear.

Land grabbing
Bois Bande is one of 251 squatting sites listed on the Land Settlement Agency’s (LSA) schedule. On Tuesday, Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal said Cabinet may soon purchase an ultra light aircraft as part of the ministry’s arsenal to deal with squatting. The $3 million aircraft may better monitor those who move onto state lands overnight and erect illegal structures, Moonilal explained. In 1991, the farmers who had a vested interest in farming were given Letters of Comfort by the then United National Congress government to occupy prime agricultural lands at Bois Bande Village, which nestles in the Valencia Forest Reserve.

After cultivating the land, Pantin said, they were told that the 90 hectares had been earmarked for residential and agricultural settlement. To avoid confrontation and disputes, the land was surveyed by the then Ministry of Agriculture and sub-divided into plots for the 21 settling farmers who had cultivated the land for more than five years. “Things were really looking up for the farmers,” Pantin recalled. This was, however, short-lived when in 2000 outsiders started threatening, beating, terrorising and chasing the farmers from their holdings. Pantin, himself a victim of an unruly mob, admitted that the situation intensified following the 2010 general election, with thugs and squatters ‘grabbing’ land left, right and centre.

Death threats
Abhiraj Mahabir, one of 13 farmers who fled, admitted he still lives with apprehension after a squatter threatened to shoot him for the four-acre parcel he occupied. Out of the blue last year, Mahabir, 35, said a man claiming to have ownership of the land, showed up and started felling his orange, mango and coconut trees. “When I enquired from the man what he was doing, he threatened to shoot me. I had to back off.” Fearful that harm might have come his way, Mahabir said he had to surrender the land he cultivated for years.

With job opportunities far and few between, Mahabir said he started plying his car for hire to put food on the table. Mahabir said shortly after the encroachment, the man erected two houses on the land. Though a report was made to the ministry’s El Reposo office in Sangre Grande and the police, Mahabir said: “Nothing was done. The police told me they are unable to help.” Mahabir explained that the squatters do not qualify for regularisation under Act 25 of 1998.

Looking on helplessly
Fruit farmer, Terry Monsegue who had to make a hasty retreat from his three-acre parcel in 2005 after being beaten and planassed by thugs, has now turned to vehicle repair for a living. A father of four boys, Monsegue said 13 crudely built wooden shacks were constructed overnight on the land he had vacated. Several tenants now occupy them. “There is nothing I can do. I just have to look on helplessly,” Mahabir said.

Strong arm tactics
Seeta Nanlal said she, too, had to scale down production on her five- acre plot. Nanlal said four concrete apartments were constructed on lands she once cultivated. “The houses are being rented. This has been going on for some time now,” Nanlal revealed. A farmer all his life, Pantin said he, too, had to put up a fight when an unruly mob of squatters moved in and chopped down two acres of bodi and string beans at the side of his humble home. “They wanted to take my land. They were using intimidatory and strong-arm tactics to get me to leave. But I stood my ground.”

In 2003, the squatters also removed and destroyed several wooden poles which he had planted along the boundary of his premises to erect a chain link fence. Sangre Grande officers were eventually called in and the squatter was charged with destruction of private property. After months of attending the Sangre Grande court, Pantin became frustrated and dropped the matter. “The matter kept prolonging until I gave up. The judicial system was failing me.” Pantin said the behaviour of the squatters was no different from that of the cutlass wielding thugs in Lopinot who last year had encroached on lands belonging to bona fide farmers to scare them off.

Fighting a losing battle
President of the National Foodcrop Farmers’ Association Terrence Haywood said for far too long this problem has been existing. Haywood said both associations intend to discuss the matter this week with Food Production Minister Vasant Bharath. Haywood said his heart goes out to the farmers who have been fighting a losing battle. “This should have never happened in the first place. No farmer should have reason to abandon his lands because of squatters.”

Dr Sammy: They are building with impunity
Dr Allen Sammy, chief executive officer of the LSA admits that Bois Bande was one of several areas squatters have been erecting houses for rent. “It’s happening all over. We have been trying to curb the squatting in this area and other areas, without success,” he said. Sammy said the problem was magnified following a judgement in January 2011 by Justice Carol Gobin, who stated that the LSA’s move to destroy squatters’ homes in 2008 was unlawful. The Commissioner of State Lands, Gobin said, had all responsibility for dealing with squatters and not the LSA. The judgement effectively meant that squatters had a level of protection, as the LSA can no longer move in and evict anyone squatting on state lands.

Sammy said squatters have been zeroing in on forest reserve which, in fact, ought to be protected. “But there is nothing we can do legally at this time.” Sammy said Moonilal was looking at amendments to the State Lands Act and the State Land Regularisation of Tenure Act of 1998. The amendments will give the Commissioner of State Lands power to demolish illegal squatter dwellings. “Our emerging evidence has shown that people are building concrete structures all over the place. They think they are becoming wise and, yes, they are renting them out. This is what we call squat lords.” Sammy said following the 2010 general election the LSA was faced with an emergence of squatters who started erecting concrete houses.

“It got worse last year when the ruling came out. They have built with impunity all over the place.” Among the areas mottled with illegal concrete structures, Sammy said, are Wallerfield and Arouca. “People feel that a concrete structure will save them from demolition. When the time comes, after we have served notices, I don’t care if they have concrete structures or not. If it is a violation of the land and we have the authority to serve and demolish…we will do it.”