Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : April 23rd 2017 Contents Sunday, April 23, 2017 guardian.co.tt
'Squat lords' preying on the desperate
Mary, 43, is a mother of three,
the eldest of whom is 13 years old.
She works as a security officer and
is a squatter.
Four years ago, Mary was given the
"deal of a lifetime"
. She was offered a
one bedroom wooden house located
at a forested area in East Trinidad for
At the time Mary got that offer she
was renting a one bedroom apartment
with her family for $1,500.
One day at work while Mary was
complaining about her landlord
and her rent being "dead money" a
co-worker told her about a man sell-
ing houses in the hills.
Mary eventually met the man and he
showed her the house and told her the
price. Mary said she was faced with a
"I knew it was technically wrong
because I knew he was squatting on
the land but I had to think of my family
Rent was hell, it was like putting
my money into a black hole. I had an
application for a house with the HDC
(Housing Development Corporation)
for at least ten years with no word from
them and I could not realistically afford
a house at the price they were being
sold," she said.
After days of going and back and
forth mentally, Mary made up her
mind. She took a loan from her credit
union and paid the man.
He provided her with paperwork
from a "bush lawyer" which she knows
cannot legitimately stand any legal due
"Do I regret what I did? No, I don't.
Yes, I know it is technically wrong but
I am not hurting anyone," Mary told
the Sunday Guardian.
She and her family sleep on a single
mattress at night. There is no electrici-
ty or running water. She said she is just
glad to have a roof over her head.
Mary and her three children are
among the 50,000 families estimat-
ed to be squatting in T&T according
to social surveys done by the Land
Settlement Agency (LSA).
It is estimated that some 200,000
people are squatting.
CEO of the LSA Hazar Hosein said
squatting had been "mushrooming"
in this country.
The LSA, an agency of the Ministry
of Housing and Urban Development,
has embarked on a campaign to high-
light the issue and deter people from
engaging in the illegal activity.
Hosein said in the State Land (Regu-
larisation of Tenure) Act in 1998 some
251 squatting sites were listed across
the country. Since then the LSA has
discovered another 100 squatting sites.
The fastest growing squatting pop-
ulation is in Valencia, Hosein said
"We've seen a trend that a lot of
squatting follows the quarries," he said.
While Mary feels her squatting is
not necessarily hurting anyone, Hosein
had a completely different take on the
"The most depressing part is the
destruction of the forest reserves. In
my mind that stands out and that is
something that we have to deal with
immediately because these lands are
considered forest reserves, they are
the scientific reserves they are envi-
ronmentally sensitive areas and that is
the one that hurts the most in terms of
some of these squatting areas," he said.
"If we destroy our forests that has
long term effects on all of us, our entire
population, our rainfall," he said.
Hosein said apart from Valencia,
another significant squatting area in
recent times is Point Fortin.
He lamented the conditions of some
of the squatting sites in the country.
"We want the population to be aware
of some very deplorable conditions
in many squatting sites. No roads, no
drains, no running water, no electricity
and it is families living there, people
living there. So our task is not only to
contain the squatting but to improve
the standard of living in these sites,"
Hosein recalled a time when the LSA
developed some 1000 lots across the
country that were eventually taken
over by squatters. This occurred at
Race Course Road in Arima (Carapo),
Bon Air North (Windy Hill), KP Lands
in Valencia and Pine Settlement in
The loss to the State was calculated
at $2 million.
Another troubling issue, Hosein
said,is the rise of the "squat lords" who
capitalise on people's desperation for
housing and land.
"There is a trend now that you have
a number of persons with resources
who are engaged in this activity. They
are clearing lands, they are selling state
lands, we call them 'squat lords'
While in Mary's case the house was
sold to her, according to statistics 25 per
cent of squatters were "renting" from
people who moved on to state lands
and unlawfully erected structures.
According to reports, at Waterwheel
Road in Diego Martin, a "squat lord"
built an eight-room apartment build-
ing on State land and has been renting
In most instances "squat lords" are
posing as official representatives of the
state and claiming land as their own.
In an attempt to battle all these var-
ious issues with respect to squatting
the LSA has set up a hotline to report
The hotline is 866-1111.
"We are really targeting this cam-
paign, not solely as a means for infor-
mation, but to spur people into action.
Many persons would have seen, or
would see on a daily basis probably,
structures going up on state land and
they know that that is state land.
"We want them to also help the LSA
by reporting. We want people not to
only be encouraged but empowered to
report what they see,"Corporate Com-
munications Manager at the Ministry
of Housing and Urban Development
Dike Noel said.
New twist in T&T's squatting problem
Squatters invading Auzonville Heights
Residents of Auzonville
Heights in Tunapuna saya recent
influx of squatters has brought
increased crime and environ-
mental degradation to their
They say the illegal occupants have
taken over land opposite the hous-
ing development near the Tunapuna
"We are concerned about their
presence and worried about our safe-
ty," one resident, who spoke anony-
mously, told the Sunday Guardian.
"At one time we could not see
beyond the fence because of the
lush landscape thickly populated
with bamboo, mahogany, poui and
immortelle trees, other types of veg-
etation and wildlife."
Another resident said the squat-
ters had cut away approximately 50
to 75 per cent of the vegetation in the
space of a year.
Appeals to the Land Settlement
Agency (LSA), Tunapuna/Piarco
Regional Corporation, Environmen-
tal Management Authority (EMA),
the Ministry of Agriculture's Forestry
Division have so far been futile.
Residents were told by their MP
Esmond Forde that the land taken
over by the squatters wa privately
owned so no government agency
could get involved.
Contacted for comment,chairman
of the Tunapuna/Piarco Regional
Corporation Paul Leacock said the
Commissioner of State Lands was
the person in law authorised to deal
He added, however, that the Cor-
poration stood ready to do its part
once given clearance to deal with
CEO of the Land Settlement
Agency (LSA) Hazar Hosein said
if it was determined that the land
is privately owned the LSA had no
jurisdiction in the matter.
One of the structures that is a cause for concern among residents of Auzonville
Heights in Tunapuna. PHOTO: CHARLES KONG SOO
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