Usurpation of Property and Justification of this Crime: Real Cases in Big Cities

· Law



This article, recently published in Spanish, will consider the presence of certain crimes or misdemeanors in a various large cities, although the impetus for our writing depends upon one only.  Politically and economically, it will be sustained that some crimes seem to benefit both certain businesses and wll as politicians.  When, in the opinion of the present author, the particular benefit is obvious, time will not be wasted on details.


The article does not intend to be a diatribe of a political or social nature.  We do not, herein, fight for human rights – we are interested principally in facts.  If someone cares to expand upon these to include our missing topic, certainly that person will be, at least subjectively, more competent than the present author.  Additionally, any sentence herein of the nature that X is responsible for Y should not be taken as any kind of accusation: we hope that the association between the two variable is self-evident.


For example, it is stated that young men, perhaps between the age of 15 and 24 are responsible for the majority of crimes in the United States.  Por ejemplo, se dice que los jóvenes varones entre quizás 15 y 24 son responsables de la mayoría de los delitos en los Estados Unidos. (Steffensmeier & Harer, 1987, 1999, cited in  Jeffrey T. Ulmer &   Darrell Steffenssmeier, The Age and Crime Relationship, Social Variation, Social Explanations, en p. 378. )  This is merely a statistic, and as far as the present author is concerned, the practice of detaining members of a group on the basis of profiling is not just.  There are enough real crimes that competent authority ignores (although this accusation may not be valid in areas with zero tolerance for crime).  Methods should exist which can detect, for example, the possession of something not authorized, without pestering an individual into having a negative image of authority.  When those methods do not presently exist, they surely will.  These will be ideas based on, but improved upon, of those used in airport security.  For example, the equivalent of a black box in one’s care, supposedly something already on the way, should eliminate any discussion with police on the question of whether one was speeding.


Turning now to the question of crime in the city, we will start with those areas which lack the required level of security.

This securtiy can be considered from various points of view – economic, health, (both from the point of view of disease and points which may result in accidents), or the security to one’s property of life.


Let us consider labor security.  This is applicable to the risky zones just mentioned, as work will or may take place in the public areas thereof, although our examples could be considered as merely applicable to substandard work-places in such a region.  By way of example, it has been mentioned that after World War Two, the German auto factories had no safety features (or at least, few).  While this may be because of the interest of the owners in maximizing their profits, one must consider that after so many years of war, no money was left.  After battling the Allies, working in industry was probably relatively safer   At the same time, industry probably continued thinking in terms of a national-socialist slogan found on postage envelopes of the time, Deine eigener Vorsicht – die Beste Versicherung, that is, Your own attention, (to danger) is the best insurance, but probably better translated idiomatically as “Carefulness is the best insurance”


PIC (pending)


Allowing certain regions of big cities (here we are speaking of countries with lesser development) to be without running water, sewage systems, and security is perhaps a method by which city administrators cheaply advise the general population not to enter such slums.  In some countries, real horror stories exist about these, such as the high incidence of abuse of various types, and the danger of entering or even going nearby.  When not murdered, at least one will leave the area with fewer possessions.  We have read of bridges where the delinquents charge for the privilege of crossing, at the risk of being tossed into the river.  But the problem exists even in rich countries.  We have heard of zones in Germany, where the police fear to enter.1  This writer, conditioned by LIFE magazine, when he left his small rural district in Canada to go to university, upon exploring the city of his new residence, felt highly uncomfortable in some areas.  It was not just him.  Certain residents complained about a Barton Street, home to many industries, but also a no-longer existing 18th Century structure, the Barton Street jail, much smaller than San Quentin, but perhaps even less cosy.  In the Toronto equivalent, the Don Street jail, drunks were allowed to sleep it off in cells to small for their bodies (at least in some cases).  The accusation has been made that the guards might push a prisoner so that the latter falls down the stairs.  The habit is to believe such guards, when the claim is made that the prisoner had an accident.  (From what I have heard from a personel manager about workers in a factory, it is also possible that an attempt was being made to frame the guard).


The above has been mentioned to give some context.  Either it was read in a newspaper, or heard on the radio, that the city in which the present author lived around 1980, was worried about the security on that Barton Street.  In an example of  “spin-doctoring” at a time when the expression was probably not yet in existence, the mayor decided to show the populace that it was mistaken about the danger.  One night, he walked up Barton, and informed the public that he noticed no danger whatsoever.  Ahem!  This writer too, because of his work, transited the street often enough, and suffered no repercussions, … while those who were sufficiently attentive to the mayor’s slumming, noted that he had police protection.


