JULY 4 2018: Four squatters occupy a manor house in Wassenaar, marking the beginning of a contentious and widely publicized four-year saga at Huize Ivicke.
Huize Ivicke in Wassenaar, seen from the South side of its grounds. Credit: Bea Penteado Rodrigues
Huize Ivicke is a manor house built in 1910 in Old Wassenaar: a quiet, wealthy neighbourhood located between Leiden and the Hague. Walking down the streets, one can’t help but feel like they are wandering among an oasis for the modern-day aristocracy.
Huize Ivicke has long been appreciated for its Rococo style and received Dutch national monument status in 1967.
Retrieved at Historische Vereniging Oud Wassenaer.
Courtesy of Anonomyous Squatter
Fast forward to the 2010s, the reputation of the property had transformed. It had become known as a ‘haunted house’. Left vacant for nearly two decades, it was in a state of alarming decay and on the verge of being condemned when the squatters made their entry.
Over the next four years, this property would become the epicenter of a major showdown full of cultural, political, and economic clashes.
When the squatters cross the threshold of Huize Ivicke in 2018, they are confronted with blatant neglect. Windows are missing panes of glass and have been haphazardly boarded up. Piles of butterfly wings litter the floor in odd places. A burnt chair stands in the hall as an enigmatic centrepiece.
Courtesy of @Ivickejustice (Twitter)
Credit: Stephanie Duarte-Pedrosa
Courtesy of Hansphoto
The squatters know that these first 24 hours will be paramount if they want to successfully make Huize Ivicke their home. Their primary goal is to be granted ‘huisvrede,’ or domestic peace, which prevents police from entering or evicting inhabitants without a court order. To do this, they must prove to the police that they have been living in the house for a set amount of time which varies between municipalities.
The squatters come prepared. They bring mattresses, sleeping bags, wine, cards, and maybe most importantly: a Twitter account. In this digital age, ‘huisvrede’ can be gained with the help of some images strategically posted on social media. The @ivickejustice twitter account intentionally portrays the squatters doing homely things such as sleeping, eating, and playing games to prove their right to ‘huisvrede’.
Hier spelen we bordspellennn pic.twitter.com/6TSVojdmuJ
— Ivicke justice (@ivickejustice) July 5, 2018
Squatting was criminalized a decade ago in 2010, but the case of Huize Ivicke exemplifies that the practice of squatting still exists in the Netherlands. The responsibility to enforce the squatting ban lies with the municipalities. So how come that in such a wealthy and traditional neighbourhood, the municipality of Wassenaar was willing to tolerate squatters whose political agenda in seemingly every other context would cause conflict?
Initially, the municipality seems relieved to have the house no longer vacant. Two years before the house got squatted, the municipality of Wassenaar had started pressuring the landowner, Ronnie van de Putte, into fulfilling his obligation to maintain the monumental building. In August 2016, he received a formal letter of concern which requested him to submit a plan for how he would care for the property. Two months later, he received an official notice: he would face penalties if he failed to complete the overdue maintenance by September 2018 the latest.
Ronnie van de Putte has a notoriety that extends far beyond the property boundaries of Huize Ivicke. Known as the ‘Krottenkonig’, or Slum King, his reputation for intentionally neglecting monumental properties for profit has been widely reported in the Dutch press. Karel Loeff, director of the ‘Erfgoedvereniging Heemschut’, which is the largest monument heritage association in the Netherlands, referred to this strategy as the “Belgian Method”.
The Belgian method:
Van de Putte’s modus operandi
“They’ve got time. They’ve got money. They’ve got the property.”
What is it?
Van de Putte is a Belgian investor who operates through Bever Holding and its various subsidiaries in the Netherlands and Belgium. He repeatedly claims to have plans for the buildings, but then fails to produce the proposals, according to reports in several Dutch papers. Critics argue that these false promises are merely tactics to buy more time.
In Belgium, he owned a castle that inexplicably experienced multiple suspicious fires.
