Guidebook for Squatters
A “Pijp tot over de pont” production
A “Beast from East” translation
Short Guidebook for Squatters 2005
NOTE 1. This guide has been translated from Dutch. One problem is that
the Dutch word “woning” is difficult to translate to English;
the closest word is “dwelling” but nobody uses that
word anymore! Throughout the text I use “house”, “floor”,
“place”, “space”, or “building” depending on the specific context. Please understand that, although most things that are squatted are houses or floors, it is also possible to squat other types of space, such as business spaces.
NOTE 2. In Amsterdam there are two types of local council. There is the single municipal council (in Dutch, the Gemeente Amsterdam) which deals with issues that concern the whole city, see http://www.amsterdam.nl/gemeente/. Then there are the 15 smaller city district councils (in Dutch, the Stadsdelen) that have responsibility for a particular part of Amsterdam, see http://www.amsterdam.nl/gemeente/stadsdelen. In essence, thus, the Gemeente and the Stadsdelen share the responsibility of governing Amsterdam.
The new Short Guidebook for Squatters is finally ready. In this guidebook we have tried to fit in as much information as possible about how to squat. With the information in this guidebook it is in principle possible to satisfy your own housing need within a few weeks. Given that this guidebook was designed to be short it has not been possible to go into the same amount of detail about every topic, and not all details about squatting are discussed. For more information about squatting we refer you to one of the kraakspreekuren (squatters advice hours). You can also find lots of information about squatting on http://www.squat.net.
We have tried to keep this guidebook short so that it has the form of an inexpensive, small booklet that can be easily spread around and distributed. It is expected that, because of the worsensing economic position of many people and the hollowing-out and breaking-down of the social renting system, more and more people will be forced to resort to squatting. Subsidies to help people pay their rent are being cut back and the rent levels of many social renting appartments is going to be deregulated. More and more people have debts and the institutions which help people manage their debts can no longer cope. With this guidebook we want to give more clarity about the big myths that circulate about squatting. We want to show that squatting, in times of housing shortage, is a good option.
We have chosen to supply the address list as a separate attachment so that it can be regularly updated. To make life a little easier we have placed a “basic checklist” on the back of the address list. If you have received this guidebook via a kraakspreekuur (in English: squatting advice hour) then this list will probably be suppled with it, otherwise ask for it. If you’ve obtained this guidebook from elsewhere then you can find the addresslist, or from the kraakspreekuur.
We advise that you squat with the help of a kraakspreekuur. The kraakspreekuur has often years of experience with squatting and knows how the neighbourhood in which you want to squat reacts to squatting and squatters. More about the kraakspreekuur follows.
This guidebook focuses on the situation in Amsterdam. If you want to squat somewhere else then look here or on http://www.squat.net for the nearest-by kraakspreekuur in your area. They are better informed about the local rules and arrangements.
CHAPTER 1: SQUATTING
What is squatting?
Squatting is when you unlawfully go and live in an empty building. The owner has not given you any permission to go and live there, you are there thus without “right or title”. That doesn’t mean to say that it is forbidden or punishable. In the Netherlands there has already for a long time been laws concerning squatting. The law has been adapted several times, but it has nevertheless always remained legally possible to squat. Squatters have, because of these laws, various rights, such as the right to house-peace. Squatting happens (certainly in Amsterdam) mostly in co-operation with a kraakspreekuur. Squatting is a direct consequence of, and a direct individual solution to, (the) housing shortage and at the same time also a means to exert political pressure.
Good, you want to squat, or research the possibilities to squat. What can you expect?, who can help you?, how long can you stay if you squat?, is it dangerous?, how much does it cost?, how long does something have to stand empty before you may squat it?, and more questions of this type, will be questions that spring to mind. With this guidebook we want to (as far as possible) give you step-by-step answers to these questions and also to explain how squatting hangs together as a whole. With squatting it is often true that, the more information you have about the place you wish to squat, the greater you are able to estimate what your chances are. Don’t let yourself be scared off by the effort that you have to put in, or the possible risks that squatting can bring with it. There are very many people in Amsterdam that have already lived for a long time (and continue to live) in a squatted place and some have even received a rental contract.
The kraakspreekuur (In English: squatting advice hour):
You can go to the kraakspreekuur (KSU; see address list) for general information about squatting and for direct help with the preparation of your own squat. The KSU explains how you can find out as much information as possible about the place that you have your eye on. The people that work at the KSU are often well-informed about what is going on in a particular neighbourhood and possibly also have information about the place you’re are looking at. They maintain a file/list of houses that can sometimes give information about how long the house has stood empty. They keep a record of who has been busy with which place, and when, and their database may also contain other information about the place. The people from the KSU often already have several years experience with squatting and are often able to estimate well the legal and practical feasibility of the planned squat. They can also help you to find a lawyer.
The KSU is also there to offer practical help. The KSU gives advice about the locks that you must acquire and has a bakfiets (a bicyle with a big carrying box on the front) with which you can transport the “squatting set” (tabel, bed and chair.) It is mostly the KSU that takes care of breaking open the house (where possible without damage). In addition, there is someone from the KSU that will speak with the police if the police come along to determine whether the place was empty. (If necessary the KSU will itself call the police to ensure that they come.) The KSU helps (where necessary) with the installation of a new lock and the making of any repairs necessary to make the door again closeable.
You can also ask the KSU for help after the squat. Reactions can come from various different places after you have squatted a place. The owner of the place often reacts. The police might also come along to investigate the situation. It is often also the case that neighbours and people living in the neighbourhood around you have something to say about your squat. Thus, there are a number of different interest groups that you will come across. The KSU can support you and/or advise how you should deal with all these reactions.
