Monday, May 30, 2016

Squatters Find A Home In Sin City, Hijacking Possession Of Vacant Foreclosures w/ Impunity & Little Fear Of Prosecution; Violent Crime Epidemic, Shortage Of Law Enforcement Resources Leave Little Time For Cops To Investigate Fake Leases, Pursue 'Free Housing' Opportunists; "It's Been A Total Circus," Says One Resident

In Las Vegas, Nevada, The New York Times reports:
  • Squatters have descended on every corner of the Las Vegas Valley, taking over empty houses in struggling working-class neighborhoods, in upscale planned communities like Summerlin, and everywhere in between. And they often bring a trail of crime with them.

    While some unauthorized tenants are families seeking shelter, police officers here say they are more frequently finding chop shops, drug dealers and counterfeiters operating out of foreclosed homes. One man who the police say was squatting has been charged with murdering a neighbor during a burglary.
    Residents say the explosion of squatters has shattered their sense of security, leaving them wary of any new neighbors at a time when the city is still trying to climb back from the depths of the recession.

    “Things get out of hand pretty quickly when these people move in,” said Jacquelyn Romero, 59, who has lived in the neighborhood for about 15 years. “We’re trying to do almost like a neighborhood watch, just to keep ourselves safe.”
    The problem has grown so acute that the Nevada Legislature passed a law last fall to make it easier to arrest squatters, who often brandish phony leases in hopes of staying longer in the homes they have taken over.

    “People drive through neighborhoods and look for houses that appear to be vacant,” said Lt. Nick Farese, who is leading the police department’s antisquatter efforts. He said that squatters occupied homes across this entire city of 600,000 people, adding that “we have seen a direct correlation between squatter houses and crime — burglaries, theft, robberies, narcotics.”
    But with a transient population of down-and-out gamblers and a glut of homes that have already been foreclosed, opportunists can still take their pick of thousands of empty houses. Inside one, squatters had scrawled a warning to stay away on a wall: “Violent tweekers on guard.”

    In North Las Vegas, Deborah Lewis has seen just about every kind of squatter at the house next door since the owners walked away four years ago. [...] “It’s been a total circus — you name it, we’ve had it next door,” Ms. Lewis, 58, said. “It’s scary, because you don’t know if these people are packing. One guy came over here, and he was looking in our window. Scary.”
    The new law has hardly been a cure-all, though. Investigating fake leases cases takes time, police officers say, and usually involves finding the legal owner — and owners who walked away from underwater mortgages are not always in the mood to help.

    And years of budget cuts during the recession have left local police departments short on resources.

    “One of the biggest challenges is carving out time to combat squatters in the middle of the violent crime epidemic we’re facing,” Lieutenant Farese said. “There’s a lack of budget, a lack of manpower.”