Why do squatters get to stay so long in university property?

Melbourne readers will probably have heard of a long-running occupation by squatters of Melbourne University-owned terrace houses in Carlton (disclosure: some of my colleagues have been involved in this issue, but I have not). The squatters call themselves the Student Housing Action Collective, and have rested their case for staying partly on the ‘homelessness’ caused by a very tight inner Melbourne rental market.

What’s interesting about this case, I think, are the assumptions it reveals about the relationship between universities and their students. Legally, this looks like a straightforward trespass case. Many of us would like to live in a Faraday St terrace house, but none of us have the right to do so without the landlord’s permission, and we would quickly be thrown out if we tried to move in. But in this case, the squatting has dragged on for many months.

Every party to this dispute has been acting as if the normal rules do not apply. The squatter-activists (the squativists?) correctly judged that the University would not just throw them out. The University has been negotiating with the squatters despite its strong legal case against them. The media has been reporting the story as if the squatters have a case for staying.

In an Age op-ed this morning, housing lawyer Chris Povey put his finger on the underlying assumption:

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