The KSU is not a service which simply arranges living space for you and you should not go along to the KSU if you instantly need a place to live. It costs time to find empty places and to gather all the information you need to be able to squat a place. You will have to find the empty places yourself, and you will have to find out most of the information about the place yourself. The KSU has mainly an advisory role in this research phase.
The KSU is run by a group of volunteers. THe KSU works on the basis of idealism and solidarity. Actions and tools are financed from voluntary contributions.
What can you expect when you squat?
Estimating the chances or ‘dangers’ of squatting a place is fairly troublesome, and certainly if you try to do this alone. Roughly speaking you can say that, if you squat something that has already stood empty longer than a year, the owner must first get all his affairs in order before he can get an eviction order from the court. If he has all his affairs in order and can demonstrate that he needs the space you have squatted, his lawyer must first issue a legal summons (which requests you to come to court.) You are usually about a month further before this all leads to an implementable eviction order. In most cases can you can tell further in advance when/if a court summons is coming. There are of course exceptions to this; sometimes the whole process takes several years, sometimes it all gets done extra fast. And there are naturally many potential problems that you can encounter which can make the story of your squat develop differently. Happily not every squat leads to a (quick) eviction. Indeed, it occasionally happens that squats get legalised, and many squats are, over time, voluntarily left by their inhabitants because (for example) the squatters agree with the plans that have been developed for the place. But let’s begin at the beginning: the finding of a space to squat.
What type of place are you looking for?
Before you begin with squatting, one of the first things that you must determine is how you want to live. Do you want to live alone, or do you prefer to live together with more people? If you want to live alone, or with just the two of you, it is best to go looking for an empty floor (e.g. “begane grond”, “1-hoog”, “2-hoog” etc.) If you want to live with more people, consider what type of space you are looking for. How big is the group? Are you looking for a place with a number of empty floors where you can live with a number of people, or are you looking for a large building where you can live and work with a group of people? If you choose to go and live with more people then it’s best if you find people that you already know a little bit. If you are looking for large spaces or buildings then it’s best to look in the Centre or the Vondelpark-Concertgebouwbuurt (VPC; in English, this is the Vondelpark-Concertbuilding neighbourhood). If you’re looking for floors then it’s good to go looking in the South, the West or the East. If looking for empty living space then it’s best to look in the neighbourhoods where large-scare city renewal projects are on the agenda. In the centre and around the train stations you can also occasionally come across empty office buildings that are suitable for groups. See the addresslist for the different kraakspreekuren.
Tips when searching:
Once you know how you want to live you can go looking for something appropriate. You can ask your family, friends and acquantainces whether they know of something that has already stood empty for some time, and otherwise must you go looking yourself. Finding empty places is not easy. What it comes down to is that you select a neighbourhood where you want to live, and then go and cycle or walk around that neighbourhood to try and spot empty places. Take a pen and paper with you and clearly write down everything that catches your attention. You can also read (neighbourhood) newspapers and newsletters and pay attention to building projects that have had a difficult birth or which the neighbourhood is resisting against. The people at the wijkcentrum (in English: neighbourhood centre) often also have information about where building- and demolition- projects are scheduled to take place. If you think you have found a number of empty spaces, check every day to see if it is really empty. Do this at different times (during the day/night) so that you get a better idea if it is really empty. Press the doorbell at different times:- then you know if the doorbell works and it might happen that somebody answers the door! If the place has an entrance door that is not shared with other neighbours then you can put a match between the door and the doorframe. If you detect later that this match has fallen out, then the chance exists that the door has been open. (Try it again!) Once you are sure that the place is empty you can go and do further research.
CHAPTER 2: RESEARCH
You still have to research many things before you go squatting. There is a checklist included to make this easier. Go through this and find all the things that could be relevant to your intended squat. Knowledge is power: that applies also to squatting. Write a date next to any information you find; then, if your squat gets postponed, you can see (in the future) how old your information is. You can bring your checklist to the kraakspreekuur if you decide not to go further with a place, so that other people can make use of your research.
A word of caution!
When you go and research a place that you want to squat, you should of course not tell this to everybody. Not everybody has a positive attitude towards squatting. If/when you go to (official) institutions to request information, don’t tell them that you want to squat the place, because it can happen that the person with which you’ve spoken tells the owner. The same is true for neighbours. If the (official) institutions don’t want to give you the required information then you can appeal to the Wet Openbaarheid van Bestuur (Law on Openness of Governance.) This law arranges that citizens can view government documents, permits and decisions. It is not always possible to copy such documents, or the cost can be very high, so always take a pen and paper with you. If it is at all possible then you really should photocopy essential documents that (for example) discuss the length of time that the place has stood empty.
How long has something stood empty?
It is important to find out how long a place has stood empty. According to the law, a place should have stood empty for at least one year before you may squat it. This is specified in the wetboek van strafrecht (lawbook of criminal law) under Artikel 429sexies. If the place has not stood empty for a year when you squat, then the chance is high that you will be evicted on the basis of criminal law. A rough English translation of the exact text follows. Please consult the original Dutch legal articles for an authoritative reference.
Despite the fact that (in such cases) the police evicts on the basis of criminal law, there rarely follows a criminal prosection.
