How to start a squat

It’s possible to live rent-free in Sydney: just find somewhere with an ‘open’ door.

Art by Ellie Stephenson

If you’re looking to move out of home or already have, you’ve probably opened D*main or R* and gawked at housing prices. Indeed, Sydney’s housing market is among the most expensive globally, and median house prices have increased by a third over the previous year. Of course, some of that increase will translate to rent. 

But honestly, fuck that. Here’s how to put a roof over your head without paying some rich cunt’s mortgage. This is how to set up a squat.

Step One: Understanding the legal implications

In NSW, several aspects of the squatting process are illegal. Under the Inclosed Land Protection Act, it is illegal to enter “into inclosed lands without the consent of the owner, occupier or person apparently in charge of those lands” or to remain “on those lands after being requested by the owner, occupier or person apparently in charge of those lands to leave those lands”. If you are seriously considering a squat, you should familiarise yourself with the relevant legislation (including the above).

Step Two: Choosing your new home

Despite the record low vacancy rates of Sydney rentals, finding an empty building is relatively straightforward. Think of how depressingly empty Parramatta Road is. I’ll eat my shoes if some of those lots ever get filled. To spy a vacated building, walk around the suburbs looking for overgrown gardens, overflowing mailboxes, and broken windows. Ask the locals if the place is empty; say it’s for a geography project. Or just be honest with the neighbours — if they understand your plight, they’ll be less likely to snitch. It’s also worth checking if it’s listed online for sale or rent (and for how long) to gauge if it will stay vacant. 

Step Three: Finding out who owns it

Screwing someone over is nicer when you know their name. But more importantly, the owner is the only person who can legally get you to leave, whether directly or via the police. To identify this motherfucker, search the letterbox for mail addressed to the landlord. If all else fails, check the NSW Land Registry Services website or visit in person at 175 Liverpool St. Then, politely request the Deposited Plan number and the listed owner. From here, assess how likely the landlord will be to notice and/or evict you. If the owner has a fragile public image, they might not want delinquents occupying their property. You can also take the information to the local council to see if there has been a development approval.

Step Four: ‘Walking in’

This is usually easy but could be where you get busted. Breaking and entering is a crime, so be subtle. Wear some overalls and find your way inside during the day; people are more suspicious when things go bump in the night. Check windows, doors, skylights, and paths made by previous squatters. Watch a video on how to dislodge windows and doors. Either way, you’ll probably need a crowbar, screwdriver, and at least one other person. You can pull away a few tiles to enter from on high for tile-roof buildings. If you have to break a window, clean up and repair it ASAP because it constitutes evidence of the ‘breaking’ in breaking and entering. Crucially, if the police show up, give them nothing but your name until you get legal advice.

Step Five: Securing your home

Congratulations, you’re in! Now it’s time to change the locks. You can just replace the barrel at your local Bunnings for something like a Lockwood. It might also be a good time to pick up anything else you’ll need for repairs and a large data plan to stream all the DIY videos you’re about to watch. Check for broken copper and PVC pipes or leaky taps and roofing. In the first few weeks, you’ll want to work on this with others to be safe. If the police or owner rock up, tell them the door was open; never admit you broke in. This is why you repaired that window earlier.

Step Six: Electricity, gas, water, internet

If the connections are still intact, these cannot be legally denied to you (except maybe the internet). Many service providers will probably make acquiring these services frustrating, so stay polite but assertive. You might have to spin some sob story about why you need electricity or gas if they ask for a lease (which you clearly don’t have). Consider: I have COVID-19, and I can’t collect it from my old house where it’s stored. Open the water mains at the front of the property if you can. Call Sydney Water to set up an account if this doesn’t work. The internet might be a little harder to connect, depending on when the property was abandoned. I’d recommend a 4G or 5G modem since they can be set up anywhere.

Step Seven: Enjoy

Squatting grants a level of autonomy rarely seen by non-homeowners. Make the place yours, but be prepared for eviction. But remember, if it’s not the landlord, their authorised henchmen, or police with their direct orders, you can tell them to get fucked. 

So, go forth and assert your right to the city. There’s nothing you can take that’s worth more than the commons that have already been stolen.