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How do I determine if these shady new neighbors are squatters?
April 29, 2014 11:23 AM   Subscribe

I share a fence with a single family detached home in Nassau County, NY and am concerned that it is being occupied by squatters. Help?

In 2011, the "original" homeowners moved out of state and put the house on the market. After a few hundred days on the market, the house was listed on real estate websites as being in foreclosure. By 2013, the same websites no longer listed the house as being in foreclosure, but no sales or changes in deeds were recorded.

Three months ago, someone moved in. They seem to exclusively use the awkward-to-access back door. They've left some weird stuff on the property that I imagine an average renter or new owner would remove (like the rotting folding table blocking a portion of the driveway, a pile of broken potting plants from the front lawn, etc.) They had some utilities turned on or repaired around the time they moved in (I saw some utility trucks parked at the house around that time.) I introduced myself to them, but they were extremely unfriendly, though they did say they were renting when I said something along the lines of "I'm so glad someone with kids bought the house!". I don't want to communicate with them further (there are other indicators of "shady-ness" that are probably not relevant to the question).

Now, here's the weird part: Another neighbor has been AGGRESSIVELY trying to purchase the house since it went into foreclosure. The former owners have been unresponsive, but he isn't 100% sure he has the correct email address for them. He has tried to chase down info on what bank owns the house, and keeps running into dead ends - but he did get confirmation on what bank owned the house when it first went into foreclosure. That bank says they no longer own the property.

Propertyshark.com still lists the former owners as current owners, and lists the last sale as being in 2003. I can't find any info online about a change in deed.

So:
- Is there a way to definitively identify who owns the house? Some kind of county public records office that I can access?
- Would a bank ever rent a foreclosed house to individuals?
- Could the original owners have gotten the house out of foreclosure and begun renting long distance?
- If it seems like the house is really occupied by squatters, what then?

I would really love my other neighbor to be able to buy the house so his awesome daughter & her kids can move in and be my awesome new neighbors!
posted by waterisfinite to Law & Government (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I found this, which is kind of disturbing if you ask me.

I'd call the county because that's where deeds are recorded. Another thing is to send a letter to the former owners, by way of their former address to ask them what the status is.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:32 AM on April 29


Uh, if you think something unsafe/suspicious is going on there, you call the police. You can describe the situation, express your concern that the house is in foreclosure and that they might be squatters, and let the police handle a police matter.
posted by juniperesque at 11:33 AM on April 29 [7 favorites]


I think your best bet is to call the non-emergency number for your local police and share your concerns, focusing on the stuff you're seeing (garbage left around the property, strange behavior).
posted by Meg_Murry at 11:33 AM on April 29 [1 favorite]


Is there a way to definitively identify who owns the house? Some kind of county public records office that I can access?

Nassau County, NY land record viewer
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 11:34 AM on April 29 [3 favorites]


The Nassau County Registry of Deeds should have any recent changes in ownership info. I have generally gone in person and I'm not seeing an online option, maybe someone else has better info? In any case, you can go down to the office on their website and go through security and search through their ownership records.

In my experience banks generally do not rent to private individuals directly. However, it's possible they have a property management firm renting the property for them.

You can also check the property assessment info which may also show recent sales and who is paying the property taxes; you could contact that person at the address given (not all counties give an address, and it may not be up to date if they do, but it's a place to start). I'm guessing this is the same info from Property Shark, but still worth checking.

(Note that my second link is to the Land Record Viewer, which appears to be assessment rather than actual deeds. Sometimes the Assessor lags behind what's been recorded with the Registry. So it's worth checking with the Registry even if the Assessor doesn't show anything new.)
posted by pie ninja at 11:37 AM on April 29 [2 favorites]


You would contact your local County Assessor's office to check on the owner of the deed. Those records tend to lag a few months behind the sale, however.

You could also contact your city's code enforcement office, and ask them to go out and evaluate if there are squatters on the property. In that case, I would make darn sure that they classify the complaint as "anonymous".
posted by vignettist at 11:41 AM on April 29


Just call the county! These are public records!!