(What was more dangerous was City Hall, which one had a marble slab fall off.  Fortunately, there were no victims.)


When one considers the case of the German city where the police do not enter the dangerous neighborhoods, one might attribute the reason for this to the cowardice of the authorities.  However, both in matters of police and health, one might guess that in the best of cases, the true cause is simple  negligence of the poorer areas; or, in the worst case, that this is a deliberate attempt to shorten the life-span of its inhabitants.  The best proof of this might be the implications of a video by the Armed Forces of the United States which predicts that the mission of soldiers in the future will be to fight in cities of the Third World.  Those who read or watch the news regularly will have noted that in some countries, this situation is already being played out, often by soldiers belonging to the very country which is at war.


In addition to what has just been mentioned, there are buildings in zones which are of themselves respectable, but become occupied illegally by addicts.  Once this happened in the city of Toronto in the 60s or 70s in an unfinished construction.  It was full of garbage, roaches, and rats, and several years passed before a successful police action finally cleared out the building in 1975.  As in the German city, it was not a case to be handled by one or two occupants of a patrol car.2


For several years now, there has existed a “broken windows theory”, which states that the presence of a shattered pane will invite vandals to break even more.  This is applied to any type of undesirable situation, such as garbage in the streets, abandoned cars, or graffiti.  At least two of these situations are found in this author’s present street of residence.  Sometimes, it must be admitted, the city paints over the graffiti, but it is remiss in removing abandoned cars.  Removing illegally parked vehicles, though, is another matter, since a hefty fine can be collected from their owners.  Why worry about a car as dead as its former driver?


Perhaps this broken-window theory can be applied in a general way to all a city’s neighborhoods which are abandoned to their fate.  Except when the political will exist, no improvements will be made.  The political right would prefer to tear down everything and put something modern in its place (unless the old buildings are of architecture significance and can be refurbished for a more genteel public).  The left will try to make some minimal improvements, for the sake of the same thing that the right wants – votes.


Now that we have given a description of some general cases, we com to something more specific, the illegally-occupied buildings.


Profiting from Usurped Property


Let us imagine an abandoned building.  It need not be in bad condition.  Perhaps the owner died intestate, – or the owners are on vacation.  Meanwhile, someone takes notice, manages to open the door, and if the place is sufficiently large, decides to profit therefrom (otherwise, it is for one’s own use).  If convenient to do so, rooms are subdivided, or added.  An advert is placed in the newspapers, on the Internet, or on a sign in front of the building.  The news renters or owners arrive.


This author has seen such buildings occupied illegally for more than 10 years.  He had heard, that two such buildings, presently beside to new apartment towers, were to be destroyed after having their occupants removed.  This was to take place in little time, but such was not the case.  One has new paint, the other is as ugly as ever.  Supposedly their dwellers obtain a stay of eviction for one reason or another, such as the presence of minors.


The author is not convinced that such stays are justified.  The city has demonstrations with women accompanied by children and babies, which largely come from such buildings.  In both cases, this helps protect the men who are usually leading the fight.  This should be considered as an act of terrorism, just as in the case where Saddam Hussein was accused of using a similar tactic as a human shield.  Perhaps the accusation is an exaggeration, but the comparison does seem to have some merit.  As a successful means to avoid eviction, it seems to have become a legal precedent to be used time and again.


Obviously, in the case of an owner who died intestate, there is much less harm done.  Nevertheless, the neighbors can be affected, and as a result, indirectly, the entire city, when one thinks about the opinion that tourists will have, for example.


Let us now speculate on what the new, illegal owner of a larger building can accomplish.  He will connect water, natural gas, and electricity, and pay all the municipal taxes.  We take it that on the provincial and federal level, these will be scrupulously avoided.  How many winners does this situation create?


The illegal owner gains the most.


Those who found a place to live compose the largest group.


The power company wins.


The natural gas company wins.


TV and Internet cable, and telephone companies get new clients.


The city wins by getting property taxes from the building, and indirectly, by the taxes it gets from the service providers to the occupants of that building.


Taking as an example the city in which I live, if one multiplies the number of illegally occupied buildings – let us take that to be one per block – it would seem to me that the municipal coffers could easily obtain 5 % more.  This calculation if based upon 40 units per block (none taller than three stories, excepting the apartment buildings on some corners – which tend not to be taken over).  But the gains to be made are even greater, since the people who occupy such properties tend to be wasteful, and treat the building shabbily, often requiring special services to fix things up.


