An abandoned home seen Sept. 30, 2013, in Detroit, is decorated with a piece of fencing and graffiti that declares, “All I ever wanted was a white picket fence.” 

Water is not the only thing that’s becoming hard to come by in Detroit. With joblessness on the rise in a city that has already claimed bankruptcy, squatting—or staking claim to property that has been abandoned or a former owner can no longer afford—is increasing. 

According to an Al-Jazeera news report, 27-year-old John Deboer is living in a house with “no running water [and] no electricity.” Strapped for cash and with no place to go, Deboer describes how he just couldn’t fight the temptation to shack up in his current residence, a two-story house, since it was abandoned and he wouldn’t have to pay mortgage or rent.

“It was almost a commonsense move for me,” Deboer explained.

According to Al-Jazeera, there are two types of squatting situations: individuals, like Deboer, “who have claimed abandoned city-owned property as their own,” and those individuals who once owned their homes but fell behind on mortgage payments, went into foreclosure and never left their residences despite being legally evicted.

A spokesman for the Detroit Land Bank, a public agency tasked with addressing this issue, says that public officials will keep this distinction in mind when assessing each squatting case. “If someone has clearly broken into a home that they have no claim on, or no prior relationship with, we will take steps to evict those people,” Craig Fahle, an employee of the DLB, explained to the news station.


“It’s going to be a different situation for somebody who fell behind on their taxes, especially if they’ve been there for a long time,” he continued. Taking Detroit’s bankruptcy into consideration, Fahle explained that it is the city’s goal to find ways “to keep people in homes they may have lost to foreclosure.”

It is also the city’s goal to restore and return the city’s abandoned and vacant properties to adequate use, especially before some of its squatters live there long enough to legally lay claim to those properties.

On Sept. 24, new state laws will make some acts of squatting a criminal offense.

Read more at Al-Jazeera.