Rise in Vacant Housing Leading to Scams

<p>The epidemic of vacant housing is leading not just to squatting, but to people illegally 'renting' out homes they don't own.</p>
May 21, 2008, 1pm PDT | Michael Dudley
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"Squatting is on the rise across the United States as foreclosures surge, eviction notices mount and homes go unsold for months, complicating the worst U.S. housing slump in a quarter century and forcing real-estate brokers to enlist the help of law enforcement and courts to sell empty houses.

In some regions, squatting is taking on new twists to include real-estate scams in which thieves 'rent out' abandoned homes they don't own. Others involve 'professional squatters' who move from one abandoned home to another posing as tenants who seek cash from banks as a condition to leave the premises -- a process known by real-estate brokers as 'cash for key.'

'There are people who move in and know exactly who to contact and say 'If you want this house, why don't you come out here and offer me cash,'' said Detective Erin Camphouse of the Los Angeles Police Department's Real Estate Fraud Unit.

She cited another case in which a Los Angeles man recently 'leased' three abandoned homes to unsuspecting renters through Craig's List, the online classified advertising company. The renters paid first and last month deposits, moved their belongings in and lived in the homes for several months.

The problem is compounded in some states by the weakening economy and its effects on America's homeless, who number about 744,000 each night according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, an advocacy organization in Washington."

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Published on Monday, May 19, 2008 in Reuters
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