Vacant House Targeted by Squatters, Scammers and Thieves

vacant home squatterEmpty houses -- those either awaiting foreclosure or where the owners have moved out for other reasons -- might as well have a "kick me" sign on them. Actually, make that "vandalize me" sign. They are frequently the targets of squatters who move in illegally, scammers who claim they own them and rent them out to unsuspecting tenants, or just plain old garden variety thieves who break in and steal the valuables right down to the copper plumbing and refrigerator.

Or, in the case of one Suffolk County house, all three. According to a story on ABCLocal News, the Bay Shore home of Richard and Lisa Scott slipped into foreclosure in 2009. The Scotts said they gave their lender, Bank of America, three short sale offers that went nowhere fast, with the bank citing incomplete paperwork that the Scotts and their agent insist was delivered. The Scotts, meanwhile, moved out to rebuild their lives in the South.

Shortly thereafter, Scott's brother reported driving by and seeing a squatter living in the house, with the air conditioner running and lights blazing. Once the squatter was removed, someone ran a scam ad on Craigslist and leased out the house, collecting $4,000 from the unsuspecting tenant. And then, to add insult to injury, with the squatter and tenant gone, vandals broke into the house and stripped it bare, leaving holes punched in the walls and stealing the copper plumbing, the appliances, even the kitchen sink.

According to the report, BofA is now trying to hasten the foreclosure process.

As for those who may be forced to leave a home vacant, here are some tips to make sure this doesn't happen to you.



1. Try not to move out.
Vacant homes have increasingly been targeted by squatters. The bank can't force you out of your home until they foreclose. Until then, you own it -- no matter how many missed payments you have. If you must leave, consider renting it out. Let the tenant know you are pursuing a short sale and that the home may be foreclosed on, but that you are giving them a discount in the fair market rent in exchange for maintaining the property.

2. Notify the local police and utilities that the home is going to be vacant.
Utility companies make it possible for squatters to set up shop. By presenting a doctored up lease agreement and some sort of "proof" of ID, anyone can get an account established and the electricity turned on in your home. By calling and putting it in writing that the house is going to be vacant, you are at least alerting the utilities -- which likely won't make a whit of difference.

3) Let your neighbors know.
Nobody feels good about saying they are losing their home. But with it happening to so many, no one will be surprised. If the neighbors know that the house will be empty, they can keep an eye on it and report any suspicious activity to you and the police. In exchange, maybe you want to hire their kid to keep the grass cut and the yard tidy.

4) Stop thinking this isn't really your problem.
Yes, you fully expect that the bank is going to foreclose on you and are saying to yourself, "Why should I care?" Look at the Scotts' example. They were sickened to return to their house -- which they still own and are still responsible for -- and find the damage.

Also see:
Realtors' Latest Challenge: A Surge of Squatters

Woman Faces Foreclosure on Home She Bought for $1
Protesters 'Liberate' Foreclosed Homes


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