Since the country’s economic crisis began in September 2008, it is estimated that more than six million homes were lost to foreclosure. And foreclosure was often just the start of problems for these properties. With that volume, many times these properties became “zombie” foreclosures, which means the property was abandoned and much time elapsed before the lender (or a buyer) took possession. These situations often led to properties falling into disrepair or subject to vandalism, theft of furnishings, or general poor condition. In some cases, to compound the problem, unauthorized persons moved into these properties attempting to establish adverse possession through some form of “squatters” rights.
In a planned community setting, it is important to realize that a homeowners’ association (HOA) and its management company act in the best interest of the property owners (members). A “squatter’s” situation is viewed under the law as a landlord/tenant dispute. As a result, the HOA or management company has no legal authority to confront the occupier or remedy the situation but rather must work with the legal owner to resolve the conflict. Many times, this is difficult if the lender or new owner does not formally file a public record noting a title change or does not take possession of the house in a timely manner. Even when law enforcement is contacted to assist in these cases, they struggle with squatters who often quickly return following eviction or who present what ultimately is bogus lease agreements or titles to the property.
All of this puts the board and management company for an HOA in a difficult position.
To reduce the risks posed by these problems, it is recommended associations do the following:
- Maintain accurate contact information with residents/owners;
- Communicate regularly with members/owners and encourage them to provide any information regarding legitimate renters or owners’ relocation plans;
- Make note of those homes that have newspapers or mail accumulating or yards that fall into disrepair to determine possible signs of abandonment; and
- Notify law enforcement if knowingly vacant homes become inhabited by suspected non-owners or non-residents
In the end, there is often little that an HOA can do to prevent squatters from trying to take up residency, but working with law enforcement, titleholders, and within the judicial system, squatters can be prevented from becoming long-term nuisances. Also, as economic conditions continue to improve in many regions of the country, this has reduced the abandoned housing inventory attracting these problems.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Krueger is the Vice President of Government Affairs for Associa.