How much do you really know about your neighbors?
According to local law enforcement and those in the housing industry, there’s a lot of people living in valley homes who shouldn’t be there.
They’re called squatters, and when the economy took a hit in 2008, it created the perfect storm of bank foreclosures and empty houses for squatters to move in. It pushed Las Vegas at the top of the list of metropolitan cities struggling with this issue.
Some are victims of lease scams, and others are the scam artists themselves. Sometimes, it could be even more dangerous than that.
Sgt. Kirk Moore of the Henderson Police Department said that often the people taking over homes and squatting there are running illegal operations like chop shops for stolen cars, fraud lab for illegal documents or drug operations.
He said crime can go up in a neighborhood with squatters living there.
Vandana Bhalla is a corporate broker and realtor at Signature Real Estate. She's been a realtor for 13 years in Las Vegas. She told KNPR's State of Nevada she has seen squatters who are there to run illegal operations, but that's not always the case.
Bhalla said she has also encountered cases where someone was scammed. Scammers will take over a vacant home and lease it out to an unsuspecting renter with false lease papers.
And finally, there are people who lost their home for whatever reason and are now have nowhere to go. They move from home to home, squatting wherever they can.
Las Vegas Metro Police received 4,458 calls about squatters last year, which is up 24 percent from 2014, and up 69 percent from 2013 and 169 percent from 2012.
Sgt. Moore said Henderson Police have investigated 90 cases of squatting in its jurisdiction since Assembly Bill 386 went into effect in November. It was designed to shorten the removal process, and makes crimes out of housebreaking and unlawful occupancy of a home. Six people have been arrested.
Bhalla said that law is behind the surge in calls because it actually gives people an outlet if they suspect someone is squatting their neighborhood.
“I think that because of the bill and publicity that’s why we’re seeing an increase," she said. "Now, homeowners who live next door to a squatter have a place to go."
In the past, you couldn't call the police and real estate agents had no recourse if someone was found squatting.
Scott Beaudry is the president of the Greater Las Vegas Association of Realtors. He said it takes a team approach to deal with the issue.
Beaudry said if you're leaving your home, tell neighbors the home is vacant, and real estate agents should let neighbors know no one is living there.
Many abandoned homes are foreclosures, which means the banks own them.
"The banks are absentee. They're overloaded," Beaudry said.
It is very difficult for banks to keep an eye on every property on their books.
Moore and Bhalla agree there is not one area of the valley with a bigger problem than another.
"It is really everywhere," Moore said.
"It happens in Summerlin, it happens in Green Valley, some of the nicest neighborhoods in gated communities," Bhalla said.
They all agree one of the best ways to combat the problem is to get to know your neighbors and report suspicious activity to law enforcement.
Scott Beaudry, President, Greater Las Vegas Association of Realtors; Vandana Bhalla, realtor and corporate broker, Signature Real Estate; Sgt. Kirk Moore, problem-solving unit, squatter enforcement, Henderson Police Department
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