Property resistance in the Bay and beyond

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Models sport T-shirts bearing the logo: "Better to squat than let it rot."
IMAGE COURTESY AK PRESS

In 2004, Hannah Dobbz climbed up the drainpipe of an abandoned building in Emeryville and disappeared through a broken window. Outside, her friends waited with blankets, pillows, and food. Making her way down to the first floor, she unsecured the plywood door and let them in.

Dobbz had stayed in squats before—in the East Bay, and in Europe. But now she was finally “bottom-lining” her own. The property, an abandoned boat and turbine warehouse they called the Power Machine, was in legal limbo. The city of Emeryville had claimed eminent domain over the building, but settlement proceedings would continue for the next two years.

In the meantime, Dobbz and her friends made the Power Machine their home. They fixed up the building and collected bikes, books, and art supplies. They threw loud parties. Located under a bridge and next to the railroad, no one seemed to care—not even the landlord, who stumbled upon Dobbz during her second week of residency.

Dobbz’s experience, along with those of other East Bay squatters, became the subject of her film, “Shelter: A Squatumentary” (Kill Normal Productions: 2008). In 2007, she left the Bay Area and moved to Buffalo, but continued to advocate for the practice of seizing abandoned spaces, dubbed “property resistance.” Now, she has published a book on squatting.

The book, Nine-Tenths of the Law: Property and Resistance in the United States (AK Press: 2013), is both a guide for squatters and a history of land occupation movements. It delves into the philosophical justifications for squatting, and challenges the assumptions behind the economic forces of the housing market. For Dobbz, squatting is a tactic: it reasserts that shelter is everybody’s basic human right, not just the privilege of those who can afford it.

“One of those things that I’m hoping to do is rethink how we view property, to try and shift the emphasis from housing as a market value, to more of a use value,” said Dobbz.

Nor could the timing be much better, since recent events seem to have rekindled property resistance activism in the Bay Area. In 2011, the Occupy Oakland movement created a dialogue around public space and private ownership. Now, with the tech boom driving the cost of living ever higher, that dialogue has been infused with newfound urgency. 

Steve Dicaprio is the CEO and founder of Land Action, an organization that offers support and legal information to land occupiers. As Occupy Oakland unfolded, he began to research property foreclosures. He wanted to know which sites could be most easily occupied and defended from a legal standpoint. According to Dicaprio, organizers of Occupy Oakland soon began to consider the occupation of foreclosed homes as an alternative to demonstrations in Oscar Grant/Frank Ogawa Plaza.

The goal of Dobbz, Dicarprio, and other activists is to foster a discussion around property. The focus needs to be on stewardship, not ownership, said Dobbz.

Both Dobbz and Dicaprio will be speaking at Looking Glass Arts on Friday, April 19th, at 6 p.m. Tickets are $20, with proceeds going to Land Action. A free event will also take place the following night at 7:30 p.m. at the squatter residence Hotmess/RCA Compound (656 West MacArthur Blvd.), with a dance party to follow.

In the meantime, you can read an excerpt of the book here.

Comments

a tour de force

Posted by Guest on Apr. 19, 2013 @ 4:57 pm
Posted by Guest on Apr. 20, 2013 @ 4:57 am

to take every side of a position based on how it works out for them.

Law and order for some groups, not for others. People who break some somewhat petty laws are noble, people who break other somewhat petty laws are horrid miscreants.

This theory of government has them bemoaning the federal government around medical weed, championing the federal government around harassing Arizona.

Breaking into other peoples property is good, not paying to ride MUNI is OK often times, not recycling or giving out bags for free at the store is bad.

It's about what your agenda is today, this minute.

Posted by Matlock on Apr. 20, 2013 @ 10:07 am

Hey Tim,

I'm gonna squat in your house. You're cool with that, right?

Posted by Guest on Apr. 20, 2013 @ 10:52 pm

Geez, everyone knows you only squat abandoned property.

Posted by pete moss on Apr. 21, 2013 @ 7:36 am

And one's primary residence is personal, not private property.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 21, 2013 @ 9:14 am

Shall we come and occupy your home tonight?

Posted by Guest on Apr. 21, 2013 @ 10:47 am

Privacy is not a function of property it is a function of tenure.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 21, 2013 @ 5:48 pm

If you own a property then you have the right to withhold entry and access from others, regardless of what use you put it too.

