In 2015 alone there were over 4,000 complaints about squatters, a 43 percent increase from 2014 and over twice as many from 2012.
Neighborhoods with rows of vacant houses are a sobering image for many people, a reminder of recent tough times. But while most people look at a vacant house as a negative, squatters look at neighborhoods of empty houses and see opportunity.
Las Vegas Valley is a prime example of an area where squatters have taken over. Vacant houses in struggling working-class neighborhoods, traditional American middle-class neighborhoods, and all the way up to upscale, luxury neighborhoods are seeing vacant homes filled with unwanted and illegal tenants, The New York Times reports. Some of these squatters are families looking for a place to live, but that isn’t typical. More often than not police are finding chop shops, drug dealers, and counterfeiters using these abandoned homes as a rent-free base of operations.
Las Vegas has become an area filled with new construction and the unemployment rate has dropped to single digits, but that has not helped the squatter problem. In 2015 alone there were over 4,000 complaints about squatters, a 43 percent increase from 2014 and more than twice as many as in 2012. For residents who are living in their homes legally, squatters, and the crime they bring with them, rob them of their sense of security.
It is more than just homeowners in neighborhoods with squatters living in vacant homes that are at risk. Real estate agents, who often go to homes they expect to be empty, are at particular risk.
In an effort to curtail the squatter problem, a new law was put into place that established new criminal offenses such as unlawful occupancy, which makes it illegal to move into a vacant home knowing you do not have permission to be there. Breaking this law can result in misdemeanor or felony charges. While this new law is helping, it has not yet eliminated the issue.
The other issue making it harder to eliminate squatters is that local police department budgets were cut during the recession and they simply do not have the resources to combat squatters, especially because the city is also experiencing a great deal of violent crime.
While steps are being taken to try and resolve the issue, a complete solution remains elusive.