There are different ways to find out how long something has stood empty. You must first find out if something is actually EMPTY! Check daily that nothing is happing in the place. Look in the letterbox. You can ask the neighbours about the length of time that the place has stood empty. However, you can never be completely sure that this information is reliable and whether the neighbours have the best intentions towards you. When asking how long a place has stood empty, it’s generally not wise to mention that you want to squat it. Many people think that squatting always brings trouble with it. They have this attitude because the media only focuses on squatters if a public order disturbance threatens, and that is thus what people hear on the radio, see on TV and read in the newspapers. So, when you knock/call at the neighbours, you can use an excuse and (for example) ask where the previous residents are (which were friends/acquaintances of yours) and that you are looking for them. The kraakspreekuur has (as mentioned earlier) a file of addresses in which information can be found about the (potentially) empty places they know about. Maybe the kraakspreekuur has other information about the place you are looking at. You can also call NUON (the electricity company) to ask whether there is an electricity connection in the place (for example because you’re going to rent the place and you want to put the account on your name…), or (where relevant) the estate agent/broker selling the house. If you call someone like the broker, you must come up with a good excuse if you are to avoid creating suspicion! Ask the kraakspreekuur for advice about this. Check regularly whether the match is still there between the door and the doorframe.
Reason for emptiness:
It is important to find out why the place is standing empty. You should (for example) check if the house is for sale, or to rent, and for how long. Why did the last users of the space leave? Are there plans for the place, and – where applicable – why have those plans not yet been executed? Activities which involve the genuine intention to bring the place back into use are also considered “use” by Art. 429 sexies. In such a case the people in question must genuinely be busy with the process of bringing the place back into use. A delayed building process or the declared intention to sell are not active use, and can be fought at court.
Dienst Wonen (In English: “Housing Service”)
The Dienst Wonen (see address list) of the Amsterdam municipal council provides housing services to citizens, co-ordinates city renewal and formulates the Amsterdam housing policy. The division “Vergunningen en Handhaving” (in English: permits and enforcement) supervises that low-rent houses end up with those people who are entitled to them. Houses with a rent under the huursubsidiegrens (In English: rent subsidy threshhold) that fall empty because of people moving house or because of (for example) renovation must be reported empty to Dienst Wonen. You can thus try to get information from them regarding how long the place has been empty. Ring them up to do this, with an excuse. Ask whether the house has been reported empty, when, and why. If the house has not been reported empty, then ask if there has been a housing permit issued, and since when.
It is important to know who the owner is before you go squatting. This is pretty simple to find out, at the Kadaster (see address list.) The Kadaster is a source of information for those people that want to know more about the history of properties. The Kadaster has been registering (since 1832) details about properties and all changes to the state of properties. In this way the Kadaster records, for example, the name of the owner and the price that was paid for the property.
Purchase- and mortgage deeds (‘koopakte’ and ‘hypotheekakte’ respectively in Dutch) have to be registered at the Kadaster in order to be legally valid. In the purchase deed you can find who has sold what to who, and for what price. There is also reported, where applicable, various business rights that are connected with property, such as the right to usufruct and the right of way. The mortgage deed reports by who, and for what amount of money, a mortgage has been established, on which property that applies to, and who has granted the mortgage.
At the Kadaster you can also search on the basis of other details, for example on the basis of a name. In this way you can also research the other properties of your future owner. If you go to the Kadaster, it’s best to ask for the purchase deed or the mortgage deed. If you only ask for the owner of the property you’ll be given a print-out of the current Kadastral situation for the property, upon which stands little (or no) extra information. The purchase deed or the mortgage deed gives you much more information, for the same price.
At the Kadaster it costs around 6 euro per requested document.
Once you know who the owner is of the place you wish to squat, it’s sensible to first discuss this information with your KSU. Not all owners are equally friendly. Stronger still, some owners can be downright dangerous. You must be well prepared if you’re going to squat something belonging to such a figure. The different KSUs have built up throughout the years a lot of experience with disreputable owners and many of them will be already known by the KSU. If you squat something belonging to a housing association/corporation, a bank, an insurance company or a big business, then you needn’t worry about gangs of thugs being sent by the owner.
SPOK (In English: Speculation research collective)
Speculatie Onderzoek Kollektief: SPOK (In English: Speculation research collective)
The KSUs have however not all information. For a more complete overview you can go to the SPOK (see address list.) Here they have an archive where they store all kinds of information about owners. From speculators and project developers, to true criminals and their gangs of thugs. Despite this mass of information it’s true that, even when there is nothing known about an owner, the owner can in a very real sense be dangerous. A dangerous owner only becomes known as dangerous once he has sent in his first gang of thugs. At the same time, most owners do not turn out to be dangerous.
The use of SPOK is free.
Before you go squatting you should research whether there are plans for the place or whether there have been permits for the building requested or issued. There are various different ways to research whether permits have been requested or issued.
The commission for urban aesthetics and monuments
De Commissie voor Welstand en Monumenten (In English: The commission for urban aesthetics and monuments)
This is an independent commission that advises the mayor, the portfolio holders around him, and the daily governing bodies of the city district councils whenever a building permit or a monument permit is requested. The Commissie voor Welstand en Monumenten examines the aesthetic and monumental aspects of the request, as dictated by various laws related to housing, monuments and building regulations. The commission gives, at the end of the day, just advice. This advice is published on the website of the commission. Go to ‘welstandsadvies‘, once you’re there you can simply search for particular addresses. This is safer than making contact with the building and housing supervisory service BWT (see below.)
Stadsdelen (In English: city district councils)
With some city district councils you can check their websites to see whether a permit has been requested and/or issued (see the address list.) If the district council where you want to squat does publish such information, you can simply search using the search engine on their website (e.g. by typing in the address.)
Bouw- en Woningtoezicht (BWT)
Bouw- en Woningtoezicht (BWT) (In English: Building and housing supervisory service)
If the city district council does not publish the permits on her website, then you can go to the [[BWT]] (see [[address list]].) Every city district council has a BWT division. Be careful when you ask for information from the BWT! It has happened occasionally in the past that the BWT has informed an owner, after a vague telephonecall for example, that his property might shortly be squatted. You should preferably only speak to the BTW at the very last moment, or after you have squatted. The squatting hour can advise you about this. If there is a permit, or a permit has been requested, it’s important to look at what the plans are and when the permit was requested and/or issued.
