How to tell if you have squatters living near by

By Ann Smith

Here are some clues that your neighborhood may have been invaded by squatters.

There is a foreclosed property in your neighborhood. The old neighbors have moved out and the house is empty.

Slowly there are changes to the property. The lawn looks overgrown. There are weeds, and trash around the house. The property’s appearance continues to deteriorate. The doors or windows may be open or damaged. You see strange vehicles on your street, often in the late evening hours.

You notice that some things are missing from the property, maybe light fixtures, maybe some lawn ornaments. Small changes are occurring to the property on a daily basis.

Then one night you go to bed as usual and wake up the next morning to find all the windows in the property have been covered with sheets, blankets, or cardboard.  There are vehicles parked at the property. You may not see anyone for a few days because all the activity seems to take place at night — and some of that activity will be people unloading a truck in the darkness. (Rarely is there any electricity at the property right away — that will come later when they either lie to PG&E to get service back on or jerry-rig the power by stealing it from the power lines nearby.).

The new “neighbors” may keep a low profile—no waving, no hellos. In time, though, over the next few days or weeks (they can’t avoid all contact forever), they may introduce themselves to the closest neighbors. The stories may vary  from, “We bought the place” to “We’re renting.” Things seem a little off. You may be curious as to whom they rented from or bought from. You never saw any signs.

Nighttime activity at the property begins to pick up. There are cars that come by and stop briefly indicating there might be drug dealing taking place. Unusual activity begins to occur (again, mostly at night). The people who occupy the property seem to change. New people come and go. There are new vehicles, often with expired license plates.

At some point the lights come on. There still may be no trash service, however. So garbage may start appearing in your or your neighbors’ cans the night before garbage pickup.

Petty thefts or burglaries may start occurring in your neighborhood. A bike or a picnic table goes missing.  Small items that are useful or easily turned into cash disappear from your yard or car. Houses are broken into.

All of these changes can indicate that squatters have arrived.

To combat these squatters your best defense is to know your neighbors and know when they are in foreclosure. Ask questions when you see your old neighbors leaving.

In particular:

  • Find out when the owners expect to leave, and get a phone number for them in case you need to call them.
  • Learn which bank is taking over the property, and get a contact name and number at the bank so you can inform them if squatters appear.

The legal owner is the only one with the right to allege trespassing. You’ll need to have this information handy if you call the police.

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