Submitted by: Richard Armen

Due to the recent economic crisis, more and more homes are sitting empty. Whether due to a foreclosure or a homeowner who has moved on without finding a buyer for their home, this fact means growing opportunities for squatters to move into once quiet and secure residential neighborhoods. Though you may think of squatters as only a problem of urban slums, recently there have been instances of squatters taking up residence in million-dollar homes.

In many new areas where this had never before been a concern, neighbors have begun noticing this strange new phenomenon. If you’re unfamiliar with the problem, a ‘squatter’ is anyone who moves into an empty or abandoned building without the acceptance of the owners. Whether in a business or home, these squatters can live with a roof over their heads for months or even years without being disturbed or kicked out by the rightful owners, who may not even live in the same state as the property.

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The problem with squatters is that they have no incentive to care for the property. They pay no rent, mortgages, or other expenses related to the upkeep of the home. Often, squatters mean drugs and other vices, not to mention graffiti and property crime. Often, these activities spread into the neighboring area, creating problems not only for the homeowner but also for the neighbors. Squatting is a serious issue, and not one that you should turn a blind eye to. Though you may feel bad that the occupants have nowhere else to go, they are committing a crime simply by staying there, and often bring other crimes to the area.

What can you do about this problem? First, if you are a landlord, check on all of your properties frequently. In just weeks, a tenant could skip out on rent and squatters could move in, and no one would be the wiser. If you live in another state, hire a property manager to keep an eye on your rentals. If you have been notified that someone may be squatting in one of your properties, call the police immediately. If the problem goes on for too long, they could gain legal title to your property by virtue of occupying it, through a process known as adverse possession.

If you must leave your property vacant, equip it with door and window alarms, surveillance cameras, and other devices to discourage these behaviors. These also make good investments for surrounding property owners, whether they suspect squatters or not, as they will discourage a range of criminal activities in the neighborhood.

What can you do if it’s not your property that is lying vacant, but a neighbor’s? If you suspect squatters, contact the police immediately. Signs can include someone living in a home you know to be vacant, or people living in a home with no utilities. Never approach a suspected squatter by yourself, as they may be dangerous. As with any suspected criminals in your neighborhood, it’s best to let the police handle it.

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