Melbourne Squatters Guide

How SIPs Work:

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Because no one should get rich by forcing others to pay for the simple necessity of shelter. Because you want some control over your living and working space. Because housing is a basic human right and sometimes you have to take action to assert your rights. Melbourne has a variety of empty properties ranging from totally destroyed shells to perfectly liveable places that have nothing wrong with them. The best way to find a squat is to simply walk or ride around the streets and look for the obvious signs.

Is there mail overflowing from the letterbox? Is the power off? Does anyone answer when you knock on the door? If unsure, you might want to ask a neighbour, a postie or a local shop owner if anyone is living in or using the property. If you decide to be straight up then explain your case to them. Tell them how you came to be in the situation you are in.

If needs be quote some figures on homelessness and the waiting list for public housing. The housing crisis means that thousands of people are unable to find affordable housing in the private rental market. Explain that you will look after the property and protect it from vandals. Most people will find out this information before moving in, but you may choose to squat first and find out who the owner is later. This information can be obtained by talking to the neighbours or checking the mail for rates notices.

Failing this you can call up or go to the rates department of your local council. Many councils will only give you information about a property if you say you are a neighbour so you may need the name of the person next door. A story explaining why you want the owners name and details will also be useful. This could include claiming that the fence is falling down, trees are causing damage, etc.

If there are plans for the house to be demolished or renovated then these plans will bear the owners name and address and will have been submitted for approval at the Town Planning Department of the local council.

Anyone can go there and ask to see them. You can also conduct a search online with a credit card at www. Knowing who owns the property might help you determine how you proceed with squatting it and what you chances are of staying on. Knowing their details also allows you to prevent anyone except the owner from evicting you see legal section. On rare occasions the police may come off their own bat and try to throw you out.

Similarly government properties and bankrupt properties can often be left empty for years, although you will generally be evicted immediately should they discover you. If a house is privately owned you may have the option to negotiate. You can contact the owner before you move in to explain that you are on a low or no income and offer to take care of the property in order to maintain it and protect it from vandals. You may want to offer to pay the rates or a nominal amount of rent as well.

In the majority of cases you will be turned down so it may be better just to move in and wait until the owners find you before attempting to negotiate. By then you may find yourself in a stronger position as you will be able to point to the various work you have done around the property.

If you do wind up paying some form of rent then try and get a receipt or agreement as once you are renting you will be subject to the usual rules regarding tenancies. Often this will be the easiest part. Most places have been left empty for some time and there may be broken or unlocked windows and doors. Check all the obvious access points such as doors, windows, skylights, holes covered by boards or tin, etc.

When opening your squat you should bring along new barrels for locks, slide bolts, a torch or candles and some basic tools. Once inside your new home you will firstly need to change all the locks so that you can feel safe and secure.

Most houses are fitted with the standard Lockwood barrel lock. You will need a Phillips head screwdriver to remove the three screws from the back section.

Remove these and the barrel will be released. The barrel should be the only part of the lock that needs replacing. These can be purchased at any hardware store. The replacement process is pretty straightforward. Most of the problems associated with the process concern the proper fitting of the tongue inside the lock.

Sometimes the tongue is too long and will need trimming to suit the thickness of the door. You can tell if the tongue is too long by sliding the barrel into position with the tongue fitted into the slot provided. To shorten the tongue and properly fit the lock to the door you will need a hacksaw and something to hold it pliers or vice while you cut it to the proper length.

If there is a deadlock in place then you will need to jemmy the door from the doorway and use screwdrivers to force the lock tongue and the deadlock button back into the lock. The door should then be able to be opened. Once it is open remove the screws from the side to take the back off and replace the lock mechanism. With some deadlocks the back section is all one part so you will have to remove it and get a new one.

Mortise locks are easy to replace if the door is not locked. If it is and there is enough room then you can try to cut through the bolt in between the door and the frame. An easier, but more destructive method is to cut a section out of the door frame. Using a hammer and chisel cut around where the lock goes into the frame until it opens. You can then remove and replace the lock before nailing a plank onto the door frame to give it back its strength.

If it is a back or side door then you may just want to a plank on and then nail on one or two sliding locks. There are many different types of locks. If you encounter difficulties then talking to the staff at a hardware store may be the best option as they should know what to do or at least have some diagrams.

