The Las Vegas Anti-Squatting Law

A Las Vegas anti-squatting law and cooperation between utility departments, police and code enforcement are slowly addressing problems at abandoned homes.

LAS VEGAS, NEV. -- In a metro region with thousands of vacant, abandoned and foreclosed homes, the Las Vegas anti-squatting law attempts to reign in crime, pilfering of electricity and water and many other complaints cities are receiving from neighboring property owners, realtors and others.

According to the New York Times, "Squatters have descended on every corner of the Las Vegas Valley, taking over empty houses in struggling working-class neighborhoods, in upscale planned communities like Summerlin and everywhere in between."

The complaint calls to the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department have exploded over the past few years with more than 4,000 in 2015 alone, and it doesn't seem to be getting much better. According to the Review Journal, squatter complaint calls are up to 23 percent from this time last year.

Tracking the cases “looks like a shotgun blast on a map — it’s everywhere,” Metro Police Officer Scott Vaughn told the Las Vegas Sun in June.

The new Las Vegas anti-squatting law passed in May 2015, and effective that October, created housebreaking and unlawful occupancy crimes, which squatters can be arrested for. Repeat offenders could face felony charges, and jail time.

The Review Journal reported that North Las Vegas has four officers and city code enforcement officials on its squatter task force and has made 10 squatting-related arrests. Pleading guilty has resulted in probation. The city has 6,000 homes in foreclosure, and about 100 squatter cases.

The local media has been reporting on the bizarre and most egregious breaches of the Las Vegas anti-squatting law, like people breaking in and setting up homes for various criminal purposes. With the Las Vegas metro region's more than 13,000 abandoned homes, it's hard for authorities to figure out who owns a particular home when they receive a complaint.

When the market crashed circa 2007, 71 percent of Southern Nevada borrowers were upside-down on their mortgages at the time, according to Zillow data reported by the Las Vegas Sun. Many of the underwater owners simply left the valley.

The blight situation has led to schemes of all kinds. Searches for Las Vegas squatter news turns up the strangest stories. "Cash for keys" schemes, where realtors and banks with foreclosed homes pay squatters about $3,500 to $5,000 to move out, seem to be the most common squatter strategies, according to the Las Vegas Sun.

There are some cases where enterprising individuals, also sometimes squatters themselves, pose as realtors or homeowners, and offer inexpensive leases for abandoned properties. When the police come knocking, the occupants might show them a lease they think is legitimate. One Las Vegas realtor says this is happening often. "They're often lured into a fraudulent lease with the promise of no credit checks, low rent and low deposits," wrote Scott  Beaudry, real estate broker, in apiece about the efficacy of the Las Vegas anti-squatting law for Market Watch.

The North Las Vegas Utilities Department, the police and code enforcement officials are nevertheless working together and are scrutinizing paperwork for fake rental contracts. When someone comes to have the water turned on, for example, they might be caught right there and then when the utility clerk calls the number for the landlord listed on the fake lease.

“We’re working as one to put it together, because without that, we’d be out there spinning our wheels,” said Vaughn.

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