Squatting 101

squatting

(Another post based on my research for A Rebel Comes of Age – with specific advice on how to stop your bank from foreclosing on you. A new ruling in US bankruptcy court means that roughly half the foreclosures which have occurred since 2008 are illegal.)

Squatting is becoming increasingly common with the worsening recession and continuing foreclosures and evictions. The foreclosure crisis has many US cities with whole blocks and neighborhoods of abandoned homes (which are quickly stripped of their plumbing and electrical fixtures). The problem turns out to be extremely expensive, both due to plummeting property values and tax take and higher crime rates and demand for (police and fire) services (see). Thus it’s no surprise that the city of San Diego recently sued Bank of America to stop foreclosures in their city. Prior to their recent bankruptcy proceedings, Detroit was paying people to move into abandoned homes.

The simplest form of squatting is remaining in your home when the bank or mortgage company tries to foreclose on your property. Owing to the recent scandal over illegal foreclosures, mortgagees who miss payments now have a range of legal options they can pursue (see * below).

Grassroots Remedies

Take Back the Land is a Miami-based social justice groups formed in 2006 with local action groups in New York, Boston, Chicago, Madison, Toledo, Portland, Rochester, Washington DC, Atlanta and other cities. Where they can use legal means, these local groups often organize “live-ins,” moving dozens of community activists into foreclosed homes to block evictions. In several cities, Take Back the Land activists work to rehouse homeless families in abandoned foreclosed homes. Volunteers break into the houses, clean, paint, make repairs and change the locks. Then they help move homeless families into them. More often than not, getting off the streets enables homeless parents to keep and find jobs, making it possible to pay rent and move into their own place.

Hands-Off Approach by Police and Banks

For the most part neither city police nor the banks that own the homes interfere. In Miami, for example, the city takes the position that it’s the responsibility of the bank to initiate eviction proceedings. The banks who own the homes seem even less keen to eject squatter than the police. In most states, this requires initiation of formal eviction proceedings in court. Moreover banks know full well that perpetually vacant homes eventually become worthless, due to vandalism, and have to be demolished (at additional cost to the owner).

Meanwhile neighbors concerned about their property values are ecstatic to see foreclosed homes occupied and fixed up (even by squatters), as abandoned property is a magnet  for vandalism, prostitution, drug and gang activity and fires (see and)

In addition to the good work of Take Back the Land and affiliate groups, in many places homeless families are occupying foreclosed properties on their own.

The Law of Adverse Position

Things get really interesting when homeless families occupy abandoned property for five years or more (longer in some states) and attempt to claim title (ownership) under Adverse Possession laws claim title (ownership) under Adverse Possession laws. It has also opened up a lucrative market for ambitious entrepreneurs who fix up abandoned properties and rent them out to tenants. In December 2010 Mark Guerette, the owner of Saving Florida Homes, Inc pleaded no contest second degree fraud for renting out 100 foreclosed properties.

It turns out that Gurette notified all the banks who owned the vacant the homes that he was claiming them under adverse possession – and only received a response from two of them. Owing to the banks’ disinterest, the state of Florida couldn’t really charge him with trespassing. They could only charge him with fraud by finding tenants willing to testify that he had misled them. All his rental agreements included an addendum explaining that he was occupying the property via “adverse possession.” So he ended up with a slap on the wrist – two years probation and a court order not to file any “adverse possession” claims for two years.

The 1862 Homestead Act

The legal principle of “adverse possession” – the origin of the expression “possession is nine tenths of the law” – is recognized in most cultures. In the US, its basis in law dates back to the Homestead Act Abraham Lincoln signed into law in May 1862. The Act stipulated that anyone “improving” unoccupied land could fill out an application and file for a deed of title after five years. The law was abolished in 1976, except in Alaska which continued a state version of the Homestead Act until 1986.

Nevertheless common law and most states provide for a person to obtain land through use. For example, your neighbor puts a driveway between your homes to enable him to get to the rear of his property. In doing so he takes a strip of your property six feet wide. If you do nothing, your neighbor could end up owning that part of your property. In failing to challenge your neighbor with a lawsuit, you technically abandon the rights to your property. This is the foundation of adverse possession. One feature that makes squatting on foreclosure home so attractive is that it falls under civil law, rather than criminal, law. Unless you break in or damage the property in some way, the police can’t file criminal charges. Moreover the rightful homeowner has to go through a formal eviction, which can be very expensive, to get rid of squatters.

In Florida, Take Back the Land and individual squatters are utilizing an 1869 statute that says if a person takes a property (and pays property tax) and the owner does not claim the property for seven years, the squatter gets to keep the property. With the damage done to vacant homes by vandals, improving the property usually means fixing the fences, cutting the grass and repairing broken windows and doors. Requirements differ in other states, although all require you to occupy the property openly and make improvements to it. California, Nevada and Iowa are the most favorable states for squatting as they only require you to occupy property (and pay property tax) for five years before applying for a deed of title.

