No Vacancy: Squatters Take Over Foreclosed Homes

By: Carol Freyer

For people with no place to live, the foreclosure epidemic has provided a temporary relief from life on the streets. Squatters have been taking over houses that have been left vacant due to foreclosure, and their presence has sparked a great deal of controversy.

In many areas around the country, there are now more empty houses than there are homeless people. For opportunistic minds, this creates a great opportunity to have a roof over one's head and a little bit of privacy. Many homes still have electricity and heat turned on, which makes foreclosed properties particularly attractive to folks looking for shelter.

Some people believe that if the houses aren't being used, then they might as well provide a temporary safe haven to those who have nowhere else to go. There are also a few lending institutions that don't mind when squatters stay in a vacant property because their presence can sometimes help deter worse criminal elements from taking over the place. Thieves will take anything they can sell, especially copper piping, which can wreak havoc on a home's property value. If it appears that someone is living in the house full-time, it can help prevent such activities from taking place.

Others argue that squatters lower a home's property value by them damaging the house either by carelessness or malice, and that they only serve to invite unsavory characters to the neighborhood. They see what the squatters are doing as criminal and immoral, and feel that they should not only be ousted from the property, but be charged with a crime as well.

There is also a growing trend of people squatting in their own homes after foreclosure. In some cases, these people have no place else to go when they lose their property, as the rental market in many areas is very difficult to get into. Others are simply taking advantage of a system that is totally overwhelmed right now due to the mortgage meltdown. These residents know that they can delay leaving the premises because the foreclosure process can take up to several months.

Regardless of the type of squatter, being homeless is a dark reality for many people, especially right now with the downturn of the economy. While laws must be upheld and property respected, we also need to keep in mind that these are people who are simply trying to survive. They are cold and need shelter, and right or wrong, they are using the vacant homes to get it. Those who are taking advantage of system ineptitudes will have to move eventually, and in the meantime, a dialogue needs to begin between members of the community, lending institutions, real estate professionals, and the government. Everyone in the community is affected by this problem, so we need to work together to find a solution that we can all live with.

Foreclosures
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