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Detroit seeing spike in squatting

Detroit has more than 100,000 vacant properties, and as widespread unemployment and home foreclosure make it harder for people to pay for housing, many are moving into abandoned homes as squatters.

The Detroit News reports that these illicit living arrangements sometimes bother neighbors, though squatters may actually improve neighborhoods by maintaining buildings that might otherwise be torn down for scrap. Either way, it seems there’s not much local authorities can do about squatting.

Squatting isn’t new, and its secretive nature makes it tough to track. But city officials say it’s spiking as one in every 339 city homes received foreclosure notices last month, according to RealtyTrac, an industry marketer.

City ombudsman Durene Brown points to a thick stack of complaints about squatting she’s received over the past two years. A few years ago, about 100 people a year called about the issue. Now, 300 do.

Lance Clowney, 49, who lives in the Bagley community on the city’s northwest side, told the News that he maintains an abandoned duplex and uses it for storage.

“I see it as a good service to the community. I’m not using it for nothing,” he said. “If someone had a deed or whatever, I would move out of the way. It’s my responsibility to take care of the house. I don’t see nothing wrong with (squatting) as long as they are taking care of it.”

Squatting laws present a major challenge in ridding someone who illegally possesses a home. Legally, only the homeowner or banks can seek remedies to remove squatters.

And under a loophole, a squatter can gain possession of a home if he or she openly lives in it uninterrupted for 15 years, according to state law.

No real moves have been made to change squatting laws by the state Legislature, but some community groups and city officials said the loopholes need to be closed.

In a discussion of how to squat in Detroit on the Detroit Yes forum, commenters say that familiarity with the neighborhood and good relations with neighbors are important in establishing a viable squatting arrangement.

Some mention frustration that utility pirating by squatters can disrupt service to others.

Claude G. writes:

There are plenty of homes in Detroit perfect for this, I actually had one behind my office….

The problem is that these people can’t legally get Water, Gas, or Electric service and will many times steal it.

The guy who was squatting in the house behind my office had Illegal Electricity, Illegal Gas, probably had Illegal Water along with Illegal Comcast.

I really didn’t mind the Electricity, Gas and Water but the Comcast pissed me off since this guy broke the tap on the pole hooking up his illegal connection and my internet went down or got super slow everytime it rained.

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