Therefore, in an almost perfect world, no good reason exists to expel the occupants, until the appearance of city zoning laws, or of an investor opportunity to maximize profit by replacing the structure,


Property Usurped during the Owner’s Vacation


This scenario is one that may not take place in the First World, but those who have another home in the Third World should investigate what dangers might threaten a real estate investment in such a place.  We do not care to mention any specific country, as laws are in flux at all times.


Should one return to one’s home after a period of absence, and find it illegally occupied, the speed at which it can be recovered depend on the laws in force at the time.  The author knows of the case of a woman who worked at some court, who returned to find her apartment taken over.  She and her son were obliged to live in a cheap motel-quality hotel for some time.


Several years later, it was said that the speed of effecting the removal of illegal occupants had been sped up.  The present author has the experience of seeing no proof to this claim.  A warning to leave within a week, or to meet with forcible eviction is met with weeks of nothing, promises of solving the situation before Christmas, followed by another warning to leave with four weeks (which doubtfully will not happen, as an effect of the holidays).


In such a case, unless one can oblige the companies involved to cut the gas, electricity and water, the only loser is the owner.  It is even possible that he or she loses twice, on account of the surcharge for reconnecting these services.


Usurpation of Public Lands


It may be imagined that a city can and will act quickly if one of its own buildings is illegally occupied.  Slightly more difficult is the case of the illegal occupation of public lands.  In the United States, Federal authorities have taken action against ranchers (or at least one) accused of grazing on public lands. That confiscation of land or buildings would be swift when a public school or expressway is to be built can be taken as reasonably self-evident, although I have seen a picture in a magazine of a woman who held on to her property in China.  Her house ended up in the center of a pit mine.  How shopping was done, etc., was not explained.   Another case of rapid eviction on public lands is known to the author, but will not be mentioned, for we do not want to mention the country or city in this particular article.


With Corruption, Everyone Wins!


This part of the article, most closely related with events touching the author, is deliberately left obscure as to place and names.


Imagine a building illegally taken, and that its delinquent population shares its gains with those who have the responsibility of evicting the former.


There is, in additon to the broken windows theory, the Parable of the Broken Window, which refers to the “window” of the theory mentioned previously as an opportunity for the economy, in the sense that it will create work.  It is applied particularly to places gutted by fire, ruined by riot or war, and the like.  The trouble with this argument,  is that it requires, on the social level, something like post-World War II’s Marshall Plan, which helped rebuild parts of Europe. In that sense, it is a make-work program, such as those which existed in the post-Depression New Deal.  It is, in this author’s view, an extension of Keynesian economics: one must spent to keep the economy going with low unemployment, and high consumption forcing production.


This can be applied to the building taken over illegally.  If concrete is needed, it benefits the chains of suppliers for sand (a product becoming expensive) and cement; glass-makers, glaziers, carpenters, metal-workers, installers, electricians, and a host of others, sometimes on a lesser scale, such as paint factories, and consequently, painters, pest control, etc.


In a situation such as this, the illegal occupier harms the economy of his victim, but if he keeps the money stolen, robbed, extorted, or otherwise unlawfully gained, and uses it in the purchase of products, he will hardly have put a dent into the overall economy.  The same cannot be said for those who obtain their money and deposit it in a tax haven.  Of course, the moral (not the legal) guilt of the latter must be judged from the point of view of how the money was generated, and to what degree the State actually can have a just claim on those monies.


This brings to mind the fable of a robber who sees a tax-collector come down the road with a bag full of coins.  When he peers inside the bag, and sees all the gold, he admires the tax-collector for being the better thief. [Mentioned in D. F. Hudson, New Testament Greek, Hodder and Stoughton (Teach Yourself Books), 1960, p. 28].  Some reflection of the State’s actions in this regard can be seen on the author’s web page under the title ‘Hidden Meanings in “Publish or Perish”’


At any rate, we have the type of corruption which anyone can recognize, and there are other types which are defined by international law, but which would not have been considered as such in within a particular nation.  The question of when a gift should be considered a bribe, if applied to family relationships, might well make the majority of marriages illegal, through bride-price, dowry, and even pre-nuptial agreements. On a lesser level, is the husband who brings flowers to his offended wife bribing her in addition to whatever his original offensive deed was?




