The Washington Post

Foreclosed houses in U.S. squatted, occupied and sold on the cheap

What happens to a foreclosed house?

A foreclosed house in Tigard, Ore. (Don Ryan/AP)

Since the financial crisis began, millions of Americans have awakened to find a foreclosure notice on their front door. RealtyTrac, a Web site that covers the foreclosure marketplace, estimated in July that 1.17 million homes received foreclosure notices in the first half of 2011.

Monday, after nearly 500 days of hard-fought negotiations, state and federal officials came to a settlement that would force banks to overhaul the way they foreclose homes. Essentially, the settlement ensures that five banks — Wells Fargo, Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase, Ally Financial and Citigroup — will have to get better at how they interact with troubled homeowners. The banks also can no longer foreclose on borrowers while negotiating mortgage modifications at the same time.

Yet in many cities, the fate for homes already foreclosed remains unclear.

In a Dallas suburb, a home was overtaken by squatter Kenneth Robinson after it was foreclosed, reports. Robinson paid $16 to file a one-page claim to reside in the empty $340,000 house, and then created a Web site about how he did it. But a judge soon ruled that Robinson was abusing the law and needed to leave, as Bank of America wanted possession of the home again after foreclosing on it last month.

In Detroit, a city running low on cash, Treasury officials came up with a quick-fix solution: give owners of foreclosed homes their properties back, for the low price of just $500. Many of those owners never paid millions of dollars they owed in taxes, the Detroit News reports. In the second year of the practice, Wayne County —for which Detroit is the county seat— has sold 1,200 homes back to their original occupants for almost nothing, angering taxpayers across the city.

And in Riverside, Calif., one local home was visited by Occupy Our Homes protesters, an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street protesting what they say is the mistreatment of homeowners by big banks. The protesters surrounded the home of former Marine Arturo de los Santos last weekend so that sheriff’s deputies could not seize it, Think Progress reports. Santos told Riverside’s City News Service that he had fallen behind on payments because business had been bad at the factory where he worked. A local judge granted possession of the home to mortgage company Freddie Mac last week.

Think Progress reports that the fates also remains uncertain for homes foreclosed illegally, fraudulently, or in some cases, even by mistake.


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