Can graffiti really be “vandalised”?

A Banksy work in Paris. Image: Getty.

The news that a Valentine’s Day mural by world-renowned graffiti artist Banksy was “vandalised” attracted substantial media interest. The image of a girl firing red flowers from her catapult was defaced by spray paint within hours of appearing on a house wall in Bristol. News reports said measures would be taken to protect the artwork from further damage, but the incident has raised the question as to whether an unsolicited piece of street art can be vandalised.

“Vandalism” is not a legal term – in UK law, it equates to criminal damage and may amount to an offence under section 1 of the Criminal Damage Act 1971 if it were to be an intentional or reckless destruction or damage of property belonging to another.

The law does not, however, draw a clear distinction between great works of street art that have been thoughtfully applied and the casual tagging of a wall. In both cases, if permission has not been sought, then an offence may be committed regardless of the merit of the artwork in question. The Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 defines graffiti as “the painting or writing on, or the soiling, marking or other defacing of, any property by whatever means” and graffiti artists may be subject to a fine or may be subject to prosecution under the Criminal Damage Act 1971 where more substantial damage has been done.

Several Banksy artworks have been removed or defaced. The Gorilla in a Pink Mask, one of Banksy’s first works on a Bristol social club, and his No Future mural on a Southampton wall were painted over – the first accidentally, and the second in an act of apparent vandalism.

Banksy’s Masked Gorilla artwork in Bristol was hit by vandals. Image: JOHN19701970/Flickr/creative commons.

Damaging property

What amounts to damage to property is broadly construed and includes where that damage is both temporary and minor. For example, the courts have previously held that painting a pavement with water-soluble paints amounted to damaging the pavement despite the fact this could be easily removed. Damaging typically means property has been rendered unusable, a cost will be incurred in repairing the property, or the property has been otherwise been reduced in value.

Though we can normally assume that graffiti amounts to criminal damage, graffiti of artistic merit or monetary worth may instead enhance the value of that property. So much so that homeowners who had Banksy on the side of their home offered that mural for sale in 2007 “with a Victorian house attached”.

The Valentine’s Day mural

What of the defaced Valentine’s Day mural? We know that a Banksy street mural can be worth upwards of £400,000 and it is likely that Banksy is one of the few graffiti artists whose unsolicited works may not be subject to criminal prosecution (though, they still would amount to criminal damage in law).

It is clear the homeowners were receptive to the Valentine’s mural, as they unsuccessfully attempted to protect it with a perspex sheet. One issue requiring clarification here is the actual “type” of property we are concerned with. The wall is part of a building and is therefore part of the land. With the addition of the artwork, the question becomes whether that wall has taken on a new “form”.

For example, has that wall become a form of “personal” property (like a framed painting)? Has that wall, now with the artwork in tow, become a form of “intellectual” property, the likes of which we speak about protection in copyright?

The damage inflicted by spray paint is a more clear-cut case of criminal damage – although whether this amounts to criminal damage of the Valentine’s mural or merely of the wall is a more difficult question. As the damaged “property” in question remains a wall – albeit a highly decorated one – it is likely the secondary graffiti amounted to criminal damage to a wall that had greatly increased in value.

Who owns the mural?

Where graffiti has been applied to the wall of a property, that physical piece of “art” belongs to the owners of the property, who may choose to lawfully remove it or to protect it. If the property is rented – as is reportedly the case for the Valentine’s mural – the graffiti becomes part of the fabric of that building and belongs to the property owner, not the tenants. Ownership of the intangible rights to the artwork (the copyright), however, will remain the property of Banksy as the artist.

Ownership rights have been a subject of dispute. In 2012 a Banksy mural entitled Slave Labour was painted on a property owned by Wood Green Investments to later be removed and offered for sale at auction. There was an outcry by local residents who considered it to be community property. Here, the law is once again clear. Regardless of the intentions of the artist – it is unlikely Banksy intended to gift an investment firm a mural – it clearly belonged to those owners of the property.

Banksy’s Slave Labour mural on Turnpike Lane in north London. Image: DeptfordJon/Flickr/creative commons.

While it is questionable whether the Banksy artwork is capable of being damaged, given that it itself is criminal damage, it is certainly the case that the wall (which will have increased in value as a result of the artwork) will have been further damaged by the act of vandalism.

The question of ownership will remain hotly contested as more Banksy artworks appear and the nature of the property – whether it remains land or becomes personal and intellectual property – will continue to enthuse property lawyers for some time to come.

The Conversation

Mark Thomas, Senior Lecturer, Nottingham Law School, Nottingham Trent University and Samantha Pegg, Senior Lecturer, Criminal Law, Nottingham Trent University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


A new wave of remote workers could bring lasting change to pricey rental markets

There’s a wide world of speculation about the long-lasting changes to real estate caused by the coronavirus. (Valery Hache/AFP via Getty Images)

When the coronavirus spread around the world this spring, government-issued stay-at-home orders essentially forced a global social experiment on remote work.

Perhaps not surprisingly, people who are able to work from home generally like doing so. A recent survey from iOmetrics and Global Workplace Analytics on the work-from-home experience found that 68% of the 2,865 responses said they were “very successful working from home”, 76% want to continue working from home at least one day a week, and 16% don’t want to return to the office at all.

It’s not just employees who’ve gained this appreciation for remote work – several companies are acknowledging benefits from it as well. On 11 June, the workplace chat company Slack joined the growing number of companies that will allow employees to work from home even after the pandemic. “Most employees will have the option to work remotely on a permanent basis if they choose,” Slack said in a public statement, “and we will begin to increasingly hire employees who are permanently remote.”