The Woningwet (a housing law) prescribes that the mayor and his portfolio holders should organise the building- and housing- supervisory service. The tasks that should be carried out by this service are also described in this law. In particular, the following is recorded: the researching of the state of social housing in the council’s geographic area, and the exercise of supervision within the council area regarding the fulfilment of the housing law.
What it comes down to is that the BWT examines requests for building permits and splitting permits (required before the floors of a house can be sold individually) and checks whether these requests are compatible with the bouwbesluit (In English: “building decree”), the bestemmingsplannen (plans describing the specific functions designated to specific buildings) and the policy of the city council. If these requests are indeed compatible, then the BWT issues the permit. The BTW has the task to monitor the exection of the building project in question. The BTW also has the task of monitoring the (structural) safety of existing buildings. Where the necessary maintenance has not been carried out and/or the building has (structural) defects, the BTW can warn the owner, declare the place uninhabitable or even seize the place. Declaring a place uninhabitable, or seizing the place, does not happen very option, but it does happen.
Kamer van Koophandel (KvK) (In English: Chambers of Commerce)
If the place that you want to squat is a business space, you can often find information at the KvK (see address list.) There are also small businesses registered at housing addresses, so you can also go to the KvK when researching a living space. The KvK is (for a very long time already) an advice body for trade and industry and since 1920 it has maintained/controlled the trade register. They are also responsible for the execution of a number of laws, such as the establishment law (vestigingswet) and the laws controlling the closing times of shops. In the trade register you can find out whether a business is registered at a particular address. You are often also able to find out the date when the last business there departed and this gives a good indication of how long the place has stood empty. If your future owner is a business, or has a business, you can also often find lots of information at the KvK about what your owner does (apart from leaving the place you are researching empty!) Does the owner have other businesses? What do they do? At the KvK you can also find charters and year reports. This type of information can be important when trying to predict how things will turn out.
There are various different ways to find out information from the KvK. Basic information (about whether a business is registered in the place you are researching or at the address of the owner) can be obtained freely from the trade register on the website of the KvK. You know then, in any case, whether it makes sense to go in person to the KvK. The best and cheapest way to find out lots of information is to go to the KvK in person and to go and sit behind one of their computers. Once you’re there, you can search on the basis of postcodes and business names. If you’re researching a business space you can begin with searching on the basis of postcode. You can then do some fishing to find out if there are businesses registered there, of have been registered there. You can see the date when the last business departed, you can see if there is a connection between the owner and the business that was established there, and what type of business it was. You can find out who actually owns businesses. With their computers you can (for only a fixed price) discover entire networks and a whole tangle of businesses. In that case printing is not an option, so take a pen and paper with you. It works a bit differently when you request certain records. Then you pay per record and the KvK employees must find it for you, which is certainly not their hobby! Mostly you’ll end up eventually paying more for less information. You can also find out information from the KvK via the internet (www.kvk.nl). If you want more information over the business or the owner(s) you can also find information on the KvK website. In that case you have to become a member, and you pay per requested document. You must also in that case give your details because of the payment mechanism. We thus advise you to go to the KvK in person.
CHAPTER 3: PREPARATIONS
The place is, in principle, squattable:
Once you have gathered as much information as possible, and the place that you want to squat is squattable, then come the practical preparations for the squat. There are a number of based-in-law criteria that you must satisfy to ensure that you have “house peace” (huisvrede, a legal term) after the squat. You must be able to demonstrate that you live there or in any case that you have the intention to live there. The minimal requirement for this is a table, a bed, and a chair, the so-called “squat set.” You must also be able to close off access to the place, with your own lock. During the first week you must ensure that there is always somebody in your squat, because it is during the first week that you can expect the most reactions. Ensure, before you go squatting, that you have a lawyer that wants to, and can do, your case.
The meeting point:
It is useful to have a group of people with you when you actually squat the house. There is thus a meeting point needed. From that point you go with the group to the place you want to squat. Ask the squatting hour where the nearest squat is and as soon as you know the date and time of your squat, go along to ask if you can use their squat as the meeting point. Once you know where (and when) you are going to meet you can go and mobilise your friends. If you squat with the help of the squatting hour they will take a part of the responsibility for mobilising people.
Before you squat a place you must find out what type of lock is being used on the place. Once you know this you can (with the squatting hour) better estimate how much damage will be caused when the door is broken open, and it also tells you what type of lock you have to buy to put back in the door. If you buy a lock which is of the same type as the lock that is already in the door, then (in general) it is possible to swap the locks without all too much trouble. Pay especially goed attention to the external characteristics of the lock, it is mostly possible from its appearance to establish what type of lock it is. Also pay good attention to whether the door has a “break strip”. If you squat with the squatting hour then they will arrange a team of people to break the door, and these people will look at the door so that they can break the door open as quickly as possible. Arrange with the squatting hour who is going to take care of the locks; if the squatting hour does that, then you’ll still have to pay for the cost of the lock(s).
So that you can easily recognise the lock, we give here an overview of the four most commonly used locks. If you’re going to look at the door then pay good attention to how many locks there are in the door, what types of lock they are, and where they sit in the door. If there are multiple locks then you can push against the door to see if they are all actually in use. This doesn’t always work. Look whether there have been break strips installed, write all this information down, and go with it to the squatting hour.