The first few days and weeks after opening your squat are critical so make sure that no one is left alone and that the property is left empty as little as possible during this time.

There will probably be quite a few things that need repairing and cleaning up anyway. Ask friends to come over to help, and just to be there. Cleaning up any rubbish that has been left outside, putting up curtain, etc will send a clear message to the neighbours that you are not going to trash the place. Most empty houses are old and their essential facilities need repair. Here are some suggestions about doing basic repairs:.

Broken Copper Pipes Make sure the water mains are turned off. Broken or cracked water piping most houses have copper can be cut and repaired. First, cut out the cracked section with a hacksaw. Then get a piece of garden hose and two hose-clips, which must be the right size to fit the hose to the pipe.

Put the clips in the centre of the hose piece, then slip the copper pipe into one end and out the other. To finish up, place the clips on either side of the hose and tighten the clips with the right screwdriver. If you have cracks in bends — such as traps under sinks or basins — take to it with leak sealant. When using a sealant, ensure that the surface is dry for better and longer sealing.

If it is a straight section of pipe, get some duct tape and secure it tightly around the pipe so that there are no air bubbles. Again, there has to be a dry surface for better sealing. Leaking Taps Before you repair anything, make sure the water is turned off at the mains. If the tap is leaking at the joining of the lever then simply unscrew the lever anti-clockwise with a wrench or shifting spanner, wrap some Teflon tape tightly around the worn thread a number of times and screw the lever back on clockwise.

If the tap is leaking while it is off, then the problem is in the spindle, and the cause is probably an old or deteriorated washer. Usually you will need just a shifting spanner and, for old, badly corroded taps, some kind of spray lubricant.

To change the washer:. Toilets For everything you ever wanted to know about fixing a toilet see www. For more information on doing repairs visit: Electricity, water and gas legally cannot be denied to you as long as the wiring and plumbing is still intact. To get these services connected all that is usually required is a phone call to the appropriate company, when you may need to provide a work or real estate agent phone number as a character reference or information about your Centrelink status.

Nevertheless, corporate service providers sometimes make it difficult for squatters to have access to these services so, again, be assertive and demand access if need be.

If they are being difficult, an assertive reminder of department policy will often help. Try not to tell them you are squatting and always check and, where possible, repair plumbing and wiring before applying for connection.

If you cannot repair the parts, and services are unavailable until repairs are made, you may need the services of a tradesperson. Water The water is usually connected. This means every three months or so you will receive a bill for water consumption. The owner should be paying water rates on the premises, but some owners who leave buildings empty also neglect to pay rates. Failure to pay rates will often result in the water being turned off at the mains.

This will probably mean explaining you are squatting and have no contact with the owner. If an agreement to stay and pay some rates is made between you and the owner, try and get it confirmed in writing as it could be used as evidence of an implied license for you to stay until the end of the agreed period.

Electricity and Gas If the wiring is ok then you have a legal right to electricity. Sometimes you will have to provide I. D and something to prove you are a legitimate resident such as a lease. Here, a good story will often go a long way and get you connected without I. Getting electricity connected will vary from corporate provider to corporate provider.

First, call them up anonymously with a hypothetical example: What will I need to do and what kind of I. D will I need to provide? Solar cells, car batteries, candles and kerosene heaters used responsibly can all go some way to making life very possible without mains electricity. Telephone If all the lines are still intact, an account can be organised over the phone. Again, it helps to make a hypothetical call to sound out what the particular corporate provider will require in terms of I.

D, address details and deposit. The following information is only intended to provide a general outline of some of the main offences people can be charged with whilst attempting to squat. This is no substitute for specific legal advice.

If you are charged with any offence or if you encounter any specific problems contact your local Community Legal Centre www. It is easy to squat and avoid doing anything that will lead to criminal charges provided that you know the kind of criminal offences that the police may try and charge you with.

Arrests of squatters are uncommon as most owners and police will just want you off the property. It is only in the case of resistance or when you come across real pigs that you might be arrested. In general, police do not need to give you a formal warning before arresting you, however they often will. They need to tell you that you are under arrest.

