Squatting in Amsterdam

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Daneel Bouden

Squatting is (besides lowering your backside between your ankles) entering a premise without the owner’s permission for habitation, iow, you move into someone else’s place without asking him and feel fine about it. Of course, the said premise has to be unoccupied and preferably for a considerable time, like a year or so. Until recently, that was how things were. However, do you feel it coming? In October first 2010, the Dutch government declared the practice illegal and punishable to one-year imprisonment. If acts of violence were committed during either the entering or the evacuation of the premises, the sentence might be increased to a maximum of two years imprisonment.

It doesn’t necessarily need to be a house or apartment; it can also be an¬†office, church, caravan, boat or just a piece of land you camp on.

Squatting was permitted under Dutch law until last year October if the premise or object had been unoccupied for at least a year. Our new law has put an end to that.

The Dutch Squatters movement
It started in 1964, the redevelopment of a neighbourhood called Kattenburg is on the table. According to the then responsible city officials, the houses and apartments were no longer suitable to live in. They had to be demolished, but as that didn’t seem to be happening anytime soon, local students looking for housing decide to move in.
It wasn’t until 1975, however that thing started to escalate. Amsterdam was to have its own metro or subway and houses, and its occupants had to pay the price; the houses were to be demolished and their occupants evicted. Provo’s (the Amsterdam forerunners of the hippies) started a campaign by way of an originally subsidized periodical to resist the expulsion of the occupants and the demolition of the houses. Actually, that doesn’t sound all that bad; the truth is, however, things were soon to get worse.

On the day the demolition was to occur, action groups and sympathizers tried their utmost to prevent this from taking place. They were unsuccessful; police managed to enter the premises. All furniture and belongings of tenants were thrown out of the window and later deposited into one of Amsterdam famous nearby canals. The people involved were extreme anger and frustration; aided by excitement seekers, they sought the confrontation with the ever so present riot police. Twenty people, including police officers, were hospitalized that day; the riots continued until the early hours of the night.

The government decided this anarchy had to stop; touch love was needed; they cleared out a property near Vondelpark with excessive force. The battle got ugly, and tanks were brought into the fray. And like today, Muammar Gaddafi is not allowed to use tanks against his citizens, so this also did not go down well on the evening news. These squatters were someone’s kids, and often, as was in the case of the hippies, they were the offspring of the well to do and influential. The Netherlands had a longstanding housing shortage, and the “people” wanted it addressed. If you owned property and you wouldn’t let it out, then someone in need was perfectly within his rights to move in, so it was thought.
Of course, the establishment disagreed, but the philosophy behind the right to squat was born.

The Queen and her coronation
On the 30th of April 1980, our dear Queen Beatrice was upon the abdication of her mother Juliana, crowned Queen of The Netherlands. Coronations and royal weddings usually take place in Amsterdam, and they are never without their incidents. The squatter’s movement had decided that this was the day to fight their toughest battle yet. With all the security being present, they didn’t have to look far to find the enemy; they had prepared smoke bombs spiked with rocks and turned half the town into a battlefield with smoke rising all over the city centre. The Queen was not amused and for several years rarely visited the capital. Actually, no one was amused; most folks thought the action by squatters aided by republicans in bad taste. The squatters lost a lot of followers and sympathy that day. They had made a critical error; they had lost the goodwill of the Dutch people forever.

A civil procedure
So why the change in the law? For several reasons, for one, Amsterdam is changing, The Netherlands is changing, and indeed, the world is changing. Politics have shifted to the right in the Netherlands; easygoing socialism is on its return, and decency and the rule of law are on their way back. Now, the Amsterdam town council wasn’t all in favour of the new rule; they foresaw many problems. But the squatters movement isn’t what it was anymore; they can no longer muster the support they once had; the city decided not to fight the government on this and buckled under. Now where the coffeeshops were concerned, another thorn in the side of our new conservative government, the city did manage to obtain an exception from also new legislation being brought in. The new rules also brought in last year on this issue make it difficult for tourists to obtain their hash or marijuana. Another reason for the alteration of the law was the inability of the police to intervene without a court order; if you, as an owner, wanted your property cleared of squatters, you needed a court order from a judge before the police could get into action. Nothing was stopping the squatters from moving right back in the next day. Especially that last little tidbit was what irked the crap out of our lawmakers. So hence the change of law.

And so it began, the new law was put to the test, at the beginning of November, the powers that be decided to clear a few premises of its obnoxious squatters. And guess what, the new law seemed to conflict with European legislation on the subject. Europe says that evicting an occupant from his house without a court order is an infringement of the law and the occupant’s rights.
Apparently, when you break into a property, you trespass and violate the law. But once you’ve moved in, you are no longer a trespasser but an occupant. Some lawmaker had not done their homework properly. Sloppy job, dude! So a property owner still needs a court order to get his annoying tenants out of his property.

Tenantlessness should be addressed.
What a word, tenantlessness; what we mean by that is that property owners who prefer to have their properties stand empty rather than letting them out should be penalized in some way. I mean that if you own houses and you refuse to let them out to those who need a roof over their heads, as far as we are concerned, if squatters decide to occupy your property, they have our blessing. On the other hand, if you’re trying to sell your house and squatters decide to move in, that’s another story.
That’s not what squatting should be about, and I don’t think that’s what squatters want either.

This is one of Amsterdam’s most well known squat houses. Situated in the Spuistraat not far from Dam square, it is used to live and work in place and included a pub. The city turned a blind eye to life and worked a place and includes.
After a customer was thrown out and fell and hurt himself, the city decided that was the excuse it needed to close the pub. People regularly get thrown out of pubs and hurt themselves in the process, but that’s usually not sufficient of a reason to close the place down. To do that, someone must have used or displayed a weapon, preferably a firearm.

Frankrijk fulfils a certain need among the squat movement. Each week they hold a consultation hour, and the pub really wasn’t all that bad a place to hang out. They also have a concert hall which provides alternative forms of music and art. In 1992 the squatters managed to avoid eviction by actually buying the property. On the last note, I’d like to say that squatting wasn’t always about money; many offered to pay rent to the property’s rightful owners.