July 15, 2017

PROPERTY IS TOO IMPORTANT TO NEGLECT:

Q&A It's hard to believe but a condo could be lost to squatters (Donie Vanitzian, 7/15/17, LA Times)

Question: About 17 years ago I inherited my father's mortgage-free town house in Southern California. I made the five-hour round-trip drive from my home to the townhouse to pick up mail and pay the leftover bills. As the mail and bills eventually stopped there was no need for me to continue making the long drive. For over 13 years I intentionally kept the unit vacant mainly because I didn't want to deal with tenants. I never received any invoices from the homeowner association saying I owed anything.

Then last week I visited my unit but the locks were changed, and when I peeked through a window it looked occupied! The homeowner association's manager said she thought the occupants were the new owners because they had been living there, paying the homeowner association fees, attending board meetings and voting. I asked if the association foreclosed on my unit and was told "No" but that the manager received a title change a few years ago.

My neighbors didn't even bother to tell me or keep me apprised that squatters had taken over my property. I've since hired an attorney but shouldn't someone have told me this?

Answer: Squatting is a significant issue in California, where the law is relatively generous to people who live in homes they do not legally own. There were numerous reports of squatters taking over unoccupied, single-family homes in subdivisions hit hard by last decade's housing bust. There also have been reports of squatting in upscale coastal communities, so it's not entirely surprising that a condo unit you left vacant for years was taken over by squatters.

Though it may seem odd that squatters have any rights to property you bought or inherited, the practice dates back hundreds of years in England, where unused or abandoned property was taken over by people willing to work it.

As an owner, the onus is on you, not your neighbors, to maintain and take care of your property.

If you treat property like you own it you do. If you treat it like you don't you don't.

Posted by at July 15, 2017 9:10 AM

  

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