Local News


SQUATTER SPOTTERS: Are banks to blame for valley's squatter problem?

Posted at 10:45 PM, Nov 16, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-17 14:23:16-05

No matter where you live in the Las Vegas valley, no neighborhood is immune to squatters. 

Contact 13 Chief Investigator Darcy Spears learned that firsthand when squatters moved onto her street.  

The boarded-up windows and trespassing warnings will hopefully be the straw that breaks the squatters' backs at the Summerlin home.  

Sue, who lives near the home, says "I felt like a prisoner in my own home a lot of the time. I wasn't even comfortable going in my own backyard because of them being so close."

Neighbors Sue and Georgia are among a group who kept watch over the strange goings-on.

For Georgia, "A big concern to me was there's a school very nearby."

Sue lives right next door. She called police one night after hearing a woman screaming from inside the home.

"It sounded like someone was being beat up or harmed in some way. Just a blood-curdling scream."

The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department got their first call for service to the house in September 2015 for burglary and vandalism. 

Then, in April of this year, neighbors reported gunshots and vehicles speeding through the neighborhood.

Police have been there seven times in the last seven months -- towing illegal cars, investigating fraud involving NV Energy, and looking for suspicious vehicles and people. 

Police say whenever someone was home, they refused to answer the door.

Contact 13 got the scoop on what was going on inside. Some squatter homes are used as drug houses, some are turned into chop shops, but this one was a porn palace.

Photos we obtained show the home appeared to be an amateur pornography studio -- maybe even a brothel. 

There were whips, thigh cuffs and boxes of stilettos. The sparse furniture included a curtained four-post bed, stripper pole and some mirrors. 

Locks were busted out of doors, there was a drawer of drug paraphernalia, and boxes labeled with female names.

"Your story is an awful one and I wish it was isolated, but it's not at all," said Jeremy Aguero of Applied Analysis.

He says squatters have "become a pretty significant challenge for us in Southern Nevada."

Banks may be partly to blame for our squatter problem because of something called "shadow inventory" -- homes that are bank controlled but maybe were left in a long-gone owner's name or simply languishing in limbo because the bank has failed to foreclose, making the homes easy prey for squatters.

"Sometimes when you see homes not being transferred in interest, whether it's for a bank or another purpose, it's because folks don't want to have to bear the property taxes or don't want to have to maintain that particular property. Sometimes it's just easier to leave it in limbo," Aguero said.

He says that's more the exception than it used to be, but homes that get lost in the shuffle are particularly problematic. 

The home in Darcy Spears' neighborhood went into default in 2005, but GMAC didn't take action to foreclose until this September -- after Contact 13 got involved.

There are 1,390 bank-owned homes in Southern Nevada and they're spread out everywhere. 

Fannie Mae owns more than any other bank. Here's how the numbers break down:

1. Fannie Mae - 341 homes

2. U.S. Bank - 246

3. BNY Mellon - 134

4. Wells Fargo - 106

5. Deutsche Bank - 97

6. Bank of America - 90

7. Freddie Mac - 56

8. Citibank - 50

9. JP Morgan Chase - 45

10. HSBC - 42


"Whether it's a high-end neighborhood or a low-end neighborhood, no one wants to be living next to someone that doesn't care at all about the property that they're occupying and that in and of itself is the biggest problem that we have," said Aguero.

State laws passed in reaction to the recession made it much harder for banks to foreclose, leaving a greater share of homes floating along. 

Now legislators are looking at more new laws to combat the unforeseen consequence of squatting.