Squatter settlements are settlements where land has been occupied illegally. They are often found on marginal or environmentally hazardous lands, such as beside railway tracks, along rivers and canals etc. They are also found on government land or land whose ownership is unclear.
Squatter settlements are spontaneous or organic settlements with little or no planning. They often start out by a few families finding a vacant piece of land and establishing a homestead there. If they are not evicted, some other families build their houses there and the settlement expands.
Housing conditions can remain substandard for years if the squatters perceive that there is a threat of eviction. They often minimize the amounts of capital investment in their housing because their land tenure is illegal.
In their early stages squatter settlements are characterized by haphazard settlements patterns, poor quality of housing and an absence of public infrastructure and services such as piped water supply, sewerage, roads and electricity. Over time, people find ways of accessing basic services. In some squatter settlements water is bought through vendors and charges could be as high as ten times the municipal water rates. In other cases squatters have been known to illegally tap into the main water pipe lines to access water. In many squatter settlements community-based organizations have lobbied government agencies to provide public stand-pipes or water tanks in the settlements. Similarly electricity is either accessed legally, through lobbying with government agencies, or is stolen from electric lines or is bought from neighbouring formal dwellings. What is often ignored is sanitation and paved access.