The building which is illegally occupied might be well administered and without victims other than the owner.  Perhaps management is bad, but not too much.  The corruption which exists may be only on account of a legal definition.  Under these conditions, we might say that all win.


We can have a situation in which the owner is harmed.  When the justice system does not act with the required rapidity, even though the slow wheels of justice move in accordance with procedure, we feel that these laws tend towards corruption under the cloak of their own justification as law.


What is hard to understand is how a police office can insist on a vagrant leaving a bench in a plaza at eight in the morning on a workday, with almost all benches vacant, but the forces of the law are incapable of evicting people who have taken over a building with the use of weapons.  However much there may be a city ordinance against vagrancy, so much more should there be a firm law in place to allow rapid action in the case such as we have just described.


Needless to say, if such a building is managed with the corruption we are here defining as the immoral kind, whether that corruption be internal or external to the property, there are victims, – although, whenever the money involved is not funneled to a safety-deposit box, the inside of a hollow brick, or a tax-haven, it would seem that the situation matters not a tinker’s damn to the powers-that-be, on account of the economic benefits accrued.  Perhaps a percentage is returned to the victims through political largesse – accompanied by some soothing words, this may be well received.


If anyone is capable of recovering his property rapidly, it will only be those who either have the political clout, or the favor of those who govern.


We will close with some further, more precise details as to how this has affected the present author.


By definition of the requirements for reporting to the local police, the author cannot do so.  Nevertheless, he tried. His legal incapacity was not discovered at the police station, which allowed discovery of the following:


The first police to hear of the tale did not know what to do regarding this situation: the author was locked out by a heavy chain on the outer door (of an old type, with a metal grill).  This chain was put there by the “committee” which organized the first of two takeovers.


The next officer first suggested that the author was part of a “conspiracy”, without having asked about the details. He affirmed that the author lived in a house without an owner, an illegally-occupied building by extension – was that not what I was implicitly reporting?


The author disagreed, explaining that he had been with the owner or his heirs since 1995.


The officer changed the tune to suggest that the chain had been put there by the owners. (Now the building does have an owner!)  This would not explain against whom the chain had been put.


Finally, it was suggested that the owner’s name could be checked at a certain government office.  Could he not himself have verified and given this information?


December 25, 2018.


© 2018, Paul Karl Moeller


Notes and References

Note: References for Toronto were added December 27, 2018; and those for German cities were added the following day.

1. The following 3 references are in German, a translation of the title is proviced in brackets:

JR/mit DPA, “No-Go-Areas in Deutschland: In diese Viertel traut sich selbst die Polizei nicht” (No-Go-Areas in German: in these Neighbourhoods, the Police do not Trust Themselves), 22.08.2015, FOCUS Online,

Andreas Kopietz,  “Die 23 unsichersten Orte der Stadt Wo Berlin gefährlich ist”, (The 23 unsafest Places of the City where Berlin is Dangerous, or more idiomatically, The 23 dangerous areas of Berlin), ist  14.01.16, Berliner Zeitung,

Stefan Sauer, “Wo sich die Polizei nicht hintraut”, (Where the Police Do not Trust Themselves to Tread),  07.10.2016, Weser Kurier,,-Wo-sich-die-Polizei-nicht-hintraut-_arid,1471238.html

2. This refers specifically to an 18 storey building called Rochdale College.  The first two of the following sources are illustrated:

Janice Bradbeer, “Once Upon A City: Rochdale College and the hippie dream”,  Apr. 6, 2017, (Toronto),

Don Grant, “In Pictures: Rochdale College, Toronto’s hippie heart”, Nov. 8, 2013/May 11, 2018, The Globe and Mail,, article: []


The following pages mention the hippy culture in Toronto of the time, Rochdale College is mentioned in passing. Although the first of these presents an abstract in French, the accompanying article is in English.

Stuart Henderson, “Toronto’s Hippie Disease: End Days in the Yorkville Scene, August 1968″, Journal of the Canadian Historical Association, Vol. 17, No. 1, 2006, preferred citation form:

Henderson, S. (2006). Toronto’s Hippie Disease: End Days in the Yorkville Scene, August 1968. Journal of the Canadian Historical Association, 17(1), 205–234.

Stuart Henderson, “Toronto’s hippie disease – The fall of Yorkville”, (special to the Toronto Star, May 6, 2006) found in, > forum > threads > []

Stuat Robert Henderson; “MAKING THE SCENE: Yorkville and Hip Toronto, 1960-1970 “, PhD Thesis, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada, October 2007.

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