It is sensible to arrange a lawyer before you squat (see [[address list]]) and to discuss the squat with him/her before you actually squat. The lawyer can then check whether he/she is able to, and wants to, take your case. Arranging a lawyer in advance is handy if during the squat, or during the days immediately after it, things happen for which legal support is necessary. If you have to go looking for a lawyer after the squat then it can happen that all lawyers (that in theory accept squatting cases) are too busy. It can sometimes take days to find a lawyer, and in some cases that is too long. Never tell the lawyer the address or the date over the telephone: it is not entirely uncommon for the phonelines of squatters and lawyers to be “tapped” by the police. You obviously don’t want that the police and the owner are already informed about your squatting action before it has happened!
In the Netherlands you always have the right to have legal support from a lawyer. To ensure that that right is available to everyone there is a [[Raad voor Rechtsbijstand]] (Council for Legal Support) that helps people with a low-income with legal costs. This council determines, on the basis of your income, how much of your legal costs you should pay yourself. Before you go to the lawyer you should fill in the form “Verklaring omtrent Inkomens en Vermogen”, you can pick this up at the Sociale Dienst (social service office) and you must also have it stamped at the Sociale Dienst, after which the form becomes valid. You take this form with you to the lawyer. The lawyer will then send the form to the Raad voor Rechtsbijstand.
If you have a minimum income then your “own contribution” to the lawyer’s costs is around 90 euro.
The “squat set”:
As reported earlier you will need a table, a bed and a chair that must immediately be put inside once the door is open. Only then can you claim “house peace.” A number of other things are naturally also useful. Given that it is always very unclear in the first few days whether you will be able to stay in the house longer, it is handy to avoid taking too much stuff with you into the house at this point. The first few days in a squatted place is basically a bit like going camping. So take a sleeping bag, a fire extinguisher, toilet paper, torch, mobile telephone, radio en so forth with you. It’s also useful to take some cleaning equipment with you, such as a bowl, a broom/brush, black plastic bin bags and a dustpan and brush. If you clean the house right away then you feel more quickly at home, it gives you something to do, and it makes a good impression on the neighbours. In most cases the neighbourhood is extremely happy if they see that there is finally something happening again being those filthy windows.
The neighbourhood letter:
If you’re going to squat (especially in the “people’s neighbourhoods”, the neighbourhoods with large quantities of social housing) then it is advisable to write a neighbourhood letter and to distribute that in the area around your new squat. You only do this, of course, after the squat. As well as informing your new neighbours what exactly has happened, it gives them a chance to make contact with you. You “lower the barrier” between them and you, as it were. Neighbours can often come with useful information that can help you in your campaign to retain your squat. In the neighbourhood letter you introduce yourself (e.g. I am a young student), you explain your motivation (e.g. it is impossible to find a room in this city.) Further you can give information about the place, the length of time it has stood empty, and something about the owner. Make it clear that you simply want to have somewhere to live and that they (the neighbours) are welcome for a cup of coffee. Het is smarter to only give your first name, in connection with possible damage claims and procedures that are harder to use against you (or are easier to delay) without your surname. In squatting you mostly use only your first name. In most cases you write the neighbourhood letter before the squat, so that you can distribute it at the squatting action itself or once the situation has become a bit quieter. If you nevertheless choose to write the letter only after the squatting action, then don’t wait too long to do this.
It is advisable to be continuously present at your squat during the first week. It is during that first week that the chance is highest of a visit from the owner, from the neighbourhood police, from the Bouw- and Woningtoezicht (see earlier) and other people. To stay sitting in your house for 24 hours a day, for a whole week, is very hard work and unhealthy. For this reason try to find people in advance that want to help you with the occupation. Ask for this purpose your family, frends, acquaintances and (where applicable) fellow students. Make appointments with them about when exactly they will come, and try and get your occupation schedule for the week as full as possible. Because (in the beginning) you don’t take much stuff with you, the occupation can often be boring, and a case of waiting for new developments. Try and arrange your occupation schedule in such a way that there are always (at least) two people present and ensure there are games, comic books and so on. Make arrangements about what your fellow occupiers should do if/when somebody comes to the door, and go through your story with them.
If it is suspected that the owner is dangerous, then you must make preparations for this. It is then especially important to make the place as sealed as possible so that the owner can not get in. You can reinforce your front door with wood or with a bed spiral, placing a ‘bouwstempel’ behind it for extra support. (A ‘bouwstempel’ is an adjustable metal pole that is used by builders to support ceilings etc.) You can reinforce the windows with “concrete gauze” (which is easy to have cut to size) or bed spirals that you screw tightly to the window frames, it is (in general) difficult to come through such reinforcement. Don’t forget about the back of the house, it often happens that the owner also has access to that. You must gather the reinforcement/barricading materials before the squat, and thus belongs by the preparatory phase.
If you suspect that the owner is dangerous, then you should discuss this well with the squatting hour. You should also arrange a bigger occupation team, and ask if there are people from the squatting hour who can help occupy during the first few days. If a gang of thugs does come, then it is often the owner himself with family, or a pair of builders or body-building types. Their intention is mostly to evict the house. The squatting hour can also give you an alarm list. If you ring the entrance number of the alarm list then there will very quickly appear a group of squatters before your door that will help you to defend your squat. You can also call the police, an owner is not allowed to evict the house himself. In the most cases the police will then tell the owner to leave because he may not evict the house himself. There have also been cases where the police did nothing and let the owner evict the place.
CHAPTER 4: FINALLY SQUATING!