While you are on the phone with them, ask about where you should report squatters.

Even though these people did not legally rent, they may have tenancy rights depending on how long they have been on the property. Current owner or new owner may have to sue to evict.

------


Uh? Do you think there is ANY possibility they are cooking meth?

The house will not be legally habitual if this is the case - it is not safe for humans, especially children.

If you have a Child Safety Issue next door (aside from chemical poisoning, meth set-ups explode and cause fires) call the police or go into the station and speak to someone in person.

Otherwise, this is entirely a civil matter.
posted by jbenben at 11:42 AM on April 29 [1 favorite]


Is there a way to definitively identify who owns the house? Some kind of county public records office that I can access?
Bentobox Humperdinck's link (which is also referred to as mynassauproperty.com by many in Nassau) is what you want, but it's not up-to-the-minute accurate. When I did title research for Long Island 10+ years ago, if you wanted the data completely up-to-date (you know, for the closing that afternoon), you went to the fourth floor of 100 Old Country Road, Mineola. Bring quarters for parking.

If they haven't updated anything since I last did this, there will be publicly accessible green-screen terminals that you can just walk up to. Otherwise, wait on line for a clerk. Don't visit during lunch hour (longer on Fridays so they can "deposit" their pay check) or after 4:30pm.

This all assumes that you're not in an incorporated territory (e.g., City of Long Beach [where I am now], Village of Old Westbury, Village of Island Park, City of Glen Cove, etc. etc.). Then you'd go to city/village hall. Smaller places have odd hours but are usually pretty nice towards residents with questions because they know your village taxes pay their salary and it's a small world for them.
Would a bank ever rent a foreclosed house to individuals?
While not impossible, it's not something I've ever seen around here.
Could the original owners have gotten the house out of foreclosure and begun renting long distance?
Yes. Or someone else owns it and is renting. Or the people you've seen are the new owners. There's no law against not being neighborly and they
If it seems like the house is really occupied by squatters, what then?
The only way you can prove this is by determining the current owner, contacting the owner and asking if the owner is currently renting the property. The owner might very well tell you that's none of your business. If the owner does say that he/she is renting it out and you still think the people are squatters, you'll need to take photos of them when they're in public (i.e., when they do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy) and forward those photos to the owner, assuming he/she doesn't just stop be to see what's going on in person.

It's worth noting in New York that squatters have legal protections against evictions after 30 days, so, really, you need to talk to the current owners ASAP.

I'm not entirely sure, but I believe that squatting is, as jbenben mentions, in New York, a civil matter, not a criminal one.
posted by Brian Puccio at 12:20 PM on April 29


> Another thing is to send a letter to the former owners, by way of their former address to ask them what the status is

That wouldn't work -- after this long the post office would deliver it to the neighbors' house, and then the iffy neighbors (if they're the sort to open mail addressed to someone else) would know you were investigating them.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:33 PM on April 29 [2 favorites]


Could the original owners have gotten the house out of foreclosure and begun renting long distance?

They could have NOT gotten the house out of foreclosure and began renting long distance. It happens.

The bank could also have dropped foreclosure efforts if they feel they'll be stuck with the property in a way that will be financially worse. A lot of lenders avoided pursuing foreclosure at the height of the crash because they didn't want bad assets on their books. That seems unlikely in your case but you never know; their lien on the property isn't going to expire till ten years passes so they can decide they'd rather let the county go after the homeowner for back taxes instead of them if they feel their prospects will be better in five years.
posted by phearlez at 2:06 PM on April 29


Thanks so much for all of this great info.

I'm not inclined to call the police as my first step since I am the only neighbor who has made contact (and because of an awkwardly shaped lot, there are 3 houses that share a fence with them.

I don't suspect meth. Based on the gigantic blunts they were smoking in their car when I approached, I suspect something slightly more organic.
posted by waterisfinite at 3:51 PM on April 29


Upon reflection....

- Reporting them for drugs would be the easiest way to get the place empty if your neighbor can figure out who to buy the house from.

(Maybe not such a cool thing to do unless...)

