Bloke built flat in shopping mall and lived hiding in plain sight for four years

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    An artist who was being turfed out of his apartment set up a home in a shopping centre, where he remained undetected for years.

    Michael Townsend needed to find a place to live quickly after developers gave him his marching orders.

    His inspiration came in the form of a radio commercial for a shopping centre in his city, which talked about how great it would be if people were able to live in the mall.

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    The ad triggered a memory of jogging past the newly-constructed mall where he'd spotted a room in an unused space beneath the shops.

    Michael first saw the unused space beneath Providence Place Mall in Rhode Island, US, on his daily run in 1999.

    Suspecting there could be hidden space inside, he looked a little closer and stumbled across a room that looked like it was only there because of the formation of the purposely designed areas around it.

    In the months following, Townsend’s historic mill district home came under threat from the same developers who had been responsible for creating the shopping mall.

    He decided it was time to "develop the developer" and set up a secret home in the space he'd seen in the mall.

    On his website, he said: “During the Christmas season of 2003 and 2004, radio ads for the Providence Place Mall featured an enthusiastic female voice talking about how great it would be if you (we) could live at the mall.

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    “The central theme of the ads was that the mall not only provided a rich shopping experience but also had all the things that one would need to survive and lead a healthy life.”

    Townsend revisited the room he had found and discovered that it remained unused, so he decided to see if he and his friends could live at the mall.

    He said: “The new plan wasn’t just to live in the mall for just a week, it was now simply to live in the mall.”

    The 750-square-foot apartment was created in 2003. It was furnished with a sofa and a PlayStation. They didn’t have running water, though, so the gang had to use the centre’s public toilets.

    According toNBC News , Townsend and his pals also built a breeze block wall and utility door to keep it hidden.

    They lived in relative peace for four years before the plan began to unravel, and security guards found the secret digs.

    One day, the artists, who had sworn not to speak about the apartment with anyone else, found their utility door kicked in and their PlayStation, art and photo album gone.

    In response, they took extra precautions, including only using the apartment at night.

    But the security guards who had been responsible for the break-in had been staking it out ever since, ready to pounce on its inhabitants.

    And one afternoon, Townsend was spotted and consequently charged with trespassing.

    He insisted that “the entire endeavour was done out of a compassion to understand the mall more and life as a shopper.”

    He was given probation by a judge but was banned from the mall for life.

    The Providence Journal reported that only Townsend and his now ex-wife Adriana Young identified themselves as being mall dwellers.

    But he remained in touch with the rest of the artists who were involved in the ruse.

    Years later, Townsend, who still lives in the area, said: “I really wish I could go back.”

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