There's a few exceptions for law enforcement, foreclosures etc. but, in essence, our property rights are founded on our ability to maintain control over access and use.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 24, 2013 @ 8:44 am

Personal property are the stuff you use for your own survival. Private property are the things you use to make money. Different words and combinations of words have different meanings.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 24, 2013 @ 8:56 am

attempts to control who may have access to and usage of that home.

So it is both personal and private.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 24, 2013 @ 9:28 am

I'm gonna squat in your house. You're cool with that, right?

Posted by Steve on Apr. 20, 2013 @ 10:55 pm

Cool< thanks for the idea!))

Posted by Guest on Apr. 21, 2013 @ 3:47 am

I think you will note, if you pay attention, that virtually all of the squatters mentioned here or in anything else I've written about are occupying VACANT ABANDONED buildings where nobody is living. That's part of the point -- in a housing crisis, why are habitable spaces not being used? 

 

Posted by tim on Apr. 22, 2013 @ 12:38 pm

Exactly! Squatting is a tactic meant to force the hand of landlords who are, for whatever reason, witholding a vital resource from the all important market.

And sure you can come stay with me in my van anytime. I doubt you'd last 24 hours though.

I just put up an old friend for 3 days after she got evicted from where she'd been living for 12 years. It was crowded but we had fun.

Posted by pete moss on Apr. 22, 2013 @ 1:53 pm

So first you force landlords to leave their properties empty and then you claim that, because it is empty, you can seize it?

You're certifiable.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 24, 2013 @ 8:42 am

Any idiot who would keep a unit off of the market due to rent control when 2BR are going for $3750 is certifiable.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 24, 2013 @ 8:57 am

up to 10,000 units held off the market by landlords?

The sad fact is that renting out a flat in SF can be a life sentence. If I think I might want to sell that house or change it's use in a 5 or 10 years time, then it is safer for me to leave it empty than risk getting a "lifetime squatter".

Or even more than a lifetime if they have kids who, under current laws, can "inherit" a rent controlled tenancy.

Santa Monica tried to force LL's to rent out their units. That led to the Ellis Act. Wanna try again?

Posted by Guest on Apr. 24, 2013 @ 9:31 am

I've got estimates that say that your head is up your ass.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 24, 2013 @ 9:46 am

Landlords keep property off the market for a huge variety of reasons

Personally I'm against rent control. What's your point?

Posted by pete moss on Apr. 24, 2013 @ 10:28 am

You can only think that it might be.

Maybe I have gone overseas to work for 3 years and will then return. You gonna take my home anyway?

Oh, and the reason many homes are left vacant in SF is because of rent control - the very policy you support to try and provide more housing. Ha!

Posted by Guest on Apr. 24, 2013 @ 8:46 am

If the property tax is 5 or more years delinquant the property is abandoned, according to the county recorder in pretty much every county in the USA.

Posted by pete moss on Apr. 24, 2013 @ 10:38 am

Just don't like the idea of squatting, yes I know it is illegal which I won't go into.

Remember it is someone's private property or in some cases public property. Some of the squats I have seen turned out badly for the owner and future rental.

If you do squat make sure to treat the property with respect and keep it clean.

Posted by Garrett on Apr. 24, 2013 @ 8:09 am

Squatting is legal of the property is abandoned. Title can be claimed after 5 years of occupancy in such circumstances. This is not just a good idea, it is embedded in the foundations of English common law.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 24, 2013 @ 8:22 am

Just because it looks empty to you, doesn't mean the owner might not want to use it in the future.

Squatting remains illegal and, to my knowledge, there has only been one successful case of adverse possession being used to change a property title in SF.

Every other time, it has failed, and the squatters are arrested and removed. Find a better way.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 24, 2013 @ 8:40 am

Not all squats are successful. But the state cannot be the party to initiate adverse possession, that has to come from the owner.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 24, 2013 @ 8:54 am

very different from an activist group promoting it as a general protest policy every time they happen to think a home is empty.

That is wide open to abuse and opportunism. The simple fact is that very few property owners truly abandon properties although they may leave them vacant if, for example, local rent ordinances make it highly undesirable to rent them out, which strict local land use rules prevent the change of use that is desired.

You cannot blackmail or bully owners into doing what you politically think that they should. And there can be no political imperative to use a home if you do not want to. It was exactly an attempt to violate that principle that led to the Ellis Act being passed.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 24, 2013 @ 9:24 am

Landlords do plenty of bullying. Turn about is fair play.

Posted by pete moss on Apr. 24, 2013 @ 10:41 am

I think it's just human nature (in some poeple) to use one's authority to hurt others. Bullying is endemic whenever there is an apparent disparity in power.