- I would DEFINITELY report them if they are selling drugs. You do NOT want that kind of activity near your home. You especially do not want the police getting your addresses mixed up. Stay proactive if they are selling drugs until they are gone.

- Before children move in, encourage your neighbor to have the place tested for toxins. You have not convinced me the possible criminals living next door to you aren't cooking meth. Your evidence is light, although I respect you giving the benefit of the doubt. The toxic residue left over from meth isn't a joke and I would not take any chances. YMMV.
posted by jbenben at 4:44 PM on April 29 [1 favorite]


You've gotten some good advice about collecting the information you need, but honestly, other than some vague administrative information about deeds and ownership and a few items that appear to have been discarded in the yard, it sounds like the real problem is you didn't get the neighbors you wanted.

They seem to exclusively use the awkward-to-access back door.

Maybe they're trying to avoid nosy neighbors.

They've left some weird stuff on the property that I imagine an average renter or new owner would remove (like the rotting folding table blocking a portion of the driveway, a pile of broken potting plants from the front lawn, etc.)

Maybe having these things on their property does not bother them. If it violates HOA guidleines, alert the HOA and let them deal with it.

They had some utilities turned on or repaired around the time they moved in (I saw some utility trucks parked at the house around that time.)


This is the opposite of what squatters usually do.

I introduced myself to them, but they were extremely unfriendly


Being unfriendly doesn't make someone a squatter.

though they did say they were renting


So there is no actual mystery. They are not squatting, they are renting. They told you.

Now, here's the weird part: Another neighbor has been AGGRESSIVELY trying to purchase the house since it went into foreclosure.


Why is this weird? Maybe the owner doesn't want to sell to that neighbor, or to anyone, for any price, for any number of reasons. Maybe he (or the bank) decided that renting to your new neighbor was the best thing to do for now. Maybe that neighbor has shitty credit. We many never know.

I would really love my other neighbor to be able to buy the house so his awesome daughter & her kids can move in and be my awesome new neighbors!


I think it's fine that you want to know about the real estate transactions in your area, but I don't see where the new neighbors are actively bothering you, and if you are genuinely concerned about illegal activities then you should call the cops. Honestly, it sounds like you are looking for ways to get these "less desirable" neighbors out, somehow paving the way for a more awesome neighbor.
posted by Room 641-A at 10:46 AM on April 30 [2 favorites]


- Is there a way to definitively identify who owns the house? Some kind of county public records office that I can access?
- Would a bank ever rent a foreclosed house to individuals?
- Could the original owners have gotten the house out of foreclosure and begun renting long distance?
- If it seems like the house is really occupied by squatters, what then?


- Yes. County land office. That is exactly what they do: record deeds. The deed is the definitive owner of the house. That is why the lender has to go to court to change it.
- Possibly. I believe the property on the other side of our block is, but probably through a property management firm (there are several in town).
- Not impossible, but unlikely. Short sales and other means are a lot better choices for most people.

If the foreclosing bank doesn't own it anymore, though, and there was no foreclosure auction, they may well have simply transferred the property to another entity more interested in holding a lot of marginal residential assets. A lot of these investors, these days, pay cash. But this would be recorded as a change of deed. Your neighbor's amateurism really shows here as this is essentially the first step and shouldn't be hard to figure out for any homeowner.

As to squatters, well, it happens and isn't impossible, but I wouldn't consider it likely.

Anyway, do this the right way (or your neighbor does), find the recorded owner, and see if they'll entertain an offer. You'll also be able to find out from the change of deed what the actual sale took place at, so you know what the market value might be.
posted by dhartung at 2:41 PM on April 30 [1 favorite]


Normally (or at least much of the time) what happens is foreclosed houses wind up being sold as REOs (in other words, owned by an institution, such as the VA.)

It is theoretically possible that it is an REO on hold. If so once it is taken off hold someone will be inspecting and someone will be very "interested" to find the home is occupied.

Has your neighbor (the one who wanted to buy the house) talked to a realtor? They may have more ability to track down just what is happening with that house. If it is in REO limbo that could explain his inability to find anything out on his own.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:26 PM on April 30


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