When Jeremiah Kaylor first came across the Versailles-inspired chateau at 3800 Washington St. in tony Presidio Heights, he thought to himself, “This is it. This is my headquarters. This is my Thug Mansion.”
In a jailhouse interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Kaylor explained that he was drawn to the vacant property — currently on the market for $17 million — by rumors that pop star Taylor Swift might buy it. Kaylor allegedly squatted in the property on and off starting in 2014, selling works of art off the walls for cash. He was arrested on Oct. 18 and has been charged with grand theft and trespassing.
“To me, I owned the house,” Kaylor told the Chronicle. Indeed, if he had managed to stay in the property for five years, that declaration might have merit.
In California, trespassers can take “adverse possession” of property after five years of continuous “open and notorious” occupation. If a trespasser maintains a physical residence in an abandoned building for that period of time — and pays property taxes — they can claim legal title.
That’s how Steven DeCaprio, CEO of housing rights group Land Action, came to own his home in West Oakland. DeCaprio’s successful acquisition of the bungalow he calls “Noodle House” made national headlines in 2012.
Adverse possession may be what DeCaprio calls the “holy grail of squatting,” but San Francisco activists have frequently made do with less lengthy stays. According to local activist and author James Tracy, The Diggers and the White Panther Party operated “squat networks” throughout the Fillmore and Haight Ashbury in the 1960s. Starting in the late 1980s, squatting became more political, with activists reclaiming vacant housing for the homeless. In 1992, the late Ted Gullicksen launched Homes Not Jails, which engaged in two different types of squats — one for keeps and one for show.
“Survival squats actually housed people for long periods of time,” Tracy explains. “Agitation squats were essentially civil disobedience where everyone expected to get arrested.”
Agitation squats were revived during the Occupy movement, but despite the more than 6,000 homeless people in San Francisco, the public squatting movement has largely fizzled here.
“With Ted being gone, the big push for political building takeovers has gone,” Tracy says. “He was a big lynchpin of that.”
San Francisco does have a decent stockpile of buildings ripe for the squatting. The Department of Building Inspections requires property owners to register vacant or abandoned buildings, and the list, which is updated quarterly, is a public document.
There are 235 buildings currently registered as vacant with DBI, about half of them in the southeastern quarter of the city. But you didn’t hear that from us.
DBI spokesman William Strawn says that, while the list is subject to San Francisco’s Sunshine Ordinance, the department purposefully doesn’t post it on its website.
“It’s a public record,” Strawn says, “but we don’t want to encourage enterprising folks like this Mr. Kaylor.”