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SQUATTER SPOTTERS: Professional squatter nailed by task force

Posted at 6:00 PM, Jul 22, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-22 22:57:09-04

Breaking into foreclosed homes. Fraudulent leases. Neighborhood blight. 

So it goes with squatters who are multiplying all over the Las Vegas valley. 

But there are some weapons to squash our spotter problem. 

Contact 13 Chief Investigator Darcy Spears reports on where there's hope for those who feel helpless when they spot a squatter.

Do you know James Derek Land? 

He might have been your neighbor. 

He was many people's neighbor, but police say for years he's had no right to be in the foreclosed homes where he was living.

"When the bank would take possession of it, he would move out and move in to another foreclosed property and stay there until the next bank took that one over and move into another foreclosed property and each time that the bank took possession, he would ask for cash for keys and they would pay him," explained North Las Vegas Police Officer Scott Vaughn.

Police call James Land a "professional squatter." 

Someone who's figured out how to game the system.

"The banks are letting these homes sit for so long that people catch on that they're vacant and now it becomes open prey, basically," said North Las Vegas Ward 3 Councilwoman Anita Wood.

Police say Land squatted at a home on Belmont Street for almost two years. 

He was arrested in 2015 squatting at another home on Monte Alban Drive, where police say he stole a file cabinet filled with the owners' personal records. 

He also provided a forged lease to North Las Vegas Utilities. 

And though his case stands out, Land is one of many who've been busted by North Las Vegas Police.

Squatters have been charged with lodging without permission, trespassing, burglary, possessing a controlled substance and obstructing a police officer. 

At the time of his arrest, James Land was wanted in Georgia and had a rap sheet for drugs, obstruction and giving false information. 

District Court records show he pleaded guilty to attempted burglary and is currently on probation. 

Officer Scott Vaughn calls squatters a neighborhood cancer.  

"You address that squatter house, it eliminates the crime in that neighborhood. Literally just rips it right out."

Vaughn is part of a squatters task force created in North Las Vegas by Councilwoman Anita Wood.

Darcy Spears: So people felt like the problem was progressing and just not being addressed.
Anita Wood: Absolutely. And they're sitting here going, it's a crime! We reported a crime! Why are they not doing anything?

The task force includes North Las Vegas Police, the city's Utilities and Code Enforcement departments, and community partners including the Nevada Bankers Association, realtors and NV Energy. 

They try to head squatters off at the pass by looking at foreclosure registries before allowing utility hookups. 

When a home in their system is flagged as a foreclosure, or rental fraud is suspected because signatures don't match the deed on file in Clark County, the task force springs into action...

And that's how "professional squatter" James Land was caught.

"Usually within 24-48 hours we can get those people out of that home and secure the home and make sure that neighborhoods are safe," said Councilwoman Wood.

It's effective in some cases, but can create even more problems in others, like broken meters or utility theft from neighbors. 

But the task force is checking up on problem properties and trying to keep squatters on their toes.

Councilwoman Wood adds, "We're also hoping that they get the message that it's not safe to squat in North Las Vegas."

The task force has handled more than 100 squatter cases this year alone.

If you'd like to reach out to them for help, you can download the Contact North Las Vegas mobile app; email them at codeenforcement@cityofnorthlasvegas.com or call 702-633-1677.