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General News    H4'ed 6/18/11

Squatting 101

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With the continuing recession and growing epidemic of foreclosures and homelessness, squatting is becoming increasingly common worldwide. By definition squatting is "illegally" occupying a building that doesn't belong to you without the owner's permission.

Obviously the simplest form of squatting is remaining in your home when the bank or mortgage company tries to foreclose on your property. Owing to the recent scandal over illegal foreclosures, mortgagees threatened with foreclosure now have a range of legal options they can pursue.

Legal Strategies for Blocking Foreclosure

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1. Performing a Securitization Audit (to determine who owns your mortgage) - the Senate Banking Committee and many states are investigating thousands of foreclosures executed fraudulently by Wells Fargo, J P Morgan Chase, Bank of America (and other banks), Fannie Mae and the Mortgage Electronic Recording Service (MERS) where they didn't actually own the mortgages of the properties they foreclosed on. Lending laws specify that only that actual owner of a mortgage can initiate foreclosure action. In many cases these companies are filing fraudulent court documents alleging that they own the loans, when they are merely servicing them on behalf of the lender. By performing a Securitization Audit, mortgagees can prevent banks and other financial institutions from illegally foreclosing on them (see http://www.securitizationauditsite.com/securitization-audit/if-you-are-in-foreclosure/)

2. Requesting a Forensic Loan Document Review (for mortgagees victimized by predatory mortgage loans they have no hope of repaying) - owing to federal laws prohibiting predatory lending, a borrower can use this type of review to force the financial institution foreclosing on them to negotiate (see http://www.tila-now.com/).

3. Challenging unauthorized charges on your mortgage statement - Bank of America was caught in a related scam in which they were adding backdated insurance charges to mortgage payments to push mortgagees who missed payments into foreclosure. This is a scam to watch out for if unexplained charges show up on your mortgage statement. See http://zitrof.net/bank-of-americas-illegal-foreclosures

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4. Filing for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy - see http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/bankruptcy-help-with-foreclosure-29631.html

Organizing a "Live-In"

When all legal options have been exhausted, direct action - using a "live-in" to barricade your home when police try to evict you - is the next step. Take Back the Land (http://www.takebacktheland.org/) is a Miami-based social justice group formed in 2006 which defends the rights of families to remain in foreclosed homes and public housing. In March 2011, Take Back the Land-Rochester organized a live-in to stop the eviction of Catherine Lennon and ten of her children and grandchildren, after her husband's death from cancer caused the family to miss several months of mortgage payments. Organizers managed to blockade the home for two weeks, until they were eventually routed by a police SWAT team armed with assault rifles. Fortunately the local media attention led Congressman Louise Slaughter to intervene with Fannie May (which received a $90 billion taxpayer bailout in 2008), who have subsequently agreed to work out a new payment schedule to allow the family to stay in their home.

Squatting in Abandoned Foreclosed Homes

In addition to blocking evictions, Take Back the Land also works to re-house homeless families in abandoned foreclosed housing. They received considerable media attention in 2008 for their re-housing project. Volunteers would break into the abandoned homes, clean, paint, make repairs and change the locks. Then they help move homeless families into them. More often than not, getting off the streets enables homeless parents to keep and find jobs, making it possible to pay rent and move into their own place.

In most cases, Miami police have refuse to intervene. The city of Miami, confronting a situation where entire blocks and neighborhoods have been abandoned, takes the attitude that it's the responsibility of the property owners to initiate eviction proceedings. On close examination, this seems to be quite a cagey strategy. In a city already facing major budgetary issues, the problem is simply too vast for an already overstretched police force. Moreover neighbors, concerned about property values of adjoining properties, are always delighted to see foreclosed homes occupied and fixed up (even by squatters)

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Miami isn't unique in facing an epidemic of abandoned foreclosed homes. It's a problem confronting all major US cities, especially as abandoned property is a magnet for vandalism, prostitution, drug and gang activity and fires. Detroit, which has 10,000 abandoned homes, currently pays people to move into abandoned homes - see http://www.businessinsider.com/abandoned-houses-detroit-2011-2). And San Diego recently sued the Bank of America to stop foreclosures in their city (see http://www.foreclosure1.com/blog/foreclosures/foreclosure/san-diego-city-suing-bank-america-stop-foreclosures

In addition to the good work of Take Back the Land and affiliate groups, in many places homeless families are occupying foreclosed properties on their own (see http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/19/business/worldbusiness/19iht-home.1.13005526.html). As a result, Cleveland and other cities report a decline in numbers sleeping on the street (http://www.breitbart.com/article.php?id=D8US8LMG0).

The banks who own the homes seem even less keen to eject squatters than the police. In most states, this requires initiation of formal eviction proceedings in court. Moreover banks know full well that perpetually vacant homes eventually become worthless, due to vandalism, and have to be demolished (at additional cost to the owner).

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I am a 63 year old American child and adolescent psychiatrist and political refugee in New Zealand. I have just published a young adult novel THE BATTLE FOR TOMORROW (which won a NABE Pinnacle Achievement Award) about a 16 year old girl who (more...)
 
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