If you are arrested you can ask the Police Officer for their name, rank and station for use in court later. They are legally obliged to tell you. Police have the right to ask for your name and address if they reasonably believe that you have committed, or are about to commit any offence, or you may be able to assist in the investigation of an indictable serious offence. However, apart from your name and address you have the right to refuse to answer any other questions.

You have the right to make a private telephone call to a friend and a lawyer or legal support before the police question you. Ask for this if police do not offer. If you are under 16 and being questioned by police an independent person must be present. Indigenous people in police custody can contact the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service and foreign nationals can contact the embassy of their country.

For more information see http: Squatting is NOT illegal. It is not a criminal offence to occupy a house without the owners consent. Legally squatting should be a civil dispute between you and the owner. The owner can take civil action against you for eviction and compensation.

The police should not be involved unless there is the threat of violence or a breach of the peace. However in practice the police often involve themselves as squatting, taking direct action over homelessness, challenges the notion of property ownership and the restricted use of land- notions the police are employed to uphold.

Also, it is easier for the owner to use the police to evict squatters than to take you to court to evict you. The following section discusses offences relevant to squatting. Remember, the onus is on the police to prove beyond reasonable doubt that you committed an offence. To do so they need evidence, generally either that a police or other witness caught you in the act or that you made admissions to the police. For minor infringements in situations of homelessness and squatting the fines are low and the court can impose bonds, community based orders, suspended sentences, etc.

Still remember that it is their law and their courts not ours. Criminal offences are divided, according to seriousness, into two main classes: Criminal Damage s 1 Crimes Act: Unless caught in the act, or unless you admit to it, it is difficult to prove that any damage was done by you, especially if the property was empty as others may have entered and vandalised the place before you squatted it.

To be safe it is best to repair any damage caused whether by you or by others as soon as possible. If you are taking possession of a house which is obviously damaged prior to you moving in, it may be useful to take photos of this damage. Such evidence may be able to assist you in demonstrating that the damage was caused before you entered the property. Criminal damage could range from breaking a window to burning down a house and the penalty is imposed accordingly.

In Victoria, an indictable offence is one which is ordinarily prosecuted upon indictment or presentment before a judge and jury.

Wilful Damage s 9 c Summary Offences Act: This is an alternative to criminal damage and is a summary offence. The police need to demonstrate that you deliberately did the act which damaged the property, whether public or private, however they do not need to show that you intended to cause the damage. Possessing anything with intent to destroy or damage property s Crimes Act.

This is where you are found with tools, but there has been no burglary or damage caused or the police cannot prove that there has been. The police need to prove that you had possession of a tool and that you had that tool in your possession because you intended to use it or allow someone else to use it to destroy or damage property. This is an indictable offence.

The main way to avoid being found guilty of this charge is to admit to nothing. Possession of house breaking implements: It is a summary offence. Until recently, inmates at youth detention facilities in New Mexico were woken up just one minute after midnight on their 18th birthdays, in order to be moved to adult prisons.

Recently, many of these lines drawn between adolescence and maturity have been called into question. For example, the presidents of universities are campaigning to consider lowering the drinking age from They note that binge drinking on campus is rampant despite the stricture, and argue that if students were given the right to drink at an earlier age, they might handle it more responsibly.

Another argument is a reprise of the one that came up 40 years ago when servicemen came home from Vietnam. Then, the complaint was that soldiers were old enough to die but not to vote. The 26th Amendment took care of that problem by lowering the voting age to Today, military personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are left to question why they can fight America's wars but still can't patronize its bars.

Meanwhile, legislatures and courts are hearing a very different argument from a group of people that haven't traditionally testified before them: Using advanced brain-scanning technology, scientists are getting a better view of how the human brain develops than ever before.

And what they've found is that in most people, the prefrontal cortex and its links to other regions of the brain are not fully formed until age much later than anyone had realized. These areas are the seat of "executive decision making"--the parts of the brain that allow people to think through the likely consequences of an action, weigh the risks and benefits and stop themselves from acting on impulse. In other words, the stuff that makes you a mature person.

