“Squatter Nation”

The phrase “squatter nation” seems to be catching on in articles about real estate issues.

Today it is featured (again) not surprisingly in a CNN story by Lee Christie.  A headline in the story “False Hopes for Mortgage Market” says “Squatter Nation: 5 years with no mortgage payments.”

Nothing in the story supports the headline that this is indicative of the national experience – that it takes 5 years of non-payments to foreclose.

Most homeowners do not fight the foreclosure.  Shame, frustration and lack of funds keep them from appearing in court with an attorney.  Most homeowners in foreclosure walk away.

And labeling homeowners who fight foreclose as “squatters” is also misleading.

Squatter is defined as: An individual who settles on the land of another person without any legal authority to do so, or without acquiring a legal title.

In the CNN story, “squatter” is synonymous with “homeowners in foreclosure.”  CNN is not talking about people who break into
abandoned homes and live there until detected – CNN is talking about homeowners in foreclosure.

Until a judgment  of foreclosure is entered, homeowners have every legal right to stay in their homes.

Maybe Lee Christie is talking about the moral right to stay – as opposed to the legal.  Lee Christie may be one of those voices that says to homeowners,

“Do the right thing and move on.”

Is it really morally superior to leave one more abandoned property in the neighborhood that will be sold for 40% of the debt – when the homeowner would pay 70% of the debt.

Why is abandonment morally superior to struggling to stay on?

And then there is Realty Trac’s CEO James Saccacio clucking about the “paperwork issues” slowing down foreclosures:

“We estimate that as many as 1 million foreclosures that should have taken place in 2011 will now happen in 2012, or perhaps even later.”

What is a “paperwork issue” to Saccacio,  is evidence of ownership to homeowners and to many judges.

“Squatters with paperwork complaints” are easy to discredit – but many more courts are now seeing these “squatters”  as homeowners with every legal right to stay in their homes.

Lynn Szymoniak