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Mansion squatters living large

By Judy Martel · Bankrate.com
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Posted: 6 am ET

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.

Only the best addresses will do for mansion squatters.

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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February 15, 2013 at 7:49 am


Jim Rentschler
February 15, 2013 at 7:32 am

I look back on my last twenty years ( now 62 ) and thank God I payed attention to my parents. I received simple instructions,"Don't spend what you don't have". Those who bought more than they could possibly pay for are surely in a bad position. the pain is now shared allthe way up and down the social ladder. Good luck to all.

Ward Breidenbach
February 15, 2013 at 7:22 am

We have had clowns and fools in the White HYouse for years,so this is the price we hard-working Americans pay.

February 15, 2013 at 1:30 am

wow. this definitely an intellectually stimulating debate. thanks for all your insightful comments and it's good to see that you're all responding based on your Pavlovian political tendencies. if these homes were bulldozed accidentally, who could we blame? clinton? bush? jimmy hoffa? john the baptist? caterpillar?

February 15, 2013 at 1:19 am

"President Bush's weekend campaign promise that he will push legislation allowing for no money down on some federally insured mortgages could cost taxpayers as much as $500 million over four years because of a higher rate of defaults, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

"The election-year idea may appeal to those who can't save as fast as home prices are rising. But some financial planners warn that increasingly common no- and low-down-payment programs can be ruinous for some consumers -- especially if home values decline. If housing prices fall, consumers with little or no money of their own invested in the home are more vulnerable to ending up with mortgages larger than the value of the house. Those who can't afford large down payments usually don't have enough savings to serve as a cushion if someone in the household gets sick or is laid off.

"If you're really stretching, maybe you should back off and look at a less expensive house," said Joan Gray Anderson, professor of family financial counseling at the University of Rhode Island.

"Bush proposed zero-down-payment legislation earlier this year. The CBO has contended for months that the proposal would generate huge losses... Bush contends that reducing the required 3 percent down in the FHA mortgage program to zero down would help 150,000 first-time buyers in the first year.

"To build an ownership society, we'll help even more Americans to buy homes," Bush said in an Ohio speech to home builders. "Some families are more than able to pay a mortgage but just don't have the savings to put money down."

Boston Globe, 2004

February 15, 2013 at 1:18 am

"I've challenged the industry leaders all across the country to get after it for this goal, to stay focused, to make sure that we achieve a more secure America, by achieving the goal of 5.5 million new minority home owners. I call it America's home ownership challenge.

"[G]overnment sponsored corporations that help create our mortgage system...Fannie May and Freddie Mac, as well as the federal home loan banks, will increase their commitment to minority markets by more than $440 billion. (Applause.)

"This means they will purchase more loans made by banks after Americans, Hispanics and other minorities... Freddie Mac will launch 25 initiatives to eliminate homeownership barriers. Under one of these, consumers with poor credit will be able to get a mortgage with an interest rate that automatically goes down after a period of consistent payments. (Applause.)" —WhiteHouse.gov

Who said this? When? Was it Clinton? Carter? Barney Frank? No, it was George W. Bush, in 2002.

February 14, 2013 at 3:35 pm

so lets dig a little deeper in to what Cole said. yes the previous pres did leave this country in a hell hole, but what most people are neglecting to relize OBAMA DOESNT RUN THE COUNTRY. there is a system of people that tell Obama what to do, what to wear, hell even when he can go to the restroom. so instead of sayin bush or Obama blam the real people behind the the man

February 14, 2013 at 1:09 pm

If we hadn't signed onto GATT, NAFTA, and the WTO, we wouldn't have all of these job losses and the housing bubble that burst may not have been as bad.

February 14, 2013 at 10:59 am

Lets back this blame train up a bit. The housing mess all started with Clinton 1999 and into 2000. He stated that everyone deserved to own their own home.
Therefore policies were put into place to relax mortgage requirements. People were buying homes that they could not afford. Any well operated bank would have turned down these loans. Notice there wasn't alot of well operated banks.

February 14, 2013 at 10:40 am

Juliana and Cole, yes why don't YOU two get your flippin' facts straight! Obama has already proved he is a die hard Communist and hates our Constitution. ON his watch for the first four years alone he has spent more money than every president we have ever had since the founding of this nation. Blame Bush? Yes he didn't do what he should have, but don't blame him for our problems. You want to know where the problem lies? look in the mirror! It's because of the liberal left winged people in this nation that believe's you can do whatever you want to and not be held accountable for your actions. Turn your back on God and His precepts and Laws and you WILL pay the consequences. That's where we are in this nation. It started in 1963, when we the people allowed God to be kicked out of the schools and we allowed the downhill slide to free love and sex with the hippies. Don't get me wrong. I am just as guilty as the next person because I was part of that generation. At that time, I was an atheist and hated God and Jesus Christ just like you two do right now. The difference is this, I allowed the Holy Spirit to open my eyes and come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Without Him we are nothing.