I just attended a round-table discussion by the Tri-Valley Housing Opportunities Center (TVHOC) held at the offices of Bay East Association of Realtors in Pleasanton, CA. This was a very informative hour of information about an alarming trend of squatters in our area occupying vacant properties. Even more alarming is that groups are organizing and becoming very sophisticated in the respect that they are obtaining free legal council from local agencies to prevent them from being evicted from the properties they illegally occupy.
There are many vacant properties out there, some owned by banks, some still owned by the property owner who has moved out and waiting for a foreclosure to occur. Some are listed for sale and in escrow to be sold. In a nutshell, here’s what is happening.
Squatters find a vacant property and gain entry, either through windows, unlocked doors, or by breaking in to the property. When it is discovered that a squatter is in the property, the authorities are generally able to remove the tenant on the grounds of trespassing.
However, here’s where it gets scary. There are groups of ‘savvy squatters’ that are falsifying Grant Deeds to reflect they own the property, or providing fraudulent rental agreements showing they have a lease on the property. In these cases, the actual homeowner is burdened with taking legal action through an Unlawful Detainer to evict the tenant. Unfortunately, these savvy squatters have become educated with the help of free legal services on how to respond to the eviction and tie up the case for many months, or in recently reported cases, years. They are able to stay in the property, without paying rent to anyone, until the civil case is resolved and a judgement or eviction order is issued. Some are even paying the property taxes & utilities on the properties, making a case for ‘adverse possession‘.
In addition, there are an increasing number of unscrupulous parties out there that will gain entry into a vacant property, have it re-keyed, advertise it for rent, secure a tenant, and collect rent. The renter is none-the-wiser, they believe they are dealing with the property owner or management company. The tenant signs the lease, moves in, and starts paying their rent. Shortly thereafter, they are approached by the actual property owner, a new buyer of the property, or a bank representative and asked to leave the property. The tenant is in a real dilemma. They have an actual rental agreement and are paying rent on a property that their ‘landlord’ has no legal ownership of.
If you are looking for a rental property, BE SURE YOU VERIFY THAT THE LANDLORD OWNS THE HOME. I cannot stress this enough! Property owners names are public record and can be found on your local county tax assessors office website. Ask to see the landlords identification. Enlist the help of a reputable real estate agent or broker to help you find a rental property. They have access to records that can verify the ownership of the property. Talk to neighbors of the property, neighbors are nosy, they will generally have insight to valuable information. Although online ads are a great vehicle to market rental properties, be wary of the ‘too good to be true’ advertisements. If the advertised rental price is below the going market rate, you have to stop and question why.
This is an unfortunate circumstance of our current real estate market and economy, and one that I hope is eradicated very soon!