In this economy, there are sprawls of empty structures waiting to be exploited. Why waste $500 or more a month on renting/utilities when you could spend that money on shit you want to spend it on? This little guide can help you locate and secure a home.
Step 1: Selection
First, you need to go property shopping. It must fit a certain criteria..Has it been abandoned for extended lengths of time? Checking real-estate websites, and the overall condition, you can guestimate how long a building has been vacant. The longer, the better. In my hometown, I could take you to 10 different warehouses, garages, hotels, and homes that have been empty for as long as I can remember, and probably always will be. Does the structure in question have nearby neighbors that would perhaps be suspicious of your presence? If so, can you access the structure without them knowing? If not, find a better one! If you're a fan of partying and making noise, choose somewhere rural and/or industrial. A building with heavy concrete walls in an area that is desolate after 7pm, and you're pretty much good to go.
Step 2: Entry
Now that you've found the ideal location, go ahead and invite yourself on a tour of the place. Sometimes broad daylight is preferred, sometimes night time is preferred. Sometimes a mix of both is best. If you look like you belong there during the daytime, nobody will second-guess you. Check for unlocked doors. Check for windows that have been cracked open. Check for easy crawlspace or attic access. If you have access to files, a set of vise grips, and disposed street sweeper bristles, fashion yourself lockpicks. With a medium sized tension wrench and a bogota rake, you can open just about any residential grade lock. Check for any type of damage. There may be a reason the place is abandoned, which can work for or against you. On your way out, leave two methods of entry. A conspicuous entry, and a backdoor.
Step 3: Utilities
If an industrial property, chances are the power and water are still running. However, these can lack the amenities of a residential space. If you want a shower, kitchen, and carpet, this may not be the best choice. Residential areas tend to be a bit more tricky, however. Water is generally shut off to 'winterize' the plumbing to prevent damage to the pipes when the water freezes and expands. The electricity will almost always be deactivated. Fear not, for electricity is not hard to get re-activated.
3a: Hacking a power meter: This is relatively simple. A power meter box has a live feed running into it, with a meter, switch, and a bunch of breaker switches. The box may be locked with a padlock, but is more often than not just protected by a thin tamper proof wire that can be cut off with a simple pair of needle nose pliers. To remove this is no biggie. To remove it without showing signs of tampering is damn near impossible. Nonetheless, once you have access to the power box, you will see 4 terminals. One will be connected to the side of the power box, one will be connected to the rear of the meter, and two will be connected, to the middle of the meter, usually side-by side. By running a jumper wire between these two, you effectively bypass the meter and switching mechanism, and give juice to the house! Not just any jumper will work. It needs to be very heavy cable. A heavy vehicle jumper or battery cable can suffice. Be very very careful here. If power still isn't working after jumping, make sure all the breakers are set to the on position.
3b: Hacking water: There will be one of two possibilities. Either the house will have it's own well, or the house will be on city water. If on a well, it's quite likely the water will come back on when electricity is supplied. If not, or if one is on city water, a valve will have to be turned somewhere. This will likely be around the vicinity of the house, typically in a small box embedded in the ground with a green or bluish lid. If turning those valves does not get water running, you may have to locate the pump, and make sure the power breaker to it is switched on. If on city water, it may involve popping open a manhole cover and turning a valve there. I personally recommend you find a place with it's own well, to avoid the city from noticing the unapproved water usage.
Step 4: Response Test
At this point, you have a property, utilities activated, and you're probably antsy to move in. It is a good idea to take precautions. Leave a few lights on in the house, and come back a week later. If the lights are still on, chances are nobody gives a shit, and you're free to move in.
Step 5: Stake a claim
Now that you have found a nice serene home, it's time to establish it as yours. Remove any real-estate sign from the yard to quell the curiousity of passers-by. During the daytime, you may wish to do some landscaping. Remove weeds, pick up garbage, trim the lawn if you can find a mower. For added security, change the locks on the house. One can purchase a set of 2 deadbolts for under $30. This way you have a key to your own home, and real estate agents/ex-residents cannot access it at will. You might even decide to intentionally vandalize the home. Rip siding boards off the front. Put a piece of plywood over a window. Run the garden hose under the sidewalk to wash it out, and smash it in. Make it look dalapidated on the outside, to scare off any potential renters/homebuyers. Water damage especially is a great way to scare people off. Water damage causes nasty things like loss of structural integrity, toxic mold, etc.
Step 6: Don't get too comfortable.
You may live there for 10 years. You may live there for 5 days. Always be aware who is aware of you, if anyone. Be careful who you invite over. Keep in mind you have far less rights as a squatter. But by all means, do get furnishings. For the amount of money you save on utilities/rent, this will be quite affordable. The better your initial selection, the better your chances of going undisturbed.