* Legal remedies against foreclosure:

1. MERS foreclosures

A US bankruptcy court and many states have ruled that roughly half of US mortgages are illegal and that tens of thousands of foreclosures have been fraudulently executed by Wells Fargo, J P Morgan Chase, Bank of America (and other banks), Fannie Mae.

Prior to the 2008 meltdown, mortgages were traded and changed hands so frequently that banks simply registered them with the Mortgage Electronic Recording Service (MERS), rather than executing a title transfer. State lending laws specify that only that actual owner of a mortgage can initiate foreclosure action. In many cases banks are filing fraudulent court documents alleging that they own the loans, when they are merely servicing them on behalf of the lender.

Home owners threatened with foreclosure need to immediately do a Securitization Audit to determine who actually owns the mortgage and deed (and is legally entitled to foreclose).

2. Predatory mortgage loans

Mortgagees victimized by predatory mortgage loans (tricked into accepting mortgages they can’t possibly repay) can request Forensic Loan Document Review. There are federal laws that protect against predatory lending, which you can use to force the bank to negotiate.

3. Fraudulent mortgage charges

Also Bank of America was caught in a related scam in which they were adding backdated insurance charges to mortgage payments to push mortgagees who missed payments into foreclosure. This means it’s essential to check your mortgage statement for unexplained charges.

4. Chapter 13 bankruptcy

Families may be able to save their homes from foreclosure by filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

photo credit: gruntzooki via photopin cc

***

Rebel cover

In A Rebel Comes of Age, seventeen-year-old Angela Jones and four other homeless teenagers occupy a vacant commercial building owned by Bank of America. The adventure turns deadly serious when the bank obtains a court order evicting them. Ange faces the most serious crisis of her life when the other residents decide to use firearms against the police SWAT team.

$3.99 ebook available (in all formats) from Smashwords:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/361351

31 thoughts on “Squatting 101

  1. Pretty disgusting that it’s taken five years of foreclosures and evictions for a federal bankruptcy court to rule that half of the bank foreclosures which have occurred are illegal. This is likely to throw a major curve ball to real estate speculators buying up vacant foreclosed properties to rent them out to low income tenants who have been evicted from their properties. It will probably take decades to sort out the legal owners of land that has been illegally foreclosed and re-sold.

    This stuff should be front page news. It’s obviously something banksters like Bank of America don’t want publicized.

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  2. Great information and resources offered, Stuart. I can think of a number people that have stopped paying their mortgages, some for years now. Most of us would just be happy if a moratorium was declared on any more foreclosures where airtight documentation was not present. Fraud charges should be pursued against all lenders who participated in robo-signing foreclosure documentation. All hedge fund and private equity firms should be barred from buying up “distressed” properties for pennies on the dollar across the country.

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  3. Alas, Jeff, you are absolutely right this is what should happen. I’m pessimistic that either Congress nor Obama will go for it, though some states might. I was thinking more along the lines of establishing some kind of Information Clearing House for families seeking to protect themselves against foreclosure.

    The trick would be publicizing it and making the information available to families without Internet access.

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  4. Sorry don’t agree. WHAT HAPPENED TO RESPONSIBILITY? HONOR, INTEGRITY?
    If you can’t pay and default on your mortgage foreclosure is the result. Squatting is a coward’s
    way for trying to earn home ownership. By the way, Florida law changed July 1, 2013 and squatters
    will never be able to legally obtain title to a home by this method in FLORIDA ever again! Once served with an unlawful detainment action issued the Court….bye bye Squatter!
    Let’s be clear …the Democrats allowed people with no jobs, or ability to get homes, which resulted
    in many foreclosures. America needs people to be upright, honest, and earn it the hard way…
    just like my parents, myself, and forefathers have done. In other words, MOVE ON and make your
    way if life on your merits not at someone else’s expense.

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  5. Excellent! I am going to reblog this. This info needs to be spread!

    The homeless rate in my city, among families, has risen 65% in the last three years, and my guess is many of these families lost their homes in this manner.

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  6. One of my earlier blog posts was about something similar to this because I was made aware of how many bank-owned houses that were being left to rot. The banks that owned those houses were not paying the property taxes on them, nor were they having the yards kept up and really, if someone could take over the property and make it livable, what is the problem? I could understand if it was someone that was just flipping one property after another, but for people who are homeless and having a hard time of making ends meet due to working low wage jobs, it would be a win-win for the neighborhood if the property was made habitable. And why is it that banks can get away without paying property taxes but regular, average everyday American citizens could get their property confiscated for non-payment of taxes?

    And of course from the previous comment of “you’d better have really, really long, long bootstraps to pull yourself up by no matter what” comes along, the usual ho-hum about being’ honest and upright and yada, yada, yada as if those who sit back in corporate boardrooms were acting honest and upright when they brought on the economic collapse that caused the Great Recession. But of course as always, they get a pat on the back and a “go get ’em cowboy!” Honesty can be overlooked, it appears for some while others are told to “Be accountable!” I think you handled that comment well Dr. Bramhall.

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  7. Hi stuartbramhall it looks like in the States unlike the UK you have much better laws in place to protect people who have had the homes foreclosed upon.

