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Basic Information

A squat is any property which is occupied without the leave of the person with title to it - this will normally mean a piece of land or a building occupied by indigent people, but can include legitimate attempts to gain adverse possession of disputed land. The residents of a squat are referred to - inter alia - as squatters1.

The typical squat is a derelict building - sometimes a former residential structure, sometimes industrial or commercial - occupied by homeless people. Long term squatting will only tend to occur in jurisdictions where squatters have some legal protection, or in places where it is not cost effective to remove them - otherwise, lacking in legal rights, they can be removed by various forms of summary action. Squatting of non-derelict properties is rare and tends to be reacted to more aggressively - if someone is trying to use a property, they are likely to object to it filling up with squatters. In many parts of the world it is normal for slum neighbourhoods to be, essentially, a massive exercise in squatting. Such squatter settlements are usually termed shanty towns - or some local equivalent such as favela or barrio.

Dereliction, and lack of legal title tend to mean that squats lack - and tend to struggle to gain - even basic amenities. In some times and places, squatters may display a pioneer spirit and keep the place up to the best of their ability - in others, a combination of whatever factors lead to them being indigent in the first place and a traditional lack of care for that which does not belong to them lead to the squat degenerating into a filthy pit. In between will generally lie various strata of filth, poverty and squalor. It is not uncommon - especially in the modern era - for squatted properties to be looted of any saleable fixtures, down to and including copper plumbing and electrical wiring, usually with the gaping holes in walls, floors and ceilings generated by their unskilled removal. In cold climates combustible fittings may also have been burned for fuel and, in the case of floorboards, replaced if at all with the minimum possible to meet the squatters requirements.

Legality of occupation may vary - many common law jurisdictions include legal protection for squatters in some circumstances - usually where they occupy land or buildings that have been abandoned for a significant period of time, and may even allow them to gain legal title to the property if they can occupy it without a successful legal challenge for a prolonged period. This measure - typically known as "adverse possession" requires the occupier to put the land to reasonable use (meaning that you can't just fence off a piece of land and leave it) - but is a popular tool of homeowners plotting to annexe left over scraps of landing in housing developments (not to mention moving boundary markers). Regardless, many jurisdictions consider squatting a matter of civil law and so getting rid of squatters legally can be an expensive and time consuming business.


1. full source reference

See Also

KCPD uncovers subterranean suburb on northeast side - essentially a large, underground squatter village.

Game and Story Use

  • PCs returning from an adventure may find that their property has become infested as per Wind in the Willows. In some cases, legal remedies will be effective, in others, direct action will be far more sensible.
  • The issues involved in getting rid of squatters may mean that when PCs are retained to "clear a bandit camp" out of somewhere, a certain amount of nuance may be involved.
  • Extensive squatter-towns may be a sign of economic collapse (like the Hoovervilles of the US) or may be a sign of poorly regulated growth (as in India or South America).
  • Being traditionally lawless, a squat will tend to be the sort of place to find low level criminals and fugitives from justice - petty dealers in recreational drugs, stolen goods and other black market goods are liable to be found here, together with prostitutes and other low grade offenders.
    • Archetypal teenage runaways tend to be found here as well.
  • Entering a squat will mean contending with (typically) unsafe, poorly lit and chaotically laid out buildings inhabited by desperate and often crazed or intoxicated people who don't respond well to scrutiny. A (apparent) fellow indigent will probably be assessed in terms of whether they are predator, prey or ally, the better dressed may be divided between potential victims and law enforcement … perhaps the safest people will be anyone who can pass for a professional criminal: no immediate threat but too dangerous to bother.
    • As above, it may also involved entering a structurally unsafe building, or maybe just one with the floors missing and gaping holes, some of them full of things best not contemplated too closely, bridged with flimsy junk.
  • Purchasing a piece of property can sometimes lead to you finding out that at least some of what you were sold encroaches on someone else's land … depending on the length of the encroachment and the jurisdiction, you may be able to claim adverse possession. Conversely, you may find that the previous owner had allowed a neighbour to encroach their land and that you need to move quickly to avoid it becoming permanent.
    • This can also be a problem on new builds, an unscrupulous early arrival might be tempted to have their fences re-laid to slice land of their neighbours plots … when the neighbours arrive, they may need to examine their deeds carefully to notice the issue.
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