The squatting action itself:
At the squatting action itself it’s always exciting and stressful for some time. You must ensure that you have enough people with you. The door must be broken open, the “squat set” must be taken inside as quickly as possible, the neighbours must get over their initial shock, the police will probably come quickly, the owner might come along (certainly if he lives in the neighbourhood) and what exactly is the situation inside the house? If you squat with them, the squatting hour people can be a big help. They know the squatters in the neighbourhood who will want to give a helping hand; it’s handy to perform the squatting action itself with a group of people (at least 15 people) in case the police or the owner decides to cause trouble. There is, at every squatting hour, a number of experienced breakers that are able to open the door quickly and with as little damage as possible. There are also people at the squatting hour that can talk with the police. The police knows the neigbourhood squatting group and will thus less quickly switch over to causing trouble. The squatting hour people can also help you with relpacing the lock, or give you advice about this. They can support you if you talk to the neighbours and they can help you with barricading if that is necessary.
You have a house:
After the police have checked that the house is empty, most people present at the action will again leave. This happens mostly very quickly and if you still have questions make sure you ask it directly to one of the squatting hour people.
Getting to work:
Once everything has quietened down you can make yourself busy with the things that you have to do before you can feel at home. Firstly, take a look at the whole place. Check that it is not possible to simply walk into the place. Check whether the doorbell works. Sometimes a place has been demolished from the inside. In such a case the toilet and the kitchen might have been smashed to pieces. This is mostly done to discourage squatters. It also happens occasionally that the water pipes are sawn through, and that the ceiling is smashed up. Always check the water pipes, and the drainage, before you connect the water. Let the water run for a while before you use it, because (owing to the long period of standing empty) there is often rust in the pipes. Don’t be discouraged if a place has been demolished from inside. It is in most cases not a huge amount of trouble to get everything connected and fixed up once again.
Friend or foe:
It is sensible not to let any strangers inside. If it turns out that they still (for one reason or other) must come inside then you should make an appointment and arrange that they come back later. This way you have time to consult with your lawyer or the squatting hour. You can then also ensure that there are more people in your house if/when they come back. From the moment that you squat a place you have “house peace”, which means that nobody is allowed to come inside without your permission.
Gas, water and light:
Record the meter-readings from the [[utilities]] (gas and electricity, and water too if there is a water meter) so that you can use this information for the creation of a legal connection. The energy companies (in the name of keeping costs low) prefer not to disable supply, so even if there is no legal connection in the house when you squat it, the utilities will probably still be operational. These days you can open an account with the energy companies by telephone or internet. We advise that you put the payment of the utilities as quickly as possible on your name. If you don’t do that, it’s theft. This can be an extra argument for steps to be taken against you. If the utilities have been completely disabled then (in most cases) it costs more to have them again connected. The connection of the utilties brings, apart from luxury, also fire security. In some cases, arguments based on (lack of) fire security can lead to threats of eviction. Always check connections, pipes and so on before you use them. (A lengthy period of not being used can effect their condition.)
Declarations from neighbours:
Ask neighbours and people who live around you if they want to write a declaration in which they state that the place you squatted stood easily a year empty. In such a declaration they can also express their support for your action. This will stengthen you in any (legal) procedures that might follow after your squat. Declarations that have been written by the neighbours themself, with their own story, have a higher juridical value.
If everything goes well, and with a bit of luck, then after about a week you can begin furnishing your house and, more generally, start enjoying life there. In a squat it is possible (as in any house) to have telephone, internet and cable connected. If you’ve lived there already some time and everything has stayed quiet, you can even go on holiday. Sometimes you keep a house for 6 months, sometimes it lasts years, and – occasionally – sometimes it lasty only a few days. Eventually something will happen. Either the owner will begin a legal procedure against you or he will want you to begin a (permanent or temporary) renting contract.
CHAPTER 5: AND THEN?
After the squat it is sensible to continue researching and monitoring whether there are developments with your squat. Keep watching the newspapers and keep an eye on publications from the local council (regarding permits that have been requested and/or issued.) It is advisable to discuss all developments as quickly as possible with the squatting hour and your lawyer. It is good to maintain contact with the squatting hour even if nothing happens for a while; if/when something does happen the squatting hour can then react more quickly. Lawyers are always very busy. It is thus important to find out as much information as possible by yourself (to give to your lawyer, but also for yourself of course.) For example, go once again to the BWT and take a look at what the plans are, make a copy of them if possible, and otherwise copy out as much as you can.
It is important to keep your house archive (the collection of information you gather and store about the house) up to date, also after the squat.
The press declaration/explanation:
If you think that there should be media attention for your squat then you will need to have a good, newsworthy story. The squatting of a place is, in itself, not newsworthy in Amsterdam. The press is there for actions, for remarkably scandalous stories, or for projects and campaigns. If you think you do want to have contact with the press then do let the squatting hour support you. The squatting hour has experience with the press, and often also has contacts within the press. You will need to begin with a press release. It is pretty difficult to write a good press release, a whole side of A4 is already considered a lot. You obviously want to ensure that your press release gets read. In that case, the ordering of your text is important. Naturally, the first thing in a press release is a catchy headline, that should be directly relevant to the action or activity. In the first paragraph, that should not be too long and that should be written in bold text, you describe: who (you, in co-operation with squatting group X, for example), where (the address or the neighbourhood) and why (your desperate need for housing, the behaviour of the owner, or the (new) council policy.) You thus explain quickly and clearly what your story is about. In the next paragraphs you put in any necessary information to stimulate the interest of a journalist. Keep your information clear and well-organised. Always declare (at the bottom) who the press release is from (e.g. the new residents or with the name of an action group, for example) and also give a telephone number at the bottom so that the press can make contact with you. You can e-mail or fax a press-release. Of course, you don’t give in the press release your (real) surname.
If you want the press to come to your newly squatted house then you must think about this carefully in advance. You must ensure that your story hangs together well, and it should be newsworthy. Think also whether you want to see your photo appear in the newspaper, or whether you want to be seen on TV. If you indeed do talk to the press, then try and do this in a quiet place. Try and keep control over the calmness of the situation and the direction of the converation. Journalists are often looking for sensation or shocking material, because that is good for the viewing/readership statistics. Communicate thus as concisely as possible the information that you want them to use, and don’t let the topic of the conversation drift away from your topic. If you do this then you maximise the likelihood that the article they write comes out as you would have wanted.
