IF IT’S VACANT – TAKE IT!
DIRECT ACTION GUIDE
Squatting is a way to turn some of these vacant properties into homes for those that need them. We can house each other through direct action!
Repurposing vacant properties is as simple as identifying a spot that’s vacant and discreetly getting inside! There are many tools and tricks that can help you do this. We’ve linked some below to help you along your journey, but don’t feel like you need to read or know everything to get started.
Step 1 – Scouting and Research
Step 2 – Gaining Access
When you’ve found a spot that you think is viable you can gain access in a number of ways more fully described in this podcast and in the Homes Not Jails zine It’s Vacant, Take It! (which also includes more detailed information on all of these steps), and all over the interwebs in various other places.
Step 3 – Settle Into Your New Home!
Once you’ve gained access you can change the locks, turn on power and water, and establish the ability to argue that you are a tenant by getting power/water bills, or other official mail, delivered in your name (or the person who will be moving in’s name). After 30 days you can create ambiguity around ownership and move any potential encounters with the police from a criminal matter (trespassing) to a civil matter that would need to be sent to housing court to resolve. For more info on the nuances of this process you can reference this article. Folks can check out this skillshare on first encounters with the police and other topics for more ideas.
Tips and Strategies
Scouting for Houses:
Technically any house that’s vacant is a target for squatting, but some properties are more likely to remain undetected for longer than others. Promising spots can be identified just from paying attention when you’re walking around and by using online research resources. Online resources can also be helpful to learn more about what’s going on with a house, like who currently owns the property.
There’s no way to know for sure if a place is vacant or not but these are some good signs:
- Overgrown grass and weeds
- Peeling paint
- Boarded up windows or doors
- Piled up mail/newspapers/phonebooks/door hangers
- Citations from the city posted on the door
- “No Trespassing” signs
- Old “For Sale” signs
- Outdated building permit posted in window
- Cobwebs in entryway
- Security gate locked with a chain or bike lock
- Grafitti or graffiti abatement notices
- Garbage cans that are empty or not put out on garbage day
- Nothing in the house (like furniture, decorations, and/or curtains)
- Dead plants
- Lights that are turned on or off all night OR that turn on at exactly the same time every day
More ambiguous things
- Lock boxes – this could be old or mean that someone is currently showing the property and bringing people through frequently
- Cars in driveway – can be a resident or neighbors taking advantage of an empty parking space
- Security cameras – it can be hit or miss whether these are real or decoys, but at the very least it means that someone cared enough to put something up
- Portapoties or garbage cans containing construction debris but no household trash – depending on how long someone wants to live in the spot it may or may not be an issue if there are construction workers regularly coming through
Some resources for online research:
- PropertyRadar.com – can search for all the houses in an area that meet criteria like in foreclosure, out of state owner, etc. It also has information like who owns a property and whether anyone is bothering to pay taxes on it (requires a paid subscription)
- SfPlanninggis.org/PIM – will give you block/lot number, planning applications, building permits, complaints, zoning info, etc. for San Francisco
- Clustrmaps.com – great resource for searching for more info about property owners
- Dbiweb.sfgov.org/dbipts – department of building inspection website for SF, can find all permitted construction as well as complaints
- Realtytrac.com – can search for the most recent bank-owned properties, but you can’t get the exact addresses without paying for a subscription
- CorporationWiki.com – helps you map and target speculators, hedge funds and LLC’s
- Criis.com – access to varying documents, depending on county, in California (like deeds and affidavits of death)
- Sftreasurer.org – check whether the taxes are being payed on time. Owing back taxes is a good sign that no one cares about a place, although some companies (like banks) will always pay taxes regardless
- city-data.com – lists date of last sale and price, and lists ownership of properties by street so you can see who the neighbors are