Wednesday, June 12
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What Is ‘Phrogging’? How to Live Rent-Free in Someone’s Home


The thought of someone secretly living in your house and silently waiting in the closet for you to go to work so they can eat your food and pet your cat is terrifying, but it apparently happens often enough to have a name. It’s called “phrogging” and it differs from home invasion and robbery mainly in intent.

The phrog isn’t trying to steal your jewelry like a common burglar; they want to secretly live in your place for a few days before hopping off to someone else’s pad. It’s a risk-heavy but rent-free lifestyle, perfect for amoral thrill-seekers.

The clandestine nature of phrogging makes it impossible to know how common it is, but something like phrogging does happen occasionally. Consider this Knoxville man who found a half-naked dude living in his crawlspace, cooking meth, or Brayden Woodhouse, who was found guilty recently in Cedar Rapids of breaking into numerous homes to use residents’ computers to watch porn. But the media only reports on the phrogs who got caught. The phrogs who are good at it, the ones that leave nothing behind but a dark silhouette on a Ring camera and a disquieted feeling, never get arrested. There could be thousands of them. Or none at all.

Whether phrogging is real depends on what you mean by “phrog.” Phrogs aren’t squatters. You squat in an unused house. Phrogs are not common thieves—those are all too real. The home intruders who have been caught but don’t fit those two categories are only marginally phroggy. They tend to be lone wolves. They often seem to have mental health problems, a special vendetta against the house’s residents, or are obsessed fans.

The true phrog has chosen house-hiding as a lifestyle. Supposedly, there is an underground community of phroggers out there who don’t draw enough attention to themselves to be the subject of news stories. They are said to congregate on dark web message boards where they share tips for successfully avoiding detection in strangers’ homes, and even post videos of homeowners sleeping for bragging rights.

Like anything that people say happens on the “dark web,” it could be bullshit, but what if it isn’t? My palatial estate has so many places a phrog could hide—the stables, the abandoned mausoleum—that I assume dozens of phrogs are living in my walls right now, so I contacted the LAPD to ask for an official opinion. Officer Eisenman of the LAPD’s Media Relations Division responded with a terse “we have not heard of this occurring,” but what does he know? A stranger secretly moving into a home just for a place to stay may not be common, but it’s possible, and the LAPD would never hear about it if it worked.

To catch a phrog, you have to think like a phrog. Since I couldn’t actually find any communities of real phrogs, I’ve compiled my own hypothetical “how to” guide for this secretive subculture. You shouldn’t follow any of this advice. Consider each tip a negative example, and do the opposite to lessen your chance of being targeted by a phrog.

  • Remember your moral code: You are not a thief or a home invader. You are merely taking advantage of unused space in someone else’s house in order to have a cheap vacation. That’s morally questionable, but once you start taking valuables that aren’t yours, you’ve gone from trespassing and breaking and entering to more serious crimes.
  • Location, location, location: To minimize your chance of being detected and jailed, choosing the right house to phrog is vital. The most obvious choices are unoccupied properties like model homes, vacation houses in the off-season, and neglected time share properties. But staying in one of these is not phrogging; it’s squatting. The risk is much lower, but you’ll be missing the free food, entertainment system use, and excitement of the true phrog experience.
  • Choose the right house: For best phrogging experience, you’ll want to choose a house where all the inhabitants work during the day, but which is large enough to have an attic, basement, or garage that isn’t in constant use. Think of the sweet spot between “so rich I stay home all day” and “so poor I use literally all of my home.” A swimming pool that takes up most of a backyard is a good marker, and there might be a pool house. Another option: Student housing. You won’t have the A+ food and comfort of a suburban homestead, but the transient and non-traditional lives of students makes it easier to avoid detection. Students might not even call the police if they catch you, like these Ohio State roommates who initially didn’t report a run-in with “Jeremy,” a guy who had been secretly living in their basement for months.
  • Aim for the garage or guest house: Most of the phrogging stories that make the news are of folks staying in the attic or living behind the walls. Flashy, yes, but do you know what doesn’t make the news? When someone lives in a garage for a couple nights and takes off. It’s not the best for sleeping or stealing food, but there might be mini-fridge in the corner filled with beer.
  • Avoid security cameras: A security camera system is the phrogger’s worst nightmare, and they’re becoming increasingly common, so proceed with caution. Avoid houses with a prominent cameras or lawn signs advertising security companies.
  • Dogs are not your best friend: Stay away from any house with a sign of a dog. It’s not just rip-you-apart style canines you have to worry about either. Even a tiny, friendly dog will whine at the closet door if you’re hiding in there. Stick to the homes of cat-owners.
  • Check for guns: Once you’ve snuck into your-home-of-choice, be aware of a gun safe or other evidence of firearms, which will massively increase your danger of being killed. Homeowners in the U.S. generally have the right to use deadly force against an intruder in their home, and you won’t be able to defend yourself as a harmless phrog in court if you’re dead—people tend to assume the worst of people who break into houses.
  • A good phrog is a neat phrog: Don’t make a mess. When you sneak out of your little hidey-hole after everyone goes to work or to sleep, by all means, enjoy the comfortable couch and big TV, but make sure you put the remote in the right place before you climb back into the attic. Unless you’re the kind of phrog who’s trying to subtly gaslight your host into thinking they’re going mad. In that case, move everything subtly. Tilt the pictures on the wall. Steal a single fork. Get creative with it.
  • Don’t eat too much: The more you eat, the more likely you are to be noticed. Don’t drink the last of the milk or empty the cereal box—you want your hosts to think “did I eat all this?” Not, “I know we had Rice Krispies.”
  • Don’t stick around too long: No matter how nice the accommodations, don’t overstay your non-welcome. That’s how you get comfortable, and getting comfortable makes you sloppy. Don’t be like this woman in Japan. Sure, she got away with free rent for a year by staying quiet in the closet, but if she’d left after eight months, no one would have been the wiser.

All of the above rules for successful phrogging can be turned around for how to detect and prevent a phrog from targeting your house, but what if you’re a home-haver, and you think a stranger is secretly living in your house? Before you give up and move, consider the following:

  • Contact the police: This should be your first step, obviously. If you suspect someone is secretly living in your walls, don’t go all vigilante and shoot them or something, except as a last resort. Even if you can use deadly force against intruders in your home legally, killing someone who just wants somewhere warm to sleep for a few nights has troubling moral implications.
  • Consider whether you have mental health problems. The signs of having a phrog—things being out-of-place in subtle ways, doors left open, unexplained sounds, objects moved, etc.—mirror the symptoms psychosis, bipolar disorder, and other mental illnesses. Mental illness is much more common than someone hiding in your house, so rule that out first.
  • Check for carbon monoxide poisoning: On a similar note to ghosts and mental illness, carbon monoxide poisoning can make people see or hear things that aren’t there, and is probably more common than having a secret tenant. So make sure your smoke detectors also detect carbon monoxide.
  • It’s not a ghost: Many news stories of phrogging report that residents at first thought their house was haunted. But ghosts aren’t real, so don’t hire a priest of a shaman to cleanse your house—burning sage and sprinkling holy water doesn’t work on phrogs.



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