This type of declaration has been echoing through workspaces since Twitter made its announcement on 12 May, particularly in the tech sector. Since then, companies including Coinbase, Square, Shopify, and Upwork have taken the same steps.

Remote work is much more accessible to white and higher-wage workers in tech, finance, and business services sectors, according to the Economic Policy Institute, and the concentration of these jobs in some major cities has contributed to ballooning housing costs in those markets. Much of the workforce that can work remotely is also more able to afford moving than those on lower incomes working in the hospitality or retail sectors. If they choose not to report back to HQ in San Francisco or New York City, for example, that could potentially have an effect on the white-hot rental and real estate markets in those and other cities.

Data from Zumper, an online apartment rental platform, suggests that some of the priciest rental markets in the US have already started to soften. In June, rent prices for San Francisco’s one- and two-bedroom apartments dropped more than 9% compared to one year before, according to the company’s monthly rent report. The figures were similar in nearby Silicon Valley hotspots of San Jose, Mountain View, Palo Alto.

Six of the 10 highest-rent cities in the US posted year-over-year declines, including New York City, Los Angeles, and Seattle. At the same time, rents increased in some cheaper cities that aren’t far from expensive ones: “In our top markets, while Boston and San Francisco rents were on the decline, Providence and Sacramento prices were both up around 5% last month,” Zumper reports.

In San Francisco, some property owners have begun offering a month or more of free rent to attract new tenants, KQED reports, and an April survey from the San Francisco Apartment Association showed 16% of rental housing providers had residents break a lease or unexpectedly give a 30-day notice to vacate.

It’s still too early to say how much of this movement can be attributed to remote work, layoffs or pay cuts, but some who see this time as an opportunity to move are taking it.

Jay Streets, who owns a two-unit house in San Francisco, says he recently had tenants give notice and move to Kentucky this spring.

“He worked for Google, she worked for another tech company,” Streets says. “When Covid happened, they were on vacation in Palm Springs and they didn’t come back.”

The couple kept the lease on their $4,500 two-bedroom apartment until Google announced its employees would be working from home for the rest of the year, at which point they officially moved out. “They couldn’t justify paying rent on an apartment they didn’t need,” Streets says.

When he re-listed the apartment in May for the same price, the requests poured in. “Overwhelmingly, everyone that came to look at it were all in the situation where they were now working from home,” he says. “They were all in one-bedrooms and they all wanted an extra bedroom because they were all working from home.”

In early June, Yessika Patapoff and her husband moved from San Francisco’s Lower Haight neighbourhood to Tiburon, a charming town north of the city. Patapoff is an attorney who’s been unemployed since before Covid-19 hit, and her husband is working from home. She says her husband’s employer has been flexible about working from home, but it is not currently a permanent situation. While they’re paying a similar price for housing, they now have more space, and no plans to move back.

“My husband and I were already growing tired of the city before Covid,” Patapoff says.

Similar stories emerged in the UK, where real estate markets almost completely stopped for 50 days during lockdown, causing a rush of demand when it reopened. “Enquiry activity has been extraordinary,” Damian Gray, head of Knight Frank’s Oxford office told World Property Journal. “I've never been contacted by so many people that want to live outside London."

Several estate agencies in London have reported a rush for properties since the market opened back up, particularly for more spacious properties with outdoor space. However, Mansion Global noted this is likely due to pent up demand from 50 days of almost complete real estate shutdown, so it’s hard to tell whether that trend will continue.

There’s a wide world of speculation about the long-lasting changes to real estate caused by the coronavirus, but many industry experts say there will indeed be change.

In May, The New York Times reported that three of New York City’s largest commercial tenants — Barclays, JP Morgan Chase and Morgan Stanley — have hinted that many of their employees likely won’t be returning to the office at the level they were pre-Covid.

Until workers are able to safely return to offices, it’s impossible to tell exactly how much office space will stay vacant post-pandemic. On one hand, businesses could require more space to account for physical distancing; on the other hand, they could embrace remote working permanently, or find some middle ground that brings fewer people into the office on a daily basis.

“It’s tough to say anything to the office market because most people are not back working in their office yet,” says Robert Knakal, chairman of JLL Capital Markets. “There will be changes in the office market and there will likely be changes in the residential market as well in terms of how buildings are maintained, constructed, [and] designed.”

Those who do return to the office may find a reversal of recent design trends that favoured open, airy layouts with desks clustered tightly together. “The space per employee likely to go up would counterbalance the folks who are no longer coming into the office,” Knakal says.

There has been some discussion of using newly vacant office space for residential needs, and while that’s appealing to housing advocates in cities that sorely need more housing, Bill Rudin, CEO of Rudin Management Company, recently told Spectrum News that the conversion process may be too difficult to be practical.

"I don’t know the amount of buildings out there that could be adapted," he said. "It’s very complicated and expensive.

While there’s been tumult in San Francisco’s rental scene, housing developers appear to still be moving forward with their plans, says Dan Sider, director of executive programs at the SF Planning Department.

“Despite the doom and gloom that we all read about daily, our office continues to see interest from the development community – particularly larger, more established developers – in both moving ahead with existing applications and in submitting new applications for large projects,” he says.

How demand for those projects might change and what it might do to improve affordable housing is still unknown, though “demand will recover,” Sider predicts.

Johanna Flashman is a freelance writer based in Oakland, California.