After you have squatted you will probably have to deal with all kinds of legal fuss. The owner can report the squat to the police, you can receive on your doormat a so-called “oprotbrief”; this is the letter in which the owner asks you politely but firmly to leave (i.e. because otherwise he will take you to court.) The owner might also take you to court directly. The district or city council can sometimes cause problems for you by using their power (based on the authority of the state) to have you evicted (“bestuursdwang”). The BWT can also cause problems by complaining about the condition of the place or about fire safety.
Article 138 and 429:
There is a chance that the owner reports the squat to the police. Such a report can be based upon Article 138 or on Article 429sexies. Artikel 138 is “huisvredebreuk” (in English, the violation of house peace.) A rough English translation of the literal text reads,
If the owner reports the squat to the police on the basis of huisvredebreuk, he’s claiming that the place is still in use. If everything went to plan with the squat then the police will have already seen the place from inside and will have been able to see that, at the time of the squat, the place was not in use. Thus there can be no basis for a huisvredebreuk complaint. It is more likely that the owner declares that the place was in use less than a year ago. In both cases it concerns violations of criminal law. In such a case there is thus an “Officier van Justitie” (OVJ, in English “Officer of Justice”, who works for the “Openbaar Ministerie”, i.e. the Public Office) needed who makes a decision. The OVJ is mostly informed and advised by a senior local policeman (known in Dutch as the “buurtregisseur”.) If your owner has indeed reported the squat to the police, then you should explain to the buurtregisseur exactly why you are so certain that the place was out of use for more than a year. You should also give him declarations from neighbours to add weight to your story (copy these first, of course.) If the OVJ decides nevertheless to act against you, you run the risk of being quickly evicted, so seek contact -as quickly as possible- with the squatting hour and with your lawyer. Discuss with the squatting hour and your lawyer how good your chances will be if you start a procedure against this decision. If you do want to fight against the decision of the OVJ then you will have to take the state to court. Only your lawyer can do this and it carries with it rather significant financial risks. If you take the state to court then it often (but not always…) happens that the police delay eviction until there is a ruling in this case against the state. The head OVJ has made a policy declaration about this. You must however start the case against the state -very- quickly if you are to prevent yourself from being immediately evicted.
Kort geding (in English, “short courtcase”):
A kort geding (“short courtcase”), KG, is the quickest type of court case in civil law. In a civil case the judge is asked to make a decision regarding a difference of opinion between two parties. The complaining party requests a date for the sitting from the court and issues a summons. There is usually (but not always) at least a week between the summons and the case itself. With squatting it is mostly the owner who demands eviction. With a KG it must be so that the complaining party can demonstrate a “spoedeisend belang” (in English, urgency-demanding interest), which essentially means that he has a reason to urgently want eviction and therefore cannot go through a full court case (a so-called “bodemprocedure.”) It also happens that owners appeal to their “recht van vorderen” (right of requisitioning.) You are in their property, after all, without right or title. In that case the owner must first be able to demonstrate that he has an “interest” (or a “stake”), to be able to bring about an eviction. Very shortly summarised: the owner tells his story, what he wants to do with the place, and that he quickly needs the place back to be able to do this. You must then demonstrate that the owner’s story is not credible and that eviction will only lead to (a long period) of the place standing empty. This all happens at a sitting in a courtroom. If the judge has his judgement ready right away then he can immediately give a ruling. But in most cases he will want to think about it a bit (or, in any case, give the illusion that he wants to think about it a bit…) and he makes his judgement known two weeks later. With squatting, the KG is the most frequently encountered type of case.
“De bodemprocedure” en “Verkorte bodemprocedure”
“De bodemprocedure” en “Verkorte bodemprocedure” (In English: The “full proceedings” court case, and the shortened “full proceedings” court case.)
A full court case (“bodemprocedure”) is begun if there is no “urgency-demanding interest” to demonstrate but there is nevertheless a disagreement between two parties. The bodemprocedure does not happen very often in the context of squatting. Shortly summarised, a bodemprocedure is a lengthy legal procedure, conducted in writing, in which the complaining party makes the first move and after which (again in writing) claims- and counters-claims are made. In this way the judge can come to a decision. If one of the parties (or the judge) asks for it then it is possible to have an actual sitting in a courtroom. The parties involved can, a number of times, ask for a four-week postponement of proceedings. With a shortened bodemprocedure (“verkorte bodemprocedure”) it is agreed in advance that a postponement can only happen once. It is also possible with such a courtcase to ask the judge for a sitting in a courtroom. To start a bodemprocedure it is not necessary to have an “urgency-demanding interest.”
The party that loses can lodge an appeal if they are not happy with the ruling.
Bestuursrecht (In English, Governance law)
Cases against the government:
If you don’t agree with a decision made by the government (mostly municipality- or city district- councils) then you can make complaints against this and start legal procedures. In most cases such procedures are against permits, for example permits for demolition, building, monuments, splitting (a procedure which makes it possible to sell houses that are contained in one larger building), or declarations that a house is uninhabitable. Such affairs are too specialist to go into detail here. The squatting hour can tell you more about these.