How could this method be profitable?
The value of the land and its location are significant factors. When purchasing a monument with usage restrictions, there are limited opportunities for development. However, neglecting the structure until if has to be demolished makes way for the construction of a new building that holds greater economic value. Van de Putte is then able to sell this vacant property to developers at a profit.
Relative to the landowner, the squatters initially seem to be considered the lesser of two evils. They enjoy a relatively peaceful and unchallenged first year in the house, a quasi honeymoon phase. They were seen as caregivers of the house and had a surprisingly cordial relationship with the municipality and neighbours.
A neighbour, who lives down the street, tells that seeing such a beautiful house being occupied made him happy. Major newspapers even referred to the squatters as opknappers, or fixer-uppers, a significant divergence from squatter’s typical characterization by mainstream media. These typically oppositional groups were united in wanting a better reality for the house.
For their first months in the house, the squatters’ top priority was to simply make the house livable again. This meant stopping further decay. For instance, one of the squatters taught herself how to replace the missing panes in the windows, while being a full-time student at Leiden.
Courtesy of @ivickejustice (Twiiter)
Courtesy of Hansphoto
By the end of the first summer, the reputation of Ivicke quickly changed from that of a haunted house to that of a cultural hub for the wider fringe-culture community. They had a beautiful property and felt it was important that they share its beauty with others.
Courtesy of Hanphoto
The first sign of friction occurred in the beginning of 2019 when Van de Putte asked the municipality to evict the squatters, arguing that on the basis of the zoning plan, the house is designated as an office – not a residence. The municipality did not comply.
Forward to the summer of 2019. The situation around Huize Ivicke took a turn when things get political. In the beginning of August, the squat was set to host the annual No Borders Camp. For four days, its grounds would be full of international asylum activists protesting the Dutch migration policies. This is an annual festival. Typically, they temporarily squat their own land. That year, enamoured by the impressive grounds of Ivicke, the camp organizers, asked to be hosted by the squat.
Poster courtesy of Huize Ivicke Autonoom
Typically events of this size would require a formal permit from the municipality, but that is only if they are considered events. However, the No Borders Camp was a political demonstration. According to the constitution, formal permission from the authorities is not required as long as the demonstration is declared in advance and general safety is maintained. So while the municipality was aware of the camp, they did not have the authority to stop it.
However, Van de Putte was adamant that this festival would not take place at Huize Ivicke. Up to this point, the squatters had experienced minimal contact with him. One of the initial squatters believes he did not like seeing his property associated with a radical political agenda. This camp acted as a catalyst in his involvement against the squatters. Municipal records show that he requested police intervention at the municipality to prevent the camp, within 15 hours of his complaint. The municipality declined, as they do not have the power to prohibit the demonstration.
The camp went ahead. Over 300 activists from across Europe showed up.
However, the fallout from this camp caused irreversible damage to the cordial relationship that the squatters had with the neighbours and the local authorities. The camp drew wide attention, making the regional news. Neighbours were intimidated by the noisy crowds and disapproved of the garbage left behind. Local political parties, namely the CDA and the VVD, vehemently campaigned for the squatters to be evicted and the landlord to take responsibility for the house. Additionally, there were rumours suggesting that now hundreds of people were living at Ivicke permanently, leading some people to believe that the No Border Camp participants were there to stay.
The squatters in return felt scrutinized, like when an unannounced police helicopter circled above their heads during the camp. As relationships soured, the conflict escalated.
In a formal letter, the municipality reminded Van de Putte that there are “other legal means to fight the squatter’s presence”. This foreshadows what would become three years of heated legal battles. Battle lines were being drawn. The situation evolved into a Mexican standoff between the local authorities, squatters, and Van de Putte.
Over the next year the municipality issued two ultimatums. The first was in 2019 against Van de Putte. He had 8 months to start restoration or else the municipality would do it themselves and send him the bill. The second was in 2020 against the squatters. They had five months to leave Huize Ivicke or risk prison. These ultimatums were enabled by to two recent legal changes:
Wet Kraken en Leegstand – 2010
(Squatting and Vacancy Act)
Before 2010, squatting was legal in properties that had been vacant for more than a year with no prospects for its use.
