Squatters May Be Taking Over Your Properties
If you have moved out of your property because you relocated out of the area or if you moved into a rental already because you are doing a short sale be aware that you may have opened up your property to squatters.
In one of our vacant short sale listings in Port St Lucie Florida- our sellers had to move closer to their jobs in Miami due to loss of income. They could no longer afford to pay for the gas to drive all those miles to and from work. So they rented a house close to the husband's work in Miami and called us to do a short sale on their property in Port St Lucie. They had it listed prior to calling us with buyowner.com who did not have a clue on how to do a short sale. Needless to say, we had to clean up the mess.
When we arrived to take photos of the vacant property we were met with a strong smell of pot. It was fresh. All over the house, there was evidence that squatters were living there or it could have become a teenage hang out to get high. We secured the house, called the locksmith to change the locks and bolted down the windows. However, no matter what the sellers and we did the squatters kept getting in. They even had power because one of the terms of our listing agreement is that sellers must leave their water and power.
This is happening more and more to our vacant listings. Sometimes we scare them away and sometimes we don't. A word of caution to agents- don't check on your vacant listings alone. Bring someone with you and be prepared to find anything.
There are squatters here in south Florida who are actually occupying vacant properties and telling the owners that they refuse to move out because they have a right to occupy the house because it was abandoned.
Here in Wellington Florida a man filed notice in the official county records that he was taking possession of 1000 homes in Broward county and 3 in Palm Beach County. He also took over 10 condos in North Lauderdale. He then rented out 6 of them and collected over $20,000 in rent. He was arrested but is pleading not guilty. His attorney says that he is a good samaritan and is saving these blighted homes.
Well, let's see. Condos are not blighted unless the HOA stops paying for services. So that is not likely going to wash for him in court. Also, the other properties depending on where they are located are mostly in good condition. All of our vacant short sale listings are in very good condition and ready to move into when we sell the properties to qualified buyers who actually get loans to buy their houses or pay all cash. On the other hand, we see a ton of rentals in bad shape because the tenants are not maintaining the properties. After all, they don't own the property.
The squatters and the people taking over multiple properties through these filings are using the "adverse possession" law that is dated back to 16th century England. Here in Florida, adverse possession can take place if the person using adverse possession pays the taxes, maintains the property and lives in the property or uses the property for a period of seven years.
This law is usually used here when there is an encroachment on one property from a neighbor, such as a fence.
But the other side of this coin is that you can not just break into a house and start living there without the probability of being arrested for trespassing. It is also illegal to collect rent money though trespassing.
Many homeowners live in their homes without getting foreclosed on and without making payments for up to 3 years but it is not likely that the bank will not foreclose within 7 years.
So the seven year rule is not likely going to be successful in court.
Be on the look out, protect your property rights. Pay your property taxes before they are delinquent, pay your HOA fees on time and try to stay in your property until your short sale is accepted by your lender. These issues can cloud your title which will make it very difficult to close on your property.
Homeowners have choices. Maybe a strategic short sale is the right option for you. It is most often better than just leaving the keys on the table and walking away.