To state and local lawmakers and judges, the brain research can come as a revelation: Maybe the car-rental companies were right all along. What to do about this is another matter. In America, "adulthood" already has its familiar compass points, 18 and But what is the age of responsibility? And what if that age--the point when citizens are responsible enough to earn all of the rights a democracy confers upon its people--bears no resemblance to the ages already enshrined in law?

Finding the answers to those questions is a more complicated task than simply choosing a milestone birthday. The age at which children are considered mature is rooted in a mix of culture, convenience and historical precedent. Aristotle wrote of 21 as the age when a person would have completed three 7-year stages of youth development. During the Middle Ages, legend has it that 21 was considered the age of adulthood because that's when men were capable of wearing a full suit of armor.

Arbitrary as such reasoning may sound to modern Americans, 21 stuck as a threshold age through the 19th century and into the 20th. Until they turned 21, young people owed their parents either their labor or their wages, whether that meant working on the family farm or operating a machine in an urban factory and handing over their pay.

But during the Progressive Era, reform efforts and adolescent research began to change notions about growing up. States, and eventually the federal government, enacted child-labor laws, keeping kids from working and ultimately making their attendance in high school compulsory. Such laws were opposed by business groups, which hated to let go of the cheap labor, and supported by unions, which didn't like the cheaper competition.

Through the middle of the 20th century, the onset of adulthood seemed to come earlier and earlier. War was partly responsible for that, as year-olds went off to fight in World War II, followed by the wars in Korea and Vietnam. On the home front, manufacturing jobs didn't require a high-school diploma. It was thus common for year-olds to support themselves and start their own families. And the rise of youth culture in the s and 60s turned the teen years into their own distinctive stage of development--and consumer spending.

There was a new sense that reaching the end of this life phase was a rite of passage in and of itself. Nowadays, teens face more cultural pressure than ever to grow up fast, in certain ways. Recent controversies over whether year-old pop star Miley Cyrus has sexualized her image is the latest symptom of that.

Yet there's a strong pull in exactly the opposite direction, too. Many more year-olds are choosing college over work now than a generation or two ago. They live independently at school for part of the year but under their parents' roofs for the rest. People are getting married later than they used to, and many have become slower about starting their own careers.

Even before the current recession, plenty of college grads and dropouts had "boomeranged" back to Mom and Dad's house. Sociologists now talk of "extended adolescence" and "delayed adulthood. That means that the window of time during which teens and young adults "grow up" is opening wider. This partly explains why state and local governments are so haphazard when it comes to young people: The law, and the people who write and interpret it, are just as befuddled about how to handle this situation as any anxious parent.

Mostly, they have responded by cracking down. On an annual basis, the number of laws regulating the behavior of people under 18 has more than tripled since the s. Curfews are now common. Recently, states have banned minors from purchasing items such as nitrous-oxide inhalants and fruit-flavored mini-cigars. Various jurisdictions have restricted "sexting"--sending lewd photos via cell phones.

And 20 states ban only those under 18 from talking on cell phones while driving, despite evidence that the behavior even using a hands-free device is treacherous among drivers of all ages. So there is a bit of hypocrisy, too, in the way governments define the age of responsibility. While nearly every state recently has put new limits on teen drivers, no state has begun restricting--or even testing--elderly drivers, some of whom may, like teens, lack mastery of their vehicles.

Franklin Zimring, a UC Berkeley law professor, suggests that it's easier to block youngsters from obtaining rights than it is to take away rights to which adults have grown accustomed. That's because states aren't really denying young people rights, Zimring says. They're asking them to wait. As Jack McCardell sees it, the wait can be counterproductive. McCardell is the former president of Middlebury College in Vermont.

He's also the leader of the group of college presidents calling for a national debate about the drinking age. Technically, states hold the power to set their own drinking ages. But since the mids, Congress has all but required the age to be set at If states were to set it any lower, they would forfeit 10 percent of their federal highway funds.

McCardell points to surveys showing that upwards of 90 percent of young people have had drinks or gotten drunk before turning Those numbers only confirm what everyone knows--that binge drinking is out of control on college campuses.

Of the current drinking age, McCardell says, "it's pretty hard to argue on the most basic terms that it's been at all successful, given the number who continue to consume. McCardell believes that the current laws not only are ineffective and unenforceable but are in fact leading students to drink more heavily in illicit and unsafe circumstances. The problem, he says, is that underage kids don't actually consider themselves underage.

