| BROCKTON, Massachusetts
BROCKTON, Massachusetts They enter through a
broken first-floor window each night to sleep on a moldy bed in
the abandoned four-family house at 827 Main Street, part of a
new generation of squatters emboldened by America's housing
"For squatters, foreclosed homes like this are like a
camp-ground with free camping," says real-estate broker Marc
Charney, a foreclosure specialist, as he enters the home in
Brockton, Massachusetts, and shines a flash-light at a mattress
where homeless people have been sleeping each night.
Squatting is on the rise across the United States as
foreclosures surge, eviction notices mount and homes go unsold
for months, complicating the worst U.S. housing slump in a
quarter century and forcing real-estate brokers to enlist the
help of law enforcement and courts to sell empty houses.
In some regions, squatting is taking on new twists to
include real-estate scams in which thieves "rent out" abandoned
homes they don't own. Others involve "professional squatters"
who move from one abandoned home to another posing as tenants
who seek cash from banks as a condition to leave the premises
-- a process known by real-estate brokers as "cash for key."
"There are people who move in and know exactly who to
contact and say 'If you want this house, why don't you come out
here and offer me cash,"' said Detective Erin Camphouse of the
Los Angeles Police Department's Real Estate Fraud Unit.
"It's just cheaper for the banks to do that rather than
going into the courts," she said. "The squatters are getting
sophisticated and turning it on these banks who own the
She cited another case in which a Los Angeles man recently
"leased" three abandoned homes to unsuspecting renters through
Craig's List, the online classified advertising company. The
renters paid first and last month deposits, moved their
belongings in and lived in the homes for several months.
"In one case, there were loose ends of rehab on the house
that needed to be done and the crook wasn't coming through or
wasn't completing it. So they offered to do it instead of
paying rent. They put down tiles and carpet and all that kind
of stuff. And it wasn't until the sheriff put the lockout
notice on the door that they realized something was wrong."
POSING AS TENANTS
New Jersey real-estate broker Bill Flagg is in a different
type of legal tussle with occupants of a foreclosed home who
refuse to leave in Plainfield, a city of 47,829 people.
"We know the people are squatters. But we have had the cops
there. We had the electricity shut off and the cops wouldn't
put the people out. We have to go to court to get them out.
They claim to be tenants," Flagg said.
Such cases of squatters posing as tenants are on the rise,
said Bill Collins, president of the New Jersey chapter of the
National Association of Real Estate Brokers.
"These people claim that they have a lease but they can't
find it. And the property owner has been removed from the
property or been foreclosed on, so they have no interest in
confirming if this person is a valid tenant," he said.
"So now you have squatters who are assuming that they are
tenants and have rights to some degree to stay in the property
until we can go through the court system to get them out.
"And they have caught wind that what most of these banks
are doing is giving cash for keys, so cash for eviction --
anywhere from $1,000 to $1,500. So here you have a squatter who
goes into a property, takes up residence, tells you that he is
a tenant, goes to court and says that he is a tenant.
"Who can prove otherwise?"
California real-estate broker Steve Smallson said he finds
about three squatting cases a month, compared to none last
year, in his region of Woodland Hills, a middle-class district
of Los Angeles. That includes a case in April involving a
foreclosed home worth $1 million where police were called after
neighbors reported squatters filming pornography in the house.
The problem is compounded in some states by the weakening
economy and its effects on America's homeless, who number about
744,000 each night according to the National Alliance to End
Homelessness, an advocacy organization in Washington.
"The rise of squatting is a natural consequence of these
properties sitting there empty caused by the whole foreclosure
crisis," said Steve Berg, a vice president at the alliance.
(Reporting by Jason Szep; Editing by Eddie Evans)