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Squatting 101

Article by Stuart Bramhall.

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With the growing recession and epidemic of foreclosures and homelessness, squatting is becoming increasingly common worldwide. By definition squatting is “illegally” occupying a building that doesn’t belong to you without the owner’s permission.

Obviously the simplest form of squatting is remaining in your home when the bank or mortgage company tries to foreclose on your property. Owing to the recent scandal over illegal foreclosures, mortgagees who miss payments now have a range of legal options they can pursue (*see below). When all else fails, organizing a “live-in” to barricade your home when police try to evict you is the next best option.

Take Back the Land (http://www.takebacktheland.org/) is a Miami-based social justice groups formed in 2006 which defends the rights of families to remain in foreclosed homes and public housing. The national group received a fair amount of media attention in 2008, both for grassroots organizing to stop evictions and for re-housing homeless families in abandoned foreclosed housing. In most major cities, whole blocks and neighborhoods have been abandoned. This, in turn, leads to a rapid decline in property values, as vacant properties are vandalized and stripped of appliances and plumbing and electrical fixtures. Detroit, for example, has 10,000 abandoned homes (at present the city of Detroit is paying people to move into abandoned homes – see http://www.businessinsider.com/abandoned-houses-detroit-2011-2).

Although Take Back the Land has received little media attention in the last few years, they have greatly expanded and have local action groups in New York, Boston, Chicago, Madison, Toledo, Portland, Rochester, Washington DC, Atlanta and other cities.

In March 2011, Take Back the Land-Rochester organized a live-in to stop the eviction of Catherine Lennon and ten of her children and grandchildren, after her husband’s death from cancer caused the family to miss several months of mortgage payments. Organizers managed to blockade the home for two weeks, until they were eventually routed by a police SWAT team armed with assault rifles. Fortunately the local media attention led Congressman Louise Slaughter to intervene with Fannie May (which received a $90 billion taxpayer bailout in 2008), who have subsequently agreed to work out a new payment schedule to allow the family to stay in their home.

Catherine LennonCatherine Lennon

* Legal remedies against foreclosure

The Senate Banking Committee and many states are investigating thousands of foreclosures executed fraudulently by Wells Fargo, J P Morgan Chase, Bank of America (and other banks), Fannie Mae and the Mortgage Electronic Recording Service (MERS) where they didn’t actually own the mortgages of the properties they foreclosed on. Lending laws specify that only that actual owner of a mortgage can initiate foreclosure action. In many cases these companies are filing fraudulent court documents alleging that they own the loans, when they are merely servicing them on behalf of the lender. Mortgagees threatened with foreclosure can perform a Securitization Audit to determine who actually owns the mortgage and deed (and is legally entitled to foreclose).

Mortgagees victimized by predatory mortgage loans (tricked into accepting mortgages they can’t possibly repay) can request a Forensic Loan Document Review. There are federal laws that protect against predatory lending, which you can use to force the bank to negotiate. For more information and advice see http://www.tila-now.com/

Also Bank of America was caught in a related scam in which they were adding backdated insurance charges to mortgage payments to push mortgagees who missed payments into foreclosure. This is a scam to watch out for if unexplained charges show up on your mortgage statement. See http://zitrof.net/bank-of-americas-illegal-foreclosures

Last but not least, families may be able to save their homes from foreclosure by filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

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