Usually it is done by some low-level twit acting as an agent of the actual property owner, but not always. I know of two instances where apartments were simply opened and people walked inside without knocking.

It had happened to my roommate in her previous apartment where the owner simply walked in "to see what was going on inside" -- the guy was a nut-job -- and it happened to us in the apartment we subsequently shared.

In the later case, notice of the entry had been posted on our door the previous afternoon -- than the full 24 hours advance notice required by law -- and the callow asshole who came with prospective buyers entered the apartment immediately after knocking.

We were in bed at the time, though either of us could easily have been walking through our front hall completely undressed.

Landlords and their agents often exemplify Lord Acton's aphorism about power corrupting, I suppose.

There are some good landlords, and I don't dispute the fact that there are bad tenants; but most landlords are fuckers who deserve no sympathy.

Rental real-estate is a highbrow form of slavery.

Posted by lillipublicans on May. 03, 2013 @ 8:43 am

The laws in SF make it so difficult and expensive for a LL to ever get rid of a TT, that tenants behave like they cannot be harmed by any implication of their behavior.

Except of course for Ellis, when they suddenly realize they have gone too far, and then of course it is too late.

Landlords only Ellis as a last resort, when they have badly-behaved tenants on low rents who are abusing the system. We need such checks and balances.

Posted by Guest on May. 03, 2013 @ 9:12 am

thinks it is perfume. Do you honestly think anybody reading your crapulent nonsense is swayed in the least part by it?

Posted by lillipublicans on May. 03, 2013 @ 10:42 am
Posted by Guest on May. 03, 2013 @ 10:50 am

I think it's just human nature (in some poeple) to use one's authority to hurt others. Bullying is endemic whenever there is an apparent disparity in power.

Usually it is done by some low-level twit acting as an agent of the actual property owner, but not always. I know of two instances where apartments were simply opened and people walked inside without knocking.

It had happened to my roommate in her previous apartment where the owner simply walked in "to see what was going on inside" -- the guy was a nut-job -- and it happened to us in the apartment we subsequently shared.

In the later case, notice of the entry had been posted on our door the previous afternoon -- than the full 24 hours advance notice required by law -- and the callow asshole who came with prospective buyers entered the apartment immediately after knocking.

We were in bed at the time, though either of us could easily have been walking through our front hall completely undressed.

Landlords and their agents often exemplify Lord Acton's aphorism about power corrupting, I suppose.

There are some good landlords, and I don't dispute the fact that there are bad tenants; but most landlords are fuc somewhat less fuckers who deserve no sympathy.

Rental real-estate is a highbrow form of slavery.

Posted by lillipublicans on May. 03, 2013 @ 10:38 am

prospective viewers, and you admit you were given notice. And an owner can enter at any time if he deems there to be an emergency.

Oh and how does your "we were naked in bed" square with your previous claim to be a virgin? Try and keep your stories straight.

No chance you will ever have the means to own property, so I understand your bitterness.

Posted by Guest on May. 03, 2013 @ 10:53 am

Funny how u keep missing the point "owners stopped paying taxes, 5 or more years." Meaning squatters can take over, make the neighborhood more valuable, pay taxes which goes back to better the city,mainly school systems. The only person at fault in my view is the person who left the house , and stopped paying their community taxes! Pretty sure ur arguments are invalid "if someone leaves for a few years to Europe they are still paying taxes and thus till own the home."

Posted by Guest on May. 03, 2013 @ 8:14 am

any event gain possession of the property to get the taxes paid via a lien os some such.

That doesn't mean that some lowlife thieves can just stroll in and steal the property.

I'd like to see serious prison terms for property theft.

Posted by Guest on May. 03, 2013 @ 9:09 am

Funny how u keep missing the point "owners stopped paying taxes, 5 or more years." Meaning squatters can take over, make the neighborhood more valuable, pay taxes which goes back to better the city,mainly school systems. The only person at fault in my view is the person who left the house , and stopped paying their community taxes! Pretty sure ur arguments are invalid "if someone leaves for a few years to Europe they are still paying taxes and thus till own the home."

Posted by Guest on May. 03, 2013 @ 8:17 am

Called the law of adverse possession.

Posted by pete moss on Apr. 24, 2013 @ 10:44 am

You say 'lowlife thieves' I say brave urban homesteaders.

Posted by pete moss on May. 03, 2013 @ 11:01 am
Posted by Guest on May. 03, 2013 @ 12:53 pm

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