The new law made squatting illegal and punishable by up to two years in prison.
Vacancies now needed to be reported and filled – which encouraged the use of anti-squatting housing at low rents.
Squatters still have some legal protection, such as the right to house peace, meaning authorities can only evict after a formal ruling and squatters still have the right to appeal the eviction notice.
The law has not put an end to squatting, but it has changed its dynamics and its implications. Squatting is now more risky.
Despite the law, the practice of squatting remains institutionalized in some cities.
In 2022, an additional law was introduced: the “Enforcement of the Squatting Ban Act”. Squatters would now be charged under criminal not civil law. This would speed up the processing time of eviction orders from 8 weeks to 3 days. Regardless of whether the squatters appeal, authorities can remove squatters within 3 days of court decision.
Erfgoedwet Amendment: 2016
The Erfgoedwet ensures the protection of cultural heritage in the Netherlands, and forces owners to maintain it through ‘Instandhoudingsplicht’ (obligation to maintain).
A 2016 amendment created an additional tool for governments to ensure the preservation of heritage when the owner fails to do so.
Since that day, the municipalities are now allowed to enforce renovations through administrative order. To this end, they can use funds for heritage protection – which are to finally be repaid by the owner.
By using the legal framework of the monument law and the squatting ban, the municipality was entangled in a two-front war to bring justice to Huize Ivicke. In a way, going after one side would raise the expectations to hold the other side accountable.
Van de Putte failed to meet the deadline of the municipality’s ultimatum in July of 2020. The municipality took restoration into their own hands, as enabled by the 2016 Heritage Act Amendment. It was only after the municipality started construction that Van de Putte submitted his restoration plans, which were quickly rejected by the municipality for being insufficient.
Fast forward to the fall: the Municipality of Wassenaar, Van de Putte and squatters go to court.
In the hearings, the landowner vented anger towards the squatters, according to Loeff. “Those are not people, those are beasts”, an angry van de Putte screamed, sounding all the more ridiculous due to his “distinctive Flemish accent,” Loeff recalls. After neglecting the property for two decades, Van de Putte now blamed the squatters for his failure to take care of the property.
At the same time, squatters were challenging the municipality’s eviction order in court. In December of 2020, the court sided with the squatters, but the following year in December of 2021, the court gave squatters 6 weeks to leave. Also in this period, the court decided that Bever Holding, Van de Putte’s company, was obligated to pay the municipality the cost of the construction. Completed in October of 2021, the bill totaled just over 1 million euros.
It took a few months to finalize but by September the house was vacant and by October the municipality had its money.
Lost in the whirlwind of events? Fear not. We’ve compiled a timeline to unravel the past few years and guide you through the complex story.
The major court cases have now been closed. The municipality can claim victory over both the squatters and the ‘Krottenkoning’.
Karel Loeff claims that the Wassenaar municipality is a “forerunner” in enforcing the Monument Act. The municipality of Wassanar is paving the way for government intervention in similar cases of monument neglect and vacancies across the country.
Footage of Ivicke, taken May 23, 2023. Fences surround the house, and some abandoned chairs sit in a secluded area on the grounds. Credit: Bea Penteado Rodrigues
The municipality was unable to comment on our story as they are still waiting for a final court judgment.
Van de Putte declined to comment for this story. One can imagine he has bigger fish to fry right now. After two years on the penalty bench, Euronext has just begun de-listing procedures for Van de Putte’s company, Bever Holding, which means that it would no longer be traded on Europe’s largest stock exchange.
After a four year showdown, Huize Ivicke sits vacant among the greenery once again. This time, fences form a perimeter around the house and surveillance cameras stand guard. While the future of Huize Ivicke remains foggy, we can only hope the house is protected from further abuse.