    I am sure you are aware that this phenomena is a planned strategy by the banks and the ruling elite which the bankers control made many years ago. Boom and Bust cycle which they have operated since the FED managed to get their dirty feet under the carpet. Before the FED prices remained constant for a couple of hundred years I understand.

    This is agenda 21 in operation and we must stop it at all costs.

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    • Thanks for commenting. Although I’m writing about the US, I live in New Zealand, where the laws about foreclosure (unfortunately) are much more similar to those of the UK. In a perverse way, even though New Zealand makes no pretense of maintaining a vast military empire like the US, the government is less transparent than the US government and multinational corporations have a lot more direct control here than they do in the US.

      It’s really rather amazing how many NZ government agencies are run by global corporations rather than Parliament.

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  8. We are in Georgia. Your article was very interesting, but James and I have helped people fight the foreclosures of their homes for on 10 years now. Georgia just does not care. Right now, a Quiet Title action, was filed in mid 2012. We claimed that BOA had no standing to foreclose, no interest in the loan at all. BOA filed their answer with exhibits. We shot down the exhibits, and showed why the documents cannot work. 3 months later, BOA amends their answers, adds new exhibits. We shot the paperwork down, and showed why that paperwork could not work. Six months later, they amended the third time, and gave new documents. The problem was in the beginning when the case was filed. They had no standing to foreclose. Even the foreclosure letters stated that Ginne Mae owned the loan, and BOA did not hold the secuirty deed. It had been a Taylor Bean & Whittaker loan. They are still FL bankruptcy court.

    So they claimed that MERs assigned the documents. No… they did not, it was not a MERS loan. Then, before the special master had its hearing, BOA sold the servicing rights that they did not even obtain until mid 2013, one year after the case was filed. I still don’t believe they were assigned anything, as there has never been anything showing that TBW could pull the property from the bankruptcy. Bankrupcty court was in control of the property.

    Anyway, finally after almost three years, BOA won. Of course they did, we are in GA. They will literally let anyone who wants to foreclose, foreclose on you. We have the most corrupt bunch of judges in the country. The judge don’t care it if is spit in their face obvious, they are finding for the bank.

    One of our clients, though…. BOA did approach her on settling. She went for it, I would have held out for more $, but they were early on in the loan, they really had not done anything for years, but we needed to find out, so named them in the suit. They ended up pretty much letting her write the contract. Every time they wrote it, they would try to get the others off the hook. We fixed that though. BOA attorneys ended up telling her, that they did not plan on spending another four years in court with her.

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      • I agree 100% with that. I think you have done an excellent job writing about the foreclosures. It is a true nightmare and I have a fear that people will not hear much about it, and think it has ended.
        Goldman Sachs said in the beginning of this foreclosure hell, that only rich people should own houses. He meant it too. And now they have turned all of those ex-homeowners into borrowers, exactly what Goldman Sachs had wanted. It makes me mad as hell!

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      • Thanks for like! I try to spend time here, but with the foreclosures going full blast right now.

        Oh, I will let you in on a secret though, you might want to think about… Some of our clients, we have kept in Courts for 5 years fighting. NOW… a different entity has come up and said that they are the note holder and going to foreclose for non payment on the loan. Ocwen is one of those fiduciaries doing that. They never cancel the Note and Deed after foreclosures, that leaves it open for you to be foreclosed upon a second time, if you have the balls to fight them long as we have. Don’t get me wrong, James and I are not in foreclosure. I make sure that if nothing else gets paid, the house payment, car insurance, and the internet. 🙂
        Thanks!

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  9. Up there talking about Goldman Sachs, I misstated my intention. I was talking about Goldman Sachs said only rich people should own houses, and I said:

    “And now they have turned all of those ex-homeowners into borrowers, exactly what Goldman Sachs had wanted. It makes me mad as hell!”

    What i had meant to say is that they have turned all of those ex-homeowners into RENTERS, and it makes me mad as hell!

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  10. My family is about to be homeless in less than 24 hours. We are seriously considering squatting. I am employed and go to work everyday, however our landlord is unwilling to work with us regarding rent payments and had evicted us. There are no programs to assist us, I can’t secure a loan, and there are no rentals available in this town. My three year old daughter is supposed to start head start on the 1st, and I don’t have any idea where we are gonna live. Any ideas anybody has please share.

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  11. I am homeless due to sps stealing my almost paid off family ranch of 21 years. I was made penniless by the state of Idaho and they let sps take my property from me. All they said was to hire a private attorney to uphold federal laws. I have suffered homelessness for 5 months and I am going to move back into my home! I need help fighting the crooked bastards! My home us all I had left of a career that ended in a 7 yr battle for disability.

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  12. Sounds like an extremely common experience with the increasing criminality in the banking industry and the refusal of federal and state official to do anything about it. Have you tried contact Idaho Legal Aid Services? They claim to offer free legal services to people who fall below 200% of federal poverty claims. Here’s the website: http://www.idaholegalaid.org/node/2408/foreclosure-help-available-idaho-legal-aid

    I would be curious to know whether they honor this commitment.

    Like

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