CHAPTER 6: LEGALISATION
The chance to get legalised:
The chance to get your squatted place legalised is not big. Nonetheless it does happen occasionally that the residents can obtain a fully-fledged rental contract for their squatted place. If you would also want this, then it is sensible (soon after the squat) to send a letter to the owner in which you explain that you have squatted his property and that you would be gladly willing to rent it from him. In such a letter you can also propose a renting price, but you don’t have to do that. It will also help sometimes if you can exert some pressure on the municipality, the district council or the owner. The press can be a good method for achieving this. If the owner offers you a rental contract but you yourself do not want to rent the place (or if you cannot afford it), then it will definitely be possible to find somebody that -does- want to rent it. Legalisation is a chance to make a long-term addition to the social housing supply and it is a real waste if this opportunity is not taken. You can then ask for help from the people around you when you go looking for a new place for yourself.
Never sign anything before a renting team or your lawyer has taken a look at it. Also go along to the squatting hour.
Huurteams (In English, renting teams)
Since May 1997 there have been “renting teams” ([[huurteams]], see [[address list]]) active in old neighbourhoods of Amsterdam. The renting teams are an initiative of the community centres. They research the relationship between the rent level and the quality of a rented place, particularly those owned by private owners (as opposed to housing corporations.) The renting team makes house visits and offers its services. The renting team helps you to calculate the “point total” for your house and the corresponding maximum rent. They also inform you about the available procedures to have the rent corrected (if it is too high) and they can guide and accompany you in this process. The renting team can (when this is relevant) help you with the rent level you want to propose to the owner. If you do get a rental contract then the renting team can later also support you with (where applicable) a rent-lowering procedure or with fighting against a rent increase.
The renting team works for free and will keep your details confidential.
Houses / single-floor houses:
Where it concerns a single-floor house (e.g. “house number 23, 3rd floor”) then it is certainly a good idea to make, as quickly as possible, a renting proposition to the owner. By squatting his place you have confronted the owner with a problem and your proposal to rent the place offers him a direct solution. If the rent that the owner proposes is higher than the maximum rent for the place (which is determined by the previously mentioned “point total”) then it is better to still accept the contract, because you then at least have a contract. After that you can start a procedure to have the rent lowered. Ask for advice from the renting team. Don’t pay any ‘rent’ without first having a rental contract. It doesn’t give you any rights at all and is thus simply a gift to the owner!
If you squat from a housing association then it is smart to become a member of the association. In any case you should register yourself as a house-seeker.
With a whole building the situation is mostly somewhat more complex. The most buildings are (by design) not living spaces, and because of this they do not fall under the law that regulates rent levels. If the owner is nevertheless prepared to legalise you, then there often follows heavy negotiations. Not only with the owner, but also with the fellow residents and users of the building. As well as the financial problems there can also be objections based on principle. Such objections have to be won over before decisions can be made. If the building has spaces that are jointly used by several people/groups then a financial solution for such spaces is also needed. If there are spaces that are in use by third-parties then there is thus an extra party with whom agreement has to be reached. In the most cases it is sensible to set up an association or a foundation which then rents the building. You can ask for advice about this from the squatting hour, the renting teams and the ASW (Amsterdam Steunpunt Wonen = Amsterdam Housing Support Service, see address list.)
Gebruikersovereenkomst (In English, “Users agreement”)
A users agreement is certainly not legalisation. If you sign such an agreement for the place you live then you have abandoned the last rights that you had when you were there as a squatter. You have thus been degraded to an anti-squatter. You sign an agreement with the owner in which there stands that you may use the place for a particular length of time if you pay a particular sum of money. The agreement can simply be ended by the owner when it suits him, and in such agreements he only has to give you notice varying from a few days to a few weeks. And once the owner has told you to leave then you simply don’t know if the place is going to be used again. Sale does not always mean, for example, that the place will be genuinely used after the sale.
CHAPTER 7: EVICTION
So you have to leave?
If you have lost the legal cases or the Officer of Justice has made a decision against you, and there exists a legal order to evict you, then it is not always so that this quickly happens. The municipal council of Amsterdam has a policy not to evict places if this will lead to the place standing empty, or to the use of anti-squatters. This doesn’t mean that they never do it, but they will occasionally want to listen to your arguments. If you can make it clear to the executives of the municipality and to the police that the eviction will lead to (long-lasting) emptiness, it can happen that they decide to postpone the decision to evict.
You can try to arrange with the owner or with the senior local police officer that you still need 2-4 weeks to find something new and that you will leave after that without problems. (You can add weight to your argument by barricading.) It can happen that the owner and the police choose the easy path and accept such an arrangement. It does happen, but don’t count on it.
You can choose to resist an eviction. In that case, there are many things to be done, and many choices to be made. As well as heavily barricading your house (ask for advice and help from the squatting hour) there are many other things that you should do. You should consider whether the resistance will happen inside, or outside, or both. You must find people that are prepared to help you and you must consider the risks. Check possible escape routes. Make contact with the arrestee support group and with your lawyer. There are many different ways of resisting eviction and the possibilities depend on the particular situation of your house. Try, along with your housemates, your friends and the squatting hour, to come up with some good ideas.
Arrestantengroep (In English, Arrestee Support Group)
If you expect that people will get arrested then there is an [[arrestee support group]] that can support you (see [[address list]].) This group has the goal of supporting arrested activists, and acts as a bridge between your lawyer and your personal supporters, so that they can stay informed about your situation. They can, for example, look (in advance) for a criminal law lawyer that will defend you. If you get allocated a duty lawyer then this lawyer will also defend you, but only because they were coincidentally given your case to deal with. The arrestee support group tries to find out where you are being held and they can bring you a packet containing (for example) clean underwear and a good book. They can call your partner, your parents or your employer for you, should you want that. They can also bring your medicine to you. Make contact with the arrestee support group in advance, you can then discuss certain things with them, and they will from that point on understand better who they are supporting, and why. Of course you should never communicate important information over the telephone, so make an appointment to speak with them in person.