A law known as adverse possession, along with a rise in foreclosed mansions left over from the housing crash, have paved the way for squatters to boldly claim, live in and loot homes worth millions of dollars.
The rise in mansion-squatting took root when more of the wealthy found themselves overextended on a mortgage and were forced to turn their homes over to the bank. As vacancies cropped up in wealthy enclaves, squatters seized the opportunity, even occupying vacant homes that weren't in foreclosure. The problem has continued to vex neighbors, banks and court officials.
States set the terms for adverse possession. In Texas, for example, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that squatters can pay a $16 filing fee with the county clerk, pledge to live in a home for at least three years and keep current with property taxes in order to claim a home. In 2011, the paper reported that squatters claimed homes in the Fort Worth area worth a total of approximately $8 million.
Horses enjoy the good life, too
Florida, a state hard-hit by the housing crash, has also battled with mansion squatters. The Palm Beach Post recently reported that a woman moved into a 6,800-square-foot vacation home near Boca Raton, in the neighborhood where tennis star Chris Evert lives. The owner was in foreclosure and the woman helped herself to the house and brought her horses to live there as well. Although she didn't try to claim adverse possession, she lied and said she had a lease.
While the foreclosure process dragged on, the woman's horses destroyed thousands of dollars' worth of landscaping, according to the attorney for the former owner. Eventually, even though the woman didn't have a lease, the attorney filed an eviction notice. Although that proved a quicker solution, it still took two months and in the meantime, the woman removed and stole the home's copper wiring, appliances and other items, according to the attorney.
Los Angeles, which has seen its share of lost dreams, saw a rise in mansion squatters since the housing crash, some of them well-known names. In 2010, actor Randy Quaid and his wife got the wrong type of Hollywood publicity when they were evicted from a mansion's guest house in Montecito, Calif. He claimed he formerly owned the mansion and his name was on the deed, but he was jailed nonetheless.
Technically, squatters can claim adverse possession if no owner comes forward, they live in the house for the term determined by the state and they keep current on taxes. When homes are vacant due to foreclosure, homeownership is harder to discern so while the process drags on through overloaded courts, squatters choose counties or neighborhoods where the vacancy rate is high and move into the lap of luxury.
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