McCardell believes this is a direct consequence of the mixed messages states send teenagers about responsibility. A half-dozen states have taken McCardell up on the challenge of at least debating the idea of lowering the drinking age. But McCardell is the first to admit that none of them will ever pass legislation as long as a big chunk of their highway dollars is at risk.

In fact, if there's any trend among states, it's to crack down further on drinking by those under age States have created new keg-registration requirements, stepped up enforcement of carding at convenience stores and passed "social host" laws that impose liability on adults who serve alcohol to teens at parties.

Some supporters of holding the drinking age steady acknowledge that 21, when it comes right down to it, is an arbitrary age. Twenty-five might be better, if unrealistic. But they argue that enforcement is a problem at any age, and lowering the legal limit to 18 would only mean pushing the drinking problem further down to and year-olds.

Alexander Wagenaar, a health policy professor at the University of Florida, goes further. He believes that lowering the drinking age would be disastrous. After states set the age at 21, he says, teen highway deaths immediately dropped by 15 to 20 percent.

The debate about drinking hinges on the question of whether the age of responsibility has been set too high. But in the juvenile justice world, a parallel debate has been going on about whether the age of responsibility has been set too low. In the early 20th century, every state created stand-alone legal systems for handling juveniles, defined as those under Advocates of that era described the states as "a sheltering wise parent" that would shield a child from the rigors of criminal law.

By the s, however, the idea that rehabilitating such offenders should be the main goal of the system had lost credibility. Due to a spike in juvenile homicides involving handguns--and concerns that young "superpredators" presented an extreme and growing danger to society--legislators passed countless laws that made it easier to try minors as adults. This was true not only for serious matters such as murder and drug crimes but also for minor infractions and misdemeanors.

Some plea bargains are available to teens only if they agree to adult handling. Specific numbers are hard to come by, but on any given day, an estimated 10, minors are housed in adult facilities. Now, states are just starting to rethink the wisdom of sending year-olds to spend hard time among older, more experienced criminals. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, youths who had previously been tried as adults are 34 percent more likely to commit a crime again than those who went through the juvenile justice system.

Not only do young offenders treated as adults reoffend sooner and more frequently, they're also more likely to go on to commit violent crimes. On this matter, states are finding, nothing is more persuasive than crime data.

Despite all the media attention given years ago to superpredators, the vast majority of youth crimes involve property theft and drugs and seldom involve murder. And while there are still roughly , juveniles tried each year, the rate of crime for this cohort, as measured by arrests, has gone down in each of the past 15 years.

Tough policies toward juveniles remain prevalent, but a few states have begun loosening up. In , Illinois ended its policy of automatically transferring juvenile misdemeanor cases to adult courts, leaving the decision up to judges. A follow-up study found a dramatic drop in the number of cases referred to adult court, suggesting that most of the old automatic transfers had not involved serious crimes.

As of January 1, Connecticut will end its policy of treating all offenders 16 and up as adults. A similar proposal in North Carolina stalled this summer. While the latest research and crime statistics have opened up room for a fresh debate about juvenile justice, that space could evaporate at any time.

There's no telling when a high-profile teen crime may catch the attention of cable news. It's precisely because policy toward teens can be so random and emotionally charged that some people find the discoveries about brain development reassuring.

The brain scans are putting hard science behind what anyone who has raised an adolescent knows--that young people simply aren't always capable of making good decisions. Increasingly, this scientific evidence is being introduced in regard to juvenile justice. In , the U.

Supreme Court struck down the juvenile death penalty after receiving stacks of briefs summarizing the latest adolescent brain research. The justices will surely get an update on the science this fall when they hear a pair of cases from Florida meant to determine whether sentencing juveniles to life without parole constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

Scientists now regularly appear before legislative committees, showing pictures that make clear the developmental differences between a year-old brain and that of a year-old. The scans show, in the words of Temple University psychologist Laurence Steinberg, that juveniles may be "less guilty by reason of adolescence. But while brain research is "sexy," Steinberg says, it hasn't necessarily persuaded legislators that they need to change laws regarding crime and punishment.

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