Foreclosed homes can have a negative impact on property values in a neighborhood. However, they can also attract squatters who are looking for free places to live, which can lead to other problems like increased crime. If you suspect an empty home in your neighborhood is being squatted, here are a couple of ways to handle the situation.
Contact the Police
Squatting is a complex legal issue. Although breaking and entering a home is a crime, police aren't always able to forcibly remove squatters on that premise alone. Sometimes squatters have fraudulent paperwork that makes it appear they have a right to be in the house. Other times, a squatter may be trying to legally get the home using adverse possession laws, and police may leave the matter for the courts to handle.
Still, it may be possible to get the squatters removed if you can show they are doing something illegal. For instance, if you can show the people are doing or distributing drugs on the property, police will investigate and arrest them. Theft of utility services is also a crime, and police may arrest the squatters if they've tapped into the electricity or gas without the utility company's permission. However, since the utility company is often the only one who can confirm whether the residents are legally using the services, you may have to report the squatters to the company first and have the company contact the police.
Contact the Owners
Unfortunately, unless you have a legal claim to the property, you can't evict the squatters from the home; only the homeowners can do that. Therefore, you need to find out who owns the house and notify them about the problem. However, the foreclosure process can make this challenging to do, since it may not be clear whether the bank or the debtor still owns the property. A good place to start would be to look up the property's tax records and send a letter to the person or company who last paid them. Even if you get the wrong person, the individual you reach may be able to point you in the direction of the new owners or forward the correspondence to the right people.
Banks and mortgage companies have a vested interest in keeping the property squatter-free, because they want to recoup their money by selling the home as soon as possible. So they're likely to take steps to evict the squatters once they become aware of the problem. The same can't be said for the homeowners who are in the process of losing the house.
Since the home is in foreclosure, the former homeowners may not be willing to do anything about the squatters. Until the bank or mortgage company takes possession of the home, homeowners are still legally responsible for what happens on their foreclosed properties. As an outside party affected by the squatting, you may have a good case for a nuisance lawsuit against the homeowners. Even if you don't take advantage of this option, simply threatening to take the homeowners to court may galvanize them to act.
Dealing with squatters in your neighborhood can be challenging. For more ideas on handling the situation or assistance with exploring your legal options, contact a real estate lawyer, such as those at Garcia, Kinsey